Saratoga Notebook: Tagg Cautious; Bird Town Works; Trainer Record Threatened

By Mike Kane and Phil Janack
Funny Cide continued his recovery from a brief illness and returned to the track Friday morning for the first time since running third in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I).

"It was very exciting," trainer Barclay Tagg said, with a smile, "we took him out and jogged him once around backwards with the pony."

The Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness (gr. I) winner owned by Sackatoga Stable spiked a temperature of 102 degrees Monday morning. He was put on medication that lowered the temperature. Friday morning, Tagg said the gelding's temperature was a normal 99 degrees and that he had been taken off the antibiotics.

"He looks fine overall right now," Tagg said.

Still, Tagg said he is moving cautiously with Funny Cide.

"My experience with these kind of things is with young horses if you come back too hard with them and they fall right apart on you," he said. "If you take their temperature and they've got a temperature you give them some antibiotics they get right over the temperature, they're bucking and kicking and you come back and breeze them and they fall right apart.

"It's something that you have to be very careful about."

Tagg said a blood test done earlier in the week "came back pretty good." Another test was scheduled for Friday.

The illness upset Funny Cide's schedule by one day. Typically, Tagg's horses walk for three days after a race and go back to the track for light exercise on the fourth day.

"I probably should have walked him five days, but I can't do that and even think about the Travers," Tagg said.

Funny Cide remains on course toward the Travers on Aug. 23, which has been the summer goal for the Saratoga Springs-based stable for several months.

Tagg, a self-described pessimist, scoffed at a question about whether he was optimistic about Funny Cide's progress this week.

"I'm never optimistic," he said. "How can you be optimistic when you've got a horse that's gone through a campaign like that and he got sick on you? If I had six weeks til the next race, I'd say, `Yes, I'm optimistic.'

Tagg said that under similar conditions he wouldn't consider running the horse in any other race.

"If I was in my right mind, I wouldn't even think about the Travers," he said.

Tagg said he does not have a schedule for when Funny Cide might start galloping, or when he will have his first post-race workouts. He said those type of decisions will be made each morning after he has had a chance to look at the horse.

As he develops a plan to prepare for the Travers, Tagg has to take into account Funny Cide's scheduled schooling in the paddock Wednesday morning during Funny Cide Day at the track.

"I'd like to get two works, but I've got to have that paddock day, too, so I don't know how much that will take out of him," Tagg said. "I'll play all that by ear."

Bird Town Works
After anxiously waiting out the weather, trainer Nick Zito breathed a sigh of relief Friday morning.

The skies clear and the sun bright, Zito sent multiple stakes-winning filly Bird Town out for her final work prior to the Aug. 16 Alabama (gr. I).

With assistant Maxine Correa up, Bird Town was clocked in 1:01 2/5 on the Oklahoma training track. It was her only work since running second to record-setting Lady Tak in the Test (gr. I) July 26.

Zito canceled a planned work on Thursday, not wanting to work Bird Town on an off track. He wanted to get at least one in prior to Saturday.

"When you run on them, that's what you get. You have no choice," he said. "If Alabama day it's off, it's off. She's handled the mud before. But when you work them, somehow you're always skeptical."

Even more than relieved, Zito was thrilled with the way Bird Town looked.

"I was very, very pleased with the work. She came home extremely fast," he said. "I don't know what the clockers got her in, but I got the last quarter in 23 and change on the Oklahoma, which was very heavy. In my opinion, it was heavier after the break, after they harrowed it. I was very happy."

Training Record Threatened
The record has stood, unapproached, for 49 years: late Hall of Famer trainer Sylvester Veitch's 24 wins during a 24-day meet in 1954.

Nine years old when his father set the standard, trainer John Veitch has been an quiet but interested observer as Todd Pletcher attempts to break it.

"It's a totally different thing," Veitch said. "When my father did it in 1954, he had probably 28, 30 horses, and Todd's probably got 200. It's a different era.

"His percentage was overwhelming. My father was very old school. If a horse made two starts in a month, that was quite a bit. There's no comparison."

Pletcher posted his 22nd win in 15 days on Friday, already three more than his meet-leading total from last summer. He has openly admitted wanting to set the record, particularly in the same 24-day period.

Veitch said he wouldn't be upset to see the record fall.

"You know, all records are made to be broken, and I'm glad Todd's having a great year," Veitch said. "I mean, it stood for a tremendous period of time, almost 50 years. That's enough."