Fans Turn Out for Funny Cide; Tagg Worries

Fans Turn Out for Funny Cide; Tagg Worries
Photo: Skip Dickstein
Fans cheer local hero Funny Cide on his day at Saratoga.
Thousands of people in a crowd of 22,580 waited patiently in the rain Wednesday morning for a brief look at Kentucky Derby (gr.I) and Preakness (gr.I) winner Funny Cide and to get autographs from his connections at Funny Cide Day at Saratoga Race Course.

Though Funny Cide is being pointed for the Travers (gr.I) on Aug. 23, it might have been his only appearance at the track this season. Trainer Barclay Tagg acknowledged that while he is still hoping to make the race, he said the horse's blood count was a bit higher than he preferred. Funny Cide spiked a temperature of 102 degrees on Aug. 4, the morning after he finished a distant third in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.

Tagg decribed the blood count as being "a hair off."

"That's my feeling about it," Tagg said. "It's fluctuating the wrong way. It's in the normal range. It's perfectly normal. Maybe it laid in the vet's truck too long, I don't know, but it's not exactly like I wanted. I've taken three of them now and they looked like they were going in the right direction, this one is back up again a little bit, so I'm just going to have to see how it works out."

Once again, Tagg made it clear that he won't push Funny Cide into the Travers and a rematch with Belmont Stakes(gr.I) winner Empire Maker.

"If he's acting right, eating right and his blood count is good, I'll run him," Tagg said. "If one of those things isn't good, I won't run. It's as simple as that."

The downpour, a staple of the meeting in Saratoga Springs this summer, delayed by 20 minutes a scheduled schooling session in the paddock for the New York-bred gelding owned by Sackatoga Stable. Nonetheless, many fans maintained their positions along the white fence surrounding the paddock.

After the rain stopped and with the sun breaking through the clouds, Funny Cide arrived at shortly before noon to polite applause with two other horses from Tagg's stable. While dozens of people in the crowd took photographs, he was walked around the paddock by assistant trainer Robin Smullen and groom Santos Cardoza. Tagg put a saddle on Funny Cide and he made another tour of the paddock before being taken back to his barn. The schooling lasted 16 minutes.

During the rainstorm and while the schooling session was taking place, hundreds of other people stood in line near the jockey's quarters for an autograph session with Tagg, jockey Jose Santos and several members of the Sackatoga Stable partnership. The $5 donation for autographs on commemorative posters and other memorabilia was donated to the Backstretch Employees Assistance Team that operates at the New York Racing Association's tracks.

At its peak, the line stretched more than 100 yards into the ground floor of the grandstand. Originally scheduled to last one hour, the autograph session went on for three hours and resumed after Saratoga Springs Mayor Ken Klotz read a proclamation in the winner's circle.

"We've had a little rainstorm, but it didn't dampen spirits," said Jack Knowlton, managing partner of Sackatoga Stable. "We're having a good time, the fans are having a good time and that'swhat it's all about it. That's what we want to do."

Sackatoga partner Jon Constance of Sackets Harbor, N.Y. said he again underestimated the interest in Funny Cide.

"I am constantly overwhelmed by the fan base and the people that would stand in line for an hour and a half, in some cases, just to have us sign a poster," Constance said. "It's phenomenal. I think it's awesome."

Tagg said he is considering having Funny Cide work Thursday morning for the first time since the Haskell.

"If he's OK, I'll probably breeze him a little bit. If he's not, I probably won't," Tagg said. "But his temperature is going to have to be real normal.

"I'd like to get two breezes in him, whether I can or not, I don't know. It'll depends on the weather. If the track is bad, I won't breeze him."

At this point, Tagg said it's too early to start talking seriously about the Travers.

"The only thing in my decision right now is getting him better," he said. "I've got the third blood test I took on him back today and I didn't like it particularly. It wasn't bad. It's in the normal range but it's not what I wanted. I'm just going to have to see how it is at the beginning of the week and go from there."

Funny Cide has been nominated to the Pennsylvania Derby and the Super Derby, but Tagg said that doesn't matter.

"I don't care about any of that stuff," he said. "I'd like to run in the Travers if he's healthy. If he's not healthy, I don't know if he'll be healthy the rest of the year. I'm working on him. He seems like he's doing well, but the blood test is just a hair off from what I want it to be."

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