Old favorites Funny Cide and Evening Attire need top efforts to have an impact in an evenly matched 94th running of the $200,000-added Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III) Saturday at Aqueduct.
The 1 1/8-mile race looks so close that the nine horses entered are separated by one pound in handicapper P.J. Campo's weight assignments.
While it may look to some that 2003 Kenucky Derby and Preakness (both gr. I) winner Funny Cide's best days are behind him, trainer Barclay Tagg has never lost confidence in the New York-bred Distorted Humor
gelding. In three starts this year, Funny Cide has produced a mixed bag of results.
Making his first start in six months Jan. 7, Funny Cide, going six furlongs in the Mr. Propsector (gr. III), raced in contention early before fading to seventh - beaten 11 lengths. In a much-improved race Feb. 2, Funny Cide stalked the pace in a high-level allowance optional claimer and was a good runner-up to the sharp Sir Greeley. But it was the 6-year-old's latest try, a seventh-place finish in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) March 4, that confused Tagg somewhat.
"I have some ideas why he didn't run very well, but I don't want to speculate," said Tagg.
Funny Cide's 2005 campaign was limited to three starts, unplaced efforts in the Pimlico Special (gr. I), Brooklyn (gr. II), and Suburban (gr. I). Funny Cide hasn't won since the 2004 Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I).
"He hurt his back last year, and we had to completely stop on him," Tagg said. "He looks good and strong now, and he training better than ever."
For Funny Cide's third start over Aqueduct's main track, another New York favorite, jockey Richard Migliore, will ride him. Funny Cide won the 2004 Excelsior.
Evening Attire, winner of the 2002 Jockey Club Gold Cup, has been his own worst enemy recently, failing to come out of the starting gate with the rest of the pack. His poor gate habits have cost him in his last three starts over the inner track. If Evening Attire has a better chance Saturday, it is because the main track, where the 8-year-old gelding has amassed a 5-for-7 record, is a little more forgiving to off-the-pace runners.
After making one start without blinkers in the Stymie, trainer Pat Kelly has elected to put blinkers back on Evening Attire.
Trainer Todd Pletcher is hoping Team Valor Stables' Colita can transfer his form from the inner track to the main track. The 6-year-old has won two of his last three starts after disappointing for much of 2005.
Colita, who has benefited from throat surgery, is still searching for his first stakes win in what will be his tenth try.
"He's a horse who's had some hard luck in stakes races, and his allowance races have been good enough to win stakes," said Pletcher, who will also send out Donald and Mary Zuckerman's West Virginia.
Throughout his 21-race career, West Virginia has proven to be a horse that should not be underestimated. He sprung a 16-1 upset in the Iselin Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III) at Monmouth last year.
Maryland invader Your Bluffing, trained by Mike Trombetta, figures to take some action in the Excelsior. After rattling off five straight wins in Maryland and Delaware, the 6-year-old gelding suffered a loss in the Harrison Johnson Memorial at Laurel in his last start, falling a neck short as the 1-2 favorite.
Liquor Cabinet, owned by Edward Evans, came up a half-length short to the late Manchurian in the Stymie March 4. The son of Hennessy
has been very sharp since coming back off a long layoff.Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III, Race 8, 4:21 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Liquor Cabinet (IRE), 114, Eibar Coa
2. Colita (KY), 114, Michael Luzzi
3. Watchmon (KY), 114, Charles Lopez
4. Funny Cide (NY), 114, Richard Migliore
5. West Virginia (NY), 115, Norberto Arroyo, Jr.
6. Go Now (KY), 114, Mike Smith
7. Evening Attire (KY), 115, Jose Santos
8. Your Bluffing (KY), 115, Ramon Dominguez
9. Infinite Glory (FL), 114, Kent Desormeaux