By Mike Kane and Phil Janack
Funny Cide will make a brief appearance Wednesday morning when the New York Racing Association honors the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness (gr. I) winner at Saratoga Race Course.Trainer Barclay Tagg is scheduled to school the New York-bred gelding in the paddock at 11:30 a.m.Jack Knowlton, the managing partner of Sackatoga Stable, said he thinks fans are excited about the day. "A lot of people have said, `We're going to be at Funny Cide Day.' They seem to be enthusiastic about it," Knowlton said. "Everybody wants the opportunity to see the horse," Knowlton said. "Travers Day, assuming that he runs, that will be absolutely crazy. This, presumably, will kind of give him his own stage and allow people to view him in the paddock and take pictures."All paid admissions to the track will receive a special Funny Cide poster from the Daily Racing Form.Among the other activities are a race named for Funny Cide, with the Backstretch Employees Assistance Team, B.E.A.T., receiving $10,000. The artist Pierre Belloq, known as "Peb" in the Daily Racing Form, will autograph items for a fee with the money being donated to the Equine Advocates. Copies of Peb's work during the Triple Crown involving Funny Cide will be on sale.Partners in Sackatoga Stable will also participate in the signings. The proceeds will go to Anna House, the backstretch childcare center at Belmont ParkIn addition, most of the products licensed by Funny Cide Ventures will be on sale. There will be a tasting of the Funny Cide Light beer.NYRA Officials Optimistic
NYRA senior-vice president Bill Nader is optimistic that business will improve in the second half of the Saratoga season, which starts Wednesday.After three wet weeks, on-track attendance was even compared to last year, but on-track handle was down 6.9 percent and total handle was by $23.5 million or 8.4 percent."We start off with Funny Cide Day on Wednesday and then the Alabama is this Saturday, with Spoken Fur going a $2 million bonus," Nader said.Then, of course, the Travers, which has potential to be the biggest single race in Saratoga history."Last year, the weather really didn't cooperate with us in the second half, so maybe we're due for a break. If we get it, we can rally back in this meet."The key day for NYRA is Aug. 23 when Funny Cide and Empire Maker are scheduled to meet in the Travers."The Travers day last year was a really soft day because of weather," Nader said. "It started our string of bad luck on big days with bad weather. The Travers, the Wood Memorial, the Belmont Stakes, opening day here and basically a lot of this meet. Maybe we can get some good fortune in the second half."Nader said he wouldn't be surprised if total handle on Travers Day jumped $10 million compared to numbers on the cold, rainy Travers of 2002.The only change NYRA will make in its schedule during the second half is to add a 12th race on Travers Day. It will replace the race that was cancelled Sunday when a heavy downpour left standing water on the track.Snow Dance Shooting for Million Mark
Multiple stakes winner Snow Dance, the victim of a poor start in the Diana Handicap (gr. I) on July 26, will run back in the $200,000 Ballston Spa Breeders' Cup (gr. III) Aug. 23 on the Travers undercard.Trainer John Ward said he was initially hesitant to bring Snow Dance back at the meet after she finished seventh of eight in the Diana, though beaten only 3 1\2 lengths. Ward had planned to send Snow Dance to the Beverly D. (gr. I) at Arlington Park on Saturday, but changed his mind after the Diana.The 5-year-old mare is 8-4-5 in 22 career starts, with earnings of $895,917. The $120,000 winner's share in the Ballston Spa would push her over $1 million. "She's running well at a mile and a quarter and a mile and three-eighths, and you hate to take a horse like that out of their game," Ward said this week. "I don't want to ship her to the Beverly D. It's important to me that she get to the million mark. We get a good race there, then more than likely the Flower Bowl Invitational (gr. I) l sets us right up for what we want to do."Replays of the Diana show the typically front-running Snow Dance rear in the gate as the doors opened. She was still being held by an assistant starter, who was off-balance, causing his right leg to partially impede the filly. She broke last, well behind the field."I had been setting that one up all year long. It was just an unfortunate circumstance," Ward said. "She ran at them hard the last part of it; she just gave up so much early on. She's been super. She came out of that race really good. We're pretty happy about what we got."Shake You Down's Inexplicable Loss
Shake You Down's shocking loss in the A.G. Vanderbilt (gr. II) on Sunday remains a mystery to trainer Scott Lake.Sent off as the overwhelming 1-5 favorite, Shake You Down was softened by Mike's Classic while setting the pace and finished fourth of five, beaten more than five lengths.It was his first loss in six starts since being claimed by Lake for $65,000 in March. His last three wins each came in graded stakes.'"He came back great. No excuses," Lake said. "We came back and we scoped him thinking he may have bled or something, but he didn't bleed and there was no mucous. He was as clean as can be. He just didn't fire."Lake didn't use the track, which was beyond sloppy due to heavy rain that hit Saratoga on Sunday, as an excuse. Shake You Down was 5-for-6 on wet tracks prior to the Vanderbilt, and had beaten the eventual winner, Private Horde, by 8 3/4 in their last meeting."He trained really well going into the race," Lake said. "It's kind of got us stumped why he ran the way he did. He's not showing signs of anything right now." The 5-year-old Montbrook gelding remains a prospect for the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) at Santa Anita in October, Lake said. All 12 of Shake You Down's career wins have come at six furlongs."We're going to let him dictate to us whether we make another start before the Breeders' Cup or not," he said. "We're still looking at it. We'll see how he does when he gets back to the track."Zito Has High Expectations
Normally conservative trainer Nick Zito can't help but look ahead with his promising 2-year-old colt Birdstone, an impressive 12 1/2-length maiden winner Aug. 2 in his debut. Not only is he thinking about the Hopeful (gr.1) on Aug. 30, but Zito already has designs on a bigger prize."I don't know if it's ever happened that a brother and sister won the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and the Kentucky Derby back-to-back," Zito said. Birdstone's half-sister is Bird Town, winner of the Oaks and Acorn (gr. I) who runs next in the Alabama (gr. I) on Saturday."We've got something to shoot for. That would be pretty impressive, huh?" Zito said. "That would be really great. That would be some history. It's a long way off. We're dreaming right now but, guess what, this game's made of dreams. You might as well think about it."Zito said he planned to work Birdstone this week, depending upon the weather. The Grindstone colt earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 99 for his victory, going a muddy six furlongs in 1:10 1/5."They tell me that 99 is about the highest you can get on a first-time starter for a 2-year-old," Zito said. "The thing I like about him is, sometimes you worry that a horse can't be rated. He looks like he can be rated. That's the thing. Then you know he'll go all day. Then you've got something special."