Sackatoga Stable's Funny Cide made his return to New York successful with a half-length win over Evening Attire in the $196,000 Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III) at Aqueduct Saturday.
The New York-bred gelding collected his first graded stakes win since last year's Preakness (gr. I) at odds of 6-5. He completed the 1 1/8-mile Excelsior in 1:49 2/5 on a muddy track.
"The winners' circle is the only thing that makes you feel good in this game," winning trainer Barclay Tagg said. "When a horse gets to a race real good, that makes you feel good. But when you get to the winners' circle, it's especially good. I think he's doing great. His health is good and his coat is good. He is nice and sound and doing well. He has improved every race this year."
Ridden by Jose Santos, the 2003 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner sat in a perfect stalking position a couple of lengths behind pacesetting Host and jockey Mike Luzzi down the backstretch, moved to the leader on the home turn and cleared off at the head of the stretch, opening up by nearly three lengths in the drive.
Six-year-old Evening Attire, who was trapped between horses before getting clear on the outside in upper stretch, rallied well for jockey Shaun Bridgmohan and threatened to get by Funny Cide in the final sixteenth of a mile. Under strong pressure from Santos, Funny Cide held off the challenge, however.
"I was letting him go free today," said Santos. "He broke real good, but Luzzi had intentions of going to the lead. I backed off of him and put Funny Cide on the outside in about the three or four-path and just let him run free from there. I picked him up at the three-eighths pole and he really finished well.
"I was very afraid of Evening Attire," the jockey added. "He always improves about four or five lengths in the mud. And this is not the kind of track that Funny Cide prefers. I was hitting left-handed, and I saw Evening Attire (and jockey Shaun Bridgmohan) switch to right-handed. Funny Cide saw Evening Attire and still went on strong. It was a great race. He needed to win to make the New York people happy."
Host, who set fractions of :23 4/5, :48 and 1:12, held on to be a distant third in the field of five, 8 1/2 lengths behind the winner. Ground Storm and Loving completed the order of finish. Snake Mountain scratched.
Making his first start in New York since finishing third in the Belmont Stakes in June, Funny Cide, a son of Distorted Humor
–Belle's Good Side (by Slewacide) won for the second time in four starts this year. He was coming off back-to-back third place finishes in the Donn Handicap (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park Jan. 10 and the New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) at Fair Grounds Feb. 29. His other win this year came in a $100,000 optional claiming event Jan. 10 at Gulfstream.
The chestnut's last victory in New York came in the one-mile Sleepy Hollow as a 2-year-old at Belmont Park in October 2002.
Tagg said he has his eye on the Pimlico Special (gr. I) May 14.
Bred by Win Star Farm and purchased for $22,000 at Saratoga in August 2001, Funny Cide improved to 7-2-4 in 15 lifetime starts. He boasts earnings of $2,351,985.
He paid $4.60, $2.60 and $2.10. Evening Attire returned $2.50 and $2.10. Host's show was $2.60. The $2 exacta was worth $7.20.
"That was a great race, and he beat a helluva horse," said Jack Knowlton of Sackatoga Stable. "I was a little nervous in the stretch. I said, `That S.O.B. (Evening Attire) has us in his sights.' Funny Cide has a lot of class and a lot of heart, and he certainly showed that today. Evening Attire is an awesome horse on this racetrack and on a wet track. It was just great."