Saratoga Notebook: Frankel Drills Troops; Sky Mesa Dodges Bullet; Funny Cide Update; Strong Hope 'Super'

By Phil Janack and Mike Kane
Looking to beat the rain, Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel had several of his top stars on the main track Saturday morning, led by likely Travers (gr.I) favorite Empire Maker.

Working in company with Milwaukee Brew, Empire Maker breezed six furlongs in 1:12 3/5, the fastest of five. Milwaukee Brew and Medaglia d'Oro, who was also out on Saturday, will board a plane Monday morning headed for California to run in the Pacific Classic (gr. I) on Aug. 24.

Medaglia d'Oro was timed in 1:14 1/5. Peace Rules (:47 1/5), bound for the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. III), You (1:01) and Wild Spirit (1:02 2/5) were also on the work tab. Wild Spirit is pointed toward the Personal Ensign (gr. I) on Aug. 22.

"The rain scared me a little bit. That's why I pushed up the work by a day," Frankel said. "You never know when you're going to get a good track, so you've got to go for it. I didn't want to take a chance of hitting a sloppy track tomorrow.

"Everybody went good. We had an excellent morning. You just hope everything is the same tomorrow."

Frankel said jockey Edgar Prado, who was aboard Milwakuee Brew, was impressed with the way Empire Maker worked.

"Edgar said (Empire Maker) was in front and started pulling up a little bit. He sees Milwaukee Brew move up to him and he just spurted away without the jock doing anything," he said. "He likes the competition."

Sky Mesa 'Good as Can Be'
Despite a near miss during Friday's final workout for the Aug. 23 Travers (gr. I), Sky Mesa emerged from the experience no worse for wear.

"There he is, as good as can be," trainer John Ward said Saturday, as Sky Mesa was being walked after a morning gallop.

The previous morning, while still under a drive finishing his workout on the main track, Sky Mesa had to be steered clear of three 2-year-olds that were fanned out in front of him, one of which suddenly ducked into his path near the rail.

"It leaves you with concern until you see whether he had any problems, and it doesn't appear that we did," Ward said. "We're happy. We dodged a bullet. Maybe luck was with us."

Ward said the experience might even prove to be beneficial for the Pulpit colt.

"He's still lightly raced. He's still a rider's horse. He does whatever a rider says," he said. "As these young horses get more experience, they start reading when the hole is going to open. That's what good race riders say about good horses; the horse sees the hole before they do.

"This horse is still a little bit immature as far as looking for that hole. Yesterday might have taught him a serious lesson to pay attention to what's going on around you."

Funny Cide 'Doesn't Look Good' For Travers
While Funny Cide is not completely out of consideration for the Travers (gr.I), trainer Barclay Tagg said Saturday that the chances of him making the race continue to decrease.

"It doesn't look good," Tagg said. "I haven't seen anything that would make me want to run him yet. His blood count is still a little off what is normal for him. I don't like that.

"I'm not a big believer in blood counts and all that stuff. If the horses are doing good they're doing good. If they're not doing good, they're not doing good."

The Kentucky Derby (gr.I) and Preakness (gr.I) winner had another quiet morning. Tagg sent him to the little Clare Court jog track on the Saratoga backstretch. He jogged around once and galloped around the course three times.

Even though he hasn't been able to work Funny Cide since he finished third, beaten nine lengths, in the Haskell Invitational (gr.I) on Aug. 3 and spiked a temperature the morning after the race, Tagg said he probably wouldn't make a final decision on the Travers until entries are taken Wednesday.

"I'm going to put it this way: It's highly unlikely he's going to run in the Travers," Tagg said. "If the weather dropped and it was 50 degrees at night and 70 degrees in the daytime and he was really doing well and all that stuff, I might be tempted. But right now, there is nothing to tempt me."

Tagg said the New York-bred gelding owned by Sackatoga Stable is acting like he usually acts, but that the blood count had kept him from working the horse. A fourth blood test was done on Funny Cide Friday and again the results showed Tagg that the horse is still sick.

"You like to see a white count of seven, right around seven," Tagg said. "His was eight, and then when we took him off the antibiotics it went up to nine, then it went up to 10 and then it came back to nine.

"Before he ran in the Kentucky Derby, it was 6.3 and before he ran in the Louisiana Derby (gr.II) it was 6.7. That's where this horse likes to be, to me, from what I'm looking at when I'm looking at all the blood tests.He's either got a low-grade infection, is fighting off something, or has been fighting off something. I have no idea.

Tagg said he disappointed that Funny Cide wasn't likely to make Saratoga's biggest race.

"I feel bad for me and the people. I feel bad for everybody," he said. "What can I do? I'm not going to ruin the horse. I hope to run this horse for another five years. Not a whole lot of horses go through the Triple Crown and do a while lot of running afterward. At least not that year.

"He's run another time after that and he didn't run any good. We were lucky we got third. You could have fit a lot of horses in that space.

Funny Cide was nominated to the Pennsylvania Derby (gr.III) on Sept. 1, but Tagg said he doubted the horse will run in the race.

"I don't think so," he said. "If I don't make this, I doubt if I'll make that one."

Strong Hope Continues to Do Well
One of contenders facing Empire Maker in the Travers will be Jim Dandy (gr. II) winner Strong Hope, who breezed five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 on Saturday.

"I thought he worked super," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "We were shooting for a minute or 1:01, in that area, and he did it very easily. He galloped out good and came back in good shape."

Pletcher, who raised his Saratoga record total to 28 wins with three more victories Saturday, said the Jim Dandy win, where Strong Hope's led from gate to wire to hold off Empire Maker by a neck, doesn't appear to have taken much out of the colt.

"We've had a really good 13 days since then," he said. "The horse is, I think, training even better now than he was leading into the Jim Dandy. He's going to run as well as he's capable of running. It's just a matter of if he can get the trip."

In the Travers, Pletcher said he doesn't anticipate having as easy a trip, with or without Funny Cide.

"Without him in there, I think that's one less horse that can press us, maybe not in the first quarter but in the second or third quarter," he said. "I think anybody that's willing to go with him is going to compromise their own chances a little bit.
They might keep a little closer eye on him, but I still think he's the speed of the race."

Graded stakes-winning 2-year-old Heckle, who was kept out of the Aug. 13 Saratoga Special (gr. II) with a sore shin, will have a nuclear bone scan Monday at the Rood and Riddle Equine Clinic in Kentucky.

"If any areas light up, there could be something going on," Pletcher said. "He had a little bit of a sore shin. We just wanted to rule out a stress fracture or something like that."

California-Style Blow-Out for During
During, trained by California-based Bob Baffert, worked a bullet five furlongs in :58 2/5 Saturday morning, the fastest of 50 at the distance.

Well beaten in the Jim Dandy and not nominated to the Travers, During will go next in the King's Bishop (gr. I) Aug. 23. He remains in the care of Tonya Terranova, wife and assistant to trainer John Terranova.