The more one looks at the repercussions of a Funny Cide victory in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, the more it looks almost a sure thing that Empire Maker will hook up fairly early with the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner.
In addition to becoming the first horse in 25 years to sweep the Triple Crown, Funny Cide will have locked up the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old and will have the upper hand in the voting for Horse of the Year honors. Therefore, for Bobby Frankel, it is more important for Funny Cide to lose the Belmont than Empire Maker to win the Belmont. A defeat by both horses still would give Frankel the opportunity to snatch championship honors away from Funny Cide in the Travers, Jockey Club Gold Cup, and Breeders' Cup Classic. It also would give other Frankel horses, like Medaglia d'Oro and Milwaukee Brew, a better chance at Horse of the Year honors.
So for those reasons, Frankel has no choice but to take on Funny Cide in an all-out battle, especially since he and jockey Jerry Bailey firmly believe they have the best horse and that Empire Maker was not at his best in the Derby. There are no excuses this time for Empire Maker, even if they are legitimate – no more claims that Funny Cide had the best trip, or Empire Maker never got a chance to hook him and prove once and for all who is the best horse. This is it; for all the marbles.
Empire Maker is a late foal (April 27) and is only now blossoming into a physically and mentally mature racing machine. This is the time for him to lay it all on the line. The question of stamina going a mile and a half is always a concern, so the last thing Frankel wants is for Funny Cide to have a clear lead at any point in the race and turn the Belmont into a sprint to the wire. If Empire Maker eyeballs Funny Cide and the two kill each other and set it up for someone else, then Empire Maker, as we said earlier, still lives to fight another day.
Funny Cide, instead of entering the realm of the immortals, becomes another in the growing number of 3-year-olds to win two legs of the Triple Crown. Although he still would be the leader of the division, there are ample opportunities later in the year for Empire Maker to dethrone him.
If Empire Maker does hook Funny Cide, and Funny Cide shakes him off and goes on to win the Belmont, then Frankel at least would be secure in the knowledge that his horse had every chance and couldn't get it done, and that Funny Cide is a deserving champion and Triple Crown winner.
From a fan's standpoint, it would silence any remaining Funny Cide detractors, who would have no choice but to concede that the New York-bred gelding is a true champ.
The only horse who could intrude on this inevitable slugfest is Scrimshaw, and no one has any idea what tricks Wayne Lukas has up his sleeve, especially with the aggressive Gary Stevens aboard. But it really doesn't matter if Scrimshaw is on the lead or just off it. Bailey has got to focus on Funny Cide, regardless of where he is, and make sure he doesn't catch anyone napping and slip away at some point. If Empire Maker is staring into Funny Cide's eye when they turn for home, then we've got a true classic and may the best horse win.