By Phil Janack
After two months of hype, the much-anticipated rematch between Funny Cide and Empire Maker in Saturday's Travers (gr. I) fell through.With his Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner still feeling the effects of an illness contracted after the Haskell Invitational Aug. 3, trainer Barclay Tagg declared Funny Cide out of the $1 million race Friday morning.Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel pulled Empire Maker out of consideration Thursday night, though he said Friday that he had made up his mind earlier that day. It was Empire Maker that spoiled Funny Cide's bid at the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.The loss of its two marquee horses leaves the Travers field at six. In post position order, with revised morning-line odds, they are: Congrats (15-1), Strong Hope (5-2), Peace Rules (8-5), Ten Most Wanted (5-1), Wild and Wicked (20-1) and Sky Mesa (2-1).Tagg said he made his decision after watching Funny Cide gallop at Clare Court Friday morning. After consulting with the Saratoga-based owners, Sackatoga Stable, he notified New York Racing Association racing secretary Mike Lakow."I wanted to run him. Nobody wanted to run him in the Travers more than I did," Tagg said. "We've had this ongoing problem with him since the Haskell. I've tried to overcome it. We haven't been able to. It's real simple. I don't even feel disappointed. I've got to get the horse perfect. These are big races. You try and make them. If you can't, you can't. That's all there is to it. You can't make a horse well and you can't make them do something they shouldn't do. You're either patient, or you pay for it."Tagg said he had no timetable for bringing Funny Cide back, other than when he is fully healthy."I have nothing pressuring me now. If he doesn't run again this year, I don't care. If I can run him again next month, that'll be fine. I'll do nothing with him until he gets better."Jockey Jose Santos said he was disappointed by the circumstances but respected the decision to scratch."I think it's best for the horse. He's a gelding, and he'll have many more opportunities to get to the track and run in big races," he said. "I'd be very upset if they run the horse sick and he doesn't finish anywhere. You don't want to ruin the reputation of the horse. I think it's the smartest thing."I feel sorry for all the people that want to see these two best 3-year-olds, Empire Maker and Funny Cide. It was going to be a rematch of those two horses. It was going to be a great show. Unfortunately, both horses got sick."Funny Cide will remain in Tagg's barn until he ships out for the start of the Belmont Park Fall meet, which opens Sept. 5.Frankel said Friday that he had made up his mind before he left the barn Thursday morning and heard Empire Maker cough three times. He said the colt would walk for about a week and point for a return in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) Sept. 27 at Belmont."His coat looked a little dull," Frankel said. "I said, `Give him some Clembuterol so I don't have to make a decision.' I didn't want to come in this morning and he's jumping around and kicking and changing my mind. I made sure."It wasn't a hard decision, not after I got to thinking about the sensible thing. We're going to play it cautiously."Despite the absence of its marquee stars, NYRA is still anticipating a crowd to rival or even surpass the Travers Day record of 60,486 that watched Point Given's victory in 2001."The good news is that both horses declared out of the race early. It didn't come down to a last-second decision," NYRA senior vice president Bill Nader said. "We still have a shot at a record crowd. It's been difficult all week trying to figure out, certainly for them and also for us and the public to try and figure out what was going to happen. At least now we have a clear understanding of what the Travers field is going to look like. You take a look at the horses that are running, and it's a pretty good Travers.The field for the 134th running of the $1 million Travers (gr. 1) with adjusted post positions, horse, owner, trainer, jockey, and adjusted morning line odds:
1 -- Congrats (Adele B. Dilschneider / Claude McGaughey / Mike Luzzi), 15-1;
2 -- Strong Hope (Eugene and Laura Melnyk / Todd Pletcher / John Velazquez), 5-2;
3 -- Peace Rules (Edmund Gann / Robert Frankel / Jerry Bailey), 8-5;
4 -- Ten Most Wanted (J. Paul Reddam / Wallace Dollase / Pat Day), 5-1;
5 -- Wild and Wicked (Robert David Randal / Ken McPeek / Shane Sellers), 20-1;
6 -- Sky Mesa (John C. Oxley / John T. Ward Jr. / Edgar Prado), 2-1.