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Tim Layden
June 09, 2003
What stands between Funny Cide and a victory in the Belmont Stakes? History, and a field of foes led by Empire Maker
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June 09, 2003

Triple Threats

What stands between Funny Cide and a victory in the Belmont Stakes? History, and a field of foes led by Empire Maker

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Since 1978 eight horses—including four in the last six years—have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, only to fall short in the Belmont Stakes. As usual, no Belmont horse has run a 1�-mile race before, and fatigue is the most obvious pitfall. Who can forget Kent Desormeaux moving early on Real Quiet in 1998, a strategic blunder that caused the horse to flatten out at the finish and deprived him of the Triple Crown?

Don't count on Funny Cide's suffering the same fate. He has the brilliant tactical speed that enabled him to get close to the rail on the first turn in the Preakness despite an outside post. That speed will also prevent the pacesetter, possibly Scrimshaw, from stealing the Belmont on the lead. Once Funny Cide made his move in the Derby and the Preakness, he showed no signs of tiring. "Mile and a half?" says Tony Everard, the Florida trainer who sold Funny Cide to Sackatoga Stable. "He can run three miles."

So who poses the biggest threat?

Empire Maker was anointed the next superhorse before he was soundly beaten by Funny Cide in the Derby. Nobody pretends to know how he'll run, including his trainer, Bobby Frankel. Expect jockey Jerry Bailey to stalk Funny Cide early and try to catch him in the stretch, as he did in the Wood Memorial.

Dynever has created much buzz at Belmont with three wins in his four starts as a 3-year-old. Though inexperienced against top competition, he has a powerful closing kick—badly blocked for much of the Grade III Lone Star Derby on May 10, he shook free and stormed to victory—that could make him a factor.

Ten Most Wanted learned to relax behind the pace and close strongly after losing two California stakes races early this year. The result was an eye-popping victory at the Illinois Derby on April 5. He also trained well before the Kentucky Derby but ran a dull ninth that mystified his trainer, Wally Dollase.

Best Minister is this year's Sarava, the colt whom trainer Ken McPeek took from an undercard victory on Preakness day to a stunning Belmont win in 2002 as a 70-1 shot. This spring Best Minister, a tireless stalker also trained by McPeek, convincingly won the Sir Barton, a stakes race at Pimlico before the Preakness.