Empire Maker (left) and Funny Cide may meet again.

Empire Maker (left) and Funny Cide may meet again.

Associated Press

Belmont Starters In Good Shape; Travers Showdown Looms

From Belmont press notes:

Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel was all smiles this morning after winning Saturday's Belmont Stakes with Empire Maker. Frankel said the three-quarter-length winner of the 135th Belmont appears to be fine this morning. It was the trainer's first victory in a Visa Triple Crown race.

"That wasn't the big thing," said Frankel. "The big thing was just that this horse redeemed himself. It's great winning this race and everything. It's one of the best wins I've ever had. It was a big deal this year...New York-bred, Triple Crown, everybody out there and me playing the villain. It was fun."

Frankel was brimming with confidence all week leading up to the Belmont Stakes and the Juddmonte Farms runner did not let him down.

"You can never be 100 percent sure, but I was very confident in him," Frankel said. "I would have been very disappointed if [Funny Cide] beat me again."

The Belmont was Empire Maker's third grade I victory this year. While Funny Cide would seem to hold an edge for 3-year-old champion on the basis of his Kentucky Derby and Preakness wins and third-place Belmont finish, there is plenty of racing left in 2003.

Empire Maker is scheduled to make his next start in the grade II, $500,000 Jim Dandy at a mile and an eighth August 3 at Saratoga Race Course - the traditional Spa prep for the meet's biggest race, the 134th running of the "Mid-Summer Derby", the grade I, $1 million Travers for 3-year-olds at a mile and a quarter on Saturday, August 23.

"I don't think he's nearly reached his peak," Frankel said of Empire Maker. "He's a light, tall, gangly horse. He's growing fast and he hasn't had time to muscle up and put his weight on yet. If he stays sound, I'll guarantee a great horse."

Denon, winner of the Manhattan, and Midas Eyes, who came up a nose short in the Riva Ridge, also exited Saturday's races in good shape. Frankel said Denon would be pointed to Saratoga's grade I, $500,000 Sword Dancer at a mile and a half on turf August 9th while Midas Eyes will run in the grade I, $200,000 King's Bishop at seven furlongs Travers Day, August 23.

Ten Most Wanted, returned in good shape from his sharp runner-up finish to Empire Maker in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, according to trainer Wallace Dollase, who missed his morning flight to California.

"I'm a happy camper," Dollase said. "The horse came out of the race great. He ate up well last night. I had him out grazing for a half an hour this morning and he barely picked his head up. He's a hearty rascal. His dad was the same way."

Ten Most Wanted's sire is Deputy Commander, who defeated Behrens by a nose in the 1997 Travers. After winning the Illinois Derby, Ten Most Wanted finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby with a troubled start.

"The Belmont was a real reprieve for me because of how poorly he ran in the Derby," Dollase said. "He did have a good excuse in the Derby, but this makes me feel that I was right about this horse."

Ten Most Wanted is scheduled to leave Belmont and ship back to California at 7:30 Monday morning. Dollase is not certain about the colt's next start. "I don't know about the first race back, but my ultimate goal would be the Travers," Dollase said. "I'm sure everybody will be dodging each other until then."

Sackatoga Stable's Funny Cide failed to become racing's 12th Triple Crown winner when finishing third in yesterday's Belmont Stakes, but the New York-bred gelding was the reason 101,864 rain-drenched fans packed Belmont Park yesterday. Saturday's attendance was the second largest in Belmont Stakes history.

This morning, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was resting comfortably in his stall. According to his connections, Funny Cide will do little over the next couple of weeks; he earned his mini vacation.

"It was a good story. A great ride," trainer Barclay Tagg said. "Everything had gone perfect up until that rainstorm yesterday. We're going to freshen him up. He needs it. We'll look at races like the Haskell and Travers. I'm not letting anything get in the way of the Travers. That's the race I want to make."

Empire Maker and Funny Cide have faced each other three times with Empire Maker holding a 2-1 edge over the popular gelding. There's a good chance the two will meet a fourth time in Saratoga's Travers.

The race for the 3-year-old Eclipse Award is on. "Empire Maker has the breeding and make up to be a champion of champion," said Tagg's assistant trainer, Robin Smullen. "Who knows if we could beat him, but I'd like to see it on a fast track that everyone handles. Someone asked me about this rivalry between Empire Maker and Funny Cide in years to come. Years to come? Empire Maker will go off to become a stallion after the Breeders' Cup, more than likely. But we hope to have Funny Cide for a few more years.

"I'm not worried about Eclipse Awards or anything like that. If this turns out to be Empire Maker's year, believe me, Funny Cide will get his Eclipse later on. You have to remember that Empire Maker was bred to be the Triple Crown winner, and maybe go on to be one of the great stallions of all time, based on his breeding.

"Empire Make was the favorite for the Kentucky Derby. But Funny Cide beat him in Kentucky, and then for whatever reason, Empire Maker wasn't good enough to make the Preakness. Funny Cide did - and he won big. So now, we come to the Belmont and Empire Maker wins one of the three races he was supposed to win. Funny Cide struggled with the track. It is his nature that, if he doesn't like something, he gets rank and aggressive. I don't care what anyone says, he doesn't switch leads on the first turn. He does on the second, but yesterday, he switched leads three times on the first turn. That's when I knew he was struggling and that it probably wasn't his day. But he proved himself throughout the Triple Crown, and remember, this New York-bred is only three years old. Horses don't even start to mature until they are five. God, I can't wait to see him at five!"

Smullen added Funny Cide had little trouble cooling off following his third-place finish in yesterday's Belmont. "He was like 'alright, He'll live to fight another day,'" she said. "I thought he'd be devastated, but he cooled out fine. He was beaten, but didn't have a defeated look on his face. He was happy."

With the 2003 Triple Crown in the books, Funny Cide will consider options like Monmouth's grade I Haskell on August 3, but the Travers remains the main goal. "It's a million purse run over a track that traditionally favors horses with early speed," Knowlton said. "Barclay and I have looked ahead a little bit, just so the other partners know what the summer is going to be like."

Catherine Wills' Dynever, fourth in yesterday's Belmont Stakes, exited the race in good shape according to trainer Christophe Clement. Off visually impressive victories in Gulfstream's Avenutra and Lone Star's Lone Star Derby, Dynever was the "wise guy" horse in this year's Belmont. He never threatened the leaders at any point in the race and checked in a little more than 10 lengths behind Empire Maker.

"I would have preferred a fast track," Clement said. "I'm not sure if he handled the track. Whether the competition was too tough I don't know. We'll regroup with him and keep him eligible for everything. He'll probably breeze 10 days from now."