Saratoga Notebook: Funny Cide Tired; Bailey Gets Volponi Mount; Travers Takes Shape

Saratoga Notebook: Funny Cide Tired; Bailey Gets Volponi Mount; Travers Takes Shape
Photo: AP/Ed Betz
Funny Cide, tired after Haskell effort.
By Phil Janack
Funny Cide came out of his third-place finish in Sunday's $1 million Haskell (gr. I) with a slight temperature, leaving his status for the Aug. 23 Travers in doubt.

Trainer Barclay Tagg said that the Kentucky Derby (gr.I) and Preakness (gr. I) winner, who arrived back in Saratoga around 12:30 a.m. from Monmouth Park, spiked a fever of 102 late Monday morning.

"He's tired and he's got a temperature," Tagg said. "I like to see it between 99 and 100 in the morning and 100 and 101 in the afternoon. Anytime it's over 101, you worry about it."

Tagg said he would wait a few days before having blood work done on Funny Cide, which would help reveal the reason for the temperature. The trainer had no estimate on how long the Distorted Humor gelding would be out.

"If it's a mild bug and you get it killed right away, they can get right over it. It might be nothing," Tagg said. "I've had horses that were 104 and the next day they're fine and don't spike it again and they go on and run races. I've seen other horses that were 102 and they're 102 for 10 days and it drives you nuts. 102 scares me more than 104."

Jockey Jose Santos said it was clear Funny Cide wasn't himself in the Haskell, where he was the beaten favorite, nine lengths behind Peace Rules. Though it didn't surface until the morning, he felt the temperature may have made a difference.

"It definitely makes sense," Santos said. "He was not really on the bridle. He was a completely different horse yesterday. When I went to the barn this morning he was laying down sleeping. He have a legitimate reason why he was not in the bridle. He has good people caring for him, and I hope he can recoup as quick as he can."

Tagg said there was no guarantee that his horse would make the Travers, and he wouldn't push the horse to get there. The Travers was expected to be the next matchup between Funny Cide, owned locally by Sackatoga Stable, and Empire Maker.

"I'd like to win the Travers, yeah, and I thought I had a horse that could do it," Tagg said. "I'm not going to kill him to do it. You live with disappointment in this game, a lot more disappointment than ups. If I don't get him to the Travers, I'll live through it."

Travers Field Shaping Up

The loss of both Empire Maker in the Jim Dandy (gr. II) and Funny Cide in the Haskell left the 3-year-old division completely wide open, and makes the $1 million Travers an even more important race.

"It looked to me like those two had a death grip in the 3-year-old picture," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "Now I don't think so."

"It's going to be a key race for 3-year-old of the year," Santos said. "It's going to make a big difference."

As of Monday, the Travers field figures to include Pletcher's Jim Dandy winner, Strong Hope, and runner-up Empire Maker, as well as Sky Mesa and possibly Funny Cide from the Haskell and Ten Most Wanted from California.

Trainer Shug McGaughey, whose Congrats ran a closing third in the Jim Dandy, said he isn't thinking Travers. Neither is trainer Ken McPeek, after Wild and Wicked was fourth in the Haskell. Both will be nominated to the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. III) in Sept. 1.

Strong Hope came back well from his victory, where he got away on the lead and held off a late charge from Empire Maker, who lost by a half-length.

"I don't think you go into a race like that thinking you're going to beat Empire Maker," he said. "We felt like we had a legitimate chance and we felt like our horse was doing well and certainly deserved a shot at it. Obviously, everything went perfect for us. Hopefully the story here is that this is a horse that's won five in a row and keeps getting better, and not that Empire Maker lost. Strong Hope ran a huge race."

Separate Ways
Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel wasn't disappointed with Empire Maker's performance and is looking forward to the Travers. He said Monday he will send Peace Rules to the Pacific Classic (gr. I) Aug. 24 in California which, like the Travers, is run at 10 furlongs.

"I think he'll get a mile and a quarter a lot better at Del Mar," Frankel said. He also expects to start Milwaukee Brew in that race, coming off an easy allowance victory Sunday at Monmouth Park.

Frankel said he learned something from Empire Maker's race, where jockey Jerry Bailey kept him well behind a solid but not exceptional half-mile pace of 47 seconds set by Strong Hope before circling the field and rallying late.

"I think he wants to be in a fight all the way," Frankel said. "All his races he ran better he was right there and Jerry had a hold of him all the way. You learn when things go wrong. He can keep up with fast fractions. I wasn't unhappy, it was just circumstances that got him beat. The other horse ran a really good race."

Bailey to Replace Santos on Volponi
Jerry Bailey accepted the mount on Breeders' Cup Classic winner Volponi from trainer Phil Johnson on Monday, replacing Jose Santos, who was fired after running second in the Whitney (gr. I) Aug. 2.

Johnson said Monday at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony that he offered the ride to Bailey's agent, Ron Anderson, for Volponi's next start, which will come in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup (gr.II) Aug. 16.

"It's a one-race commitment," Johnson said.

Bailey has never ridden the 5-year-old Volponi in the Cryptoclearance son's 27 career starts, and had yet to talk with the Hall of Fame trainer.

"I'm flattered he would think of me," Bailey said. "I'll look at tapes and, obviously, look at the PP's. I might even have the opportunity to get on him in the morning, I don't know."

Johnson was critical of Santos' ride in the Whitney, saying the rider got Volponi in tight quarters and had to shuffle back before swinging out to make a run at the eventual winner, Medaglia d'Oro. Race replays seemed to contradict Johnson's analysis, showing Santos in good position all the way around.

"I don't think I did anything wrong," Santos said. "I talked to him today and he told me he wanted to make a change. He's been unlucky with me. I'm lucky enough to win the Breeders' Cup Classic."

Volponi has been second in all four starts this year, by less than six lengths combined. Before the Whitney, Johnson had some pointed remarks about all the "hype" surrounding Medaglia d'Oro and Frankel.

"I think Mr. Johnson made the mistake to open his mouth about Bobby Frankel and he have to blame it on the little guy," Santos said. "We finish second four times. The first time it was because he was short and the other three times he was a legitimate second-best. I disagree we have been unlucky. Second best is better than third best. We win the biggest race he ever win. I think it's a cheap excuse."

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