Saratoga Notebook: Funny Cide Decision May Wait; Attendance Up, Handle Down; Bird Town a Puzzle

Saratoga Notebook: Funny Cide Decision May Wait; Attendance Up, Handle Down; Bird Town a Puzzle
Photo: Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Barclay Tagg.
By Mike Kane and Phil Janack
Whether or not Funny Cide runs in the Travers (gr. I) on Saturday may not be answered when entries are taken Wednesday.

Trainer Barclay Tagg said Monday morning he would consider buying some more time for the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness (gr. I) winner by entering the horse in the $1 million race. That would give him four more days to decide whether the gelding owned by the Sackatoga Stable partnership has recovered from a illness that has elevated his blood count. He spiked a temperature of 102 on Aug. 4, the morning after he finished third in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I).

"I might, if they want to go for the money," Tagg said "I haven't broached that subject yet."

Later in the day, Sackatoga Stable managing partner Jack Knowlton confirmed that he and his nine partners would consider paying the entry fee of $5,000.

"If Barclay says put up the money, we'll put up the money, no problem," Knowlton said. "With the money this horse has won, why would we not?"

Funny Cide's purse earnings are $2,099,385.

Sackatoga Stable has already spent $1,000 to nominate Funny Cide to the Travers. It would cost $5,000 to enter and another $5,000 to run.

Tagg has said it is unlikely that Funny Cide will run in the Travers, but hasn't completely ruled out the possibility.

"I'll just wait it out until the last minute, because you never know who else isn't going to show up," Tagg said. "I'm not going to run against those kinds of horses if he's not 100 percent."

The Travers field will be led by Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Empire Maker and Jim Dandy (gr. II) winner Strong Hope. Ten Most Wanted, Sky Mesa and Wild and Wicked are also expected.

"If there's going to be some defections, and he's good enough to run against an easier field, it might be a good idea," Tagg said. "I'm not going to throw away a million dollars if it's sitting over there. He's plenty fit. If it comes up easy, you might be tempted. He's a perfectly sound horse. He's pretty healthy. He's just not 100 percent to run against the Empire Makers of the world and the Ten Most Wanteds. Those kinds of horses. They're good horses."

Although Funny Cide is also nominated to the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) on Sept. 1, Tagg said the horse will not run in that race if he misses the Travers.

"If he doesn't make this, he's not going to make that," Tagg said. "If he'd have come up to this just perfect and we'd had a monsoon and I opted not to run him because of the monsoon but he's still kicking the barn down, that's what I nominated to the Pennsylvania Derby for, for a backup. But, if I don't deem him good enough to run in this, I'm not going to run him a week later."

Attendance Up, Handle Down
Through four weeks of the six-week Saratoga season, on-track attendance is up 1.7 percent, while on-track and total handle remain down compared to the 2002 figures.

Better weather and a clock giveaway promotion on Sunday that produced a record announced crowd of 71,337, helped boost the on-track figures. After three weeks, the on-track handle was down $4.02 million, or 6.9 percent. At the end of the fourth week on Monday, the on-track handle was $2.82 million, or 3.6 percent.

The total handle is off $16.89 million, or 7.3 percent. A week ago it down 8.4 percent.

The biggest drop is in off-track intrastate wagering, which is down $12.9 million. The state Legislature changed New York's racing law this year, allowing unlimited out-of-state simulcasting to compete with the New York Racing Association's programs.

"The attendance is on pace to top 1 million for the season," NYRA senior vice-president Bill Nader said Monday. "I think that maybe at this meet we can finish equal to or greater than last year in on-track handle. Those numbers are very favorable. We're really getting killed on the intrastate handle, which is down about 15 percent. The interstate is down about 4.5 percent. I think with on-track and interstate handle we might be able to battle back to even or positive territory by meet end. We'll never make it back in intrastate because the unlimited simulcasting is just cannibalizing our business."

Bird Town Still a Puzzle
After a thorough examination, trainer Nick Zito said he could find no physical reason for Bird Town's dull fifth-place finish in the Alabama (gr. I) on Saturday.

"It just wasn't our day," Zito said Monday morning. "She's been running all year, so who knows? The main thing is, she came back great. We took some tests just to be sure, and they all came back clean. That's good."

Zito remains mystified about Bird Town, who was beaten 11 lengths in the worst effort of her career. She had never been off the board in 10 previous races, and had never lost by more than 4 1/2 lengths, the margin of Lady Tak's record-setting victory in the Test (gr. I) on July 26.

Zito said the Marylou Whitney homebred did bleed through Lasix, and stepped on her own leg while awaiting the start. He didn't count either as a contributing factor, nor the fact that the track was sealed prior to the race.

"We're disappointed, obviously. Things just didn't go our way," Zito said. "We thought we had the filly as good as she could be. It's racing. A lot of times, the situation just ain't right. Fortunately, I've got owners that have been in the game a long time and they understand."

Zito said he would look for one more race for the filly before the Breeders' Cup.

Ten Most Wanted Jogs
Ten Most Wanted, who arrived from California Sunday afternoon, jogged over the main track Monday morning.

Aimee Dollase, daughter and assistant to trainer Wally Dollase, traveled with the horse and said the cross-country trip was uneventful.„ "He ate up last night and jogged this morning and didn't turn a hair," she said. "He's feeling pretty good."

Runner-up to Empire Maker in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), Ten Most Wanted is stabled in trainer Phil Serpe's barn on the main track backstretch. He will gallop this morning around 8:45.

Raging Fever Upset
Multiple stakes winner Raging Fever ran third, beaten just over a half-length in Monday's fifth race.

The 6-5 favorite in the $56,000, six-furlong allowance, it was the fourth straight defeat for Raging Fever. She was running in a non-stakes event for the first time in more than three years.

Chasing a hot pace of :22 1/5 and :45 1/5 under topweight of 123 pounds, Raging Fever tracked Literary Light and Lilah to the top of the stretch and was in striking position, but gained no ground.

Literary Light (11-1) held off Lilah by a neck for the win, with Raging Fever a half-length back in third.

"She didn't run that bad," trainer Mark Hennig said. "She just got outrun."

Since taking the Ogden Phipps last June, her third career Grade I win, Raging Fever has won only one of her last 10 races, the Bed O'Roses Handicap (gr. III) on April 19.

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