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June 05, 2003

Oscar's 2003 Belmont Green Sheet

America’s Horse? That is not a title to be bestowed lightly on someone’s withers. It fit Man O’ War and Secretariat as perfectly as D. Wayne Lukas’ imported suits fit him. It was appropriate for Citation, Kelso, John Henry, and Cigar as well.

That title also fit a little horse by Hard Tack out of Swing On, by Whiskbroom. Who was he? If you don’t know, there is a movie you should go to see on July 25….

Ok, I won’t make you wait that long. That little horse, named Seabiscuit, never competed in the Triple Crown, however, he was just as important to Americas in 1938 as Secretariat was in 1973. In fact 40 million people including the President heard him defeat the Triple Crown Champion War Admiral in the most famous match race in history.

Funny Cide will become the latest horse to earn the designation of “America’s Horse” should he win the Belmont Stakes and become the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown. The NY bred gelding actually has much in common Seabiscuit. Consider:

· They were both grandsons of horses who were champions both on the track and in the breeding shed. Seabiscuit’s paternal grandsire was Man O’ War. Funny Cide’s maternal great grandsire was Seattle Slew.

· Both had unconventional trainers. Seabiscuit’s Tom Smith, to quote author Laura Hillenbrand, was “an enigmatic mustang breaker who had come from the vanishing frontier, bearing generations of lost wisdom about the secrets of horses”. Barclay Tagg toiled on the Maryland circuit for years with less then stellar stock. He used to watch the Preakness from a barn roof on the Pimlico backside, and years ago during Preakness week he was forced to move his stock to Timonium so that his barn could be used for the visiting Budweiser Clydesdales. He had trained 38 stakes winners, but never really had the “big horse” until something “Funny” happened to him. An “I’ll do it my own way” trainer like Smith, Tagg kept Funny Cide at Belmont for his works, despite the fact that every Derby winner since 1976 had trained over the Churchill surface. (Funny Cide passed all of my elimination tests for the Derby except for that one. Otherwise he would have been one of my choices.)

o Taking another page from Smith’s playbook, Tagg has a habit of telling the public one thing and then doing another as evidenced by his surreptitious shipping in for the Preakness and his earlier than scheduled work at the crack of dawn this pastTuesday morning.

· Seabiscuit’s jockey, Red Pollard had been living in a horse stall since being abandoned by a trusted family friend. Jose Santos, born into poverty in Chile, began grooming horses at age eight to help support his family.

So who is Funny Cide anyway? Approximately 36,700 foals were born in 2000. One of them was a NY bred by sprinter Distorted Humor out of Belle’s Good Cide by Seattle Slew’s son Slewacide. Born a ridgling, and with a rather ordinary pedigree in his first two generations, the decision was made to geld him. (The only time anyone ever wanted a ball as badly was the grounder that Bill Buckner missed in the 1986 World Series!)

He broke his maiden by over 14 lengths at first asking, followed by a 9 length triumph in a restricted NY stakes race. That’s impressive, but if you had told me at that time that this horse would be going into the Belmont on June 7 with a chance to become the 12th Triple Crown Champion, I would have given you better odds that the Dixie Chicks would be invited to play at the White House, or that Rosie O’Donnel and Tom Selleck would be cuddling over a steak dinner at the next NRA convention!

All America wants this horse to win the Triple Crown. Far different from the aristocratic connections of Meadow Stable’s Secretariat and Calumet Farm’s Citation, if Funny Side should become the 12th winner of the Triple Crown, his blue collar story would make a movie that would certainly rival the soon to be released Seabiscuit. He was purchased for a relatively modest price by a bunch of 50+ year-old school buddies from a small town in upstate NY who arrived at Churchill and Pimlico in a school bus. Funny Cide is finally beginning to get some respect now as evidenced by the D. Wayne Lukas comment: “Fifty years from now, we may be having movies made about Funny Cide”. I think if he wins on Saturday, there will be a movie made much sooner!

He has done nothing wrong so far and has the early speed style that history has shown to be successful in this race, but that description also fit Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, and War Emblem, all of whom found a way to lose the last jewel of the Triple Crown. The are no sure things in this business.

It was 25 years between Citation and Secretariat, and it’s been 25 years since our last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed. Funny Cide’s great grandfather, Seattle Slew was the last living Triple Crown winner prior to his death last year. The timing might be right for his great grandson wear his crown. We’ve come so close to seeing a Triple Crown recently, especially with Real Quiet who literally lost on the last jump. Let’s just hope we don’t get “Cideswiped” on Saturday!

My biggest personal challenge in handicapping this race is to remain unbiased, because a win would do so much for our great sport as far as national exposure. The book Seabiscuit was a best seller. The movie will be released this summer. Could the timing be any better for a horse owned by a bunch of school buddies who travel in a school bus to win the Triple Crown? Who knows, if this horse wins the Triple Crown, our sport may become so popular that next year NBC may actually force the change of the start time of an arena football game because of a horse race!

Now on to handicapping the 135th running of the Belmont Stakes. Unfortunately it will be a very small field. However, it is still shaping up to be an exciting race, albeit a poor betting proposition.

If every horse that goes into the starting gate runs their “A” race, there are only two horses who can win, Funny Cide and Empire Maker. The only way anyone else can win is if both of these horses do something bizarre like War Emblem did last year.


Looking over the past performances of the Belmont entries, the first thing that becomes evident is that there is no speed in this race. While a few of these horses are capable of going to the front, including Funny Cide, none of them prefer to do that. Consequently, I believe that whoever gets the lead will be in a commanding position if they can slow the pace down.

Funny Cide has more early speed than anyone else in this field, and he will most likely get the lead. In his 8 race career, he has had the lead at the half three times. In two of them he was racing against other NY breds who were completely outclassed and he won by 14 and 9 lengths. The third time that he had the lead at the half was in the Louisiana Derby, where he led by a half-length before finishing 3rd (placed 2nd) to Peace Rules.

All indications are that this horse keeps getting stronger with every day and he will take a lot of beating on Saturday. Unlike War Emblem, a poor start would not be as devastating to him as he does not need the lead. However, if he gets an unchallenged lead in this race, and gets 6 furlongs in 1:12 or slower, head for the windows at the quarter pole. Those behind him will be running for the place and show spots.

The Derby and Preakness winner trained at Belmont prior to those two races. He has a huge home court advantage going into the Belmont (3 for 3) with only Empire Maker (1 for 1), and the terribly outclassed Supervisor (0 for 1) having any experience over “Big Sandy”.


If some alien had beamed you up after the Wood Memorial, and beamed you back down ten minutes before post time for the Belmont, and I told you to go bet the horse who had a chance to win the Triple Crown, you would rush to the windows and plunk down a bet on Empire Maker. (Assuming of course that ET had not allowed you to phone home or watch the Derby or Preakness). Why would you have any reason to think that a NY bred gelding sired by a sprinter would even have a chance at winning the Triple Crown

Empire Maker, sired by Kentucky Derby and BC Classic winner Unbridled, out of Broodmare of the Year, Toussaud, was the horse that the usually conservative Bobby Frankel had categorically stated would win the Derby before he was even foaled. He seemingly toyed with Funny Cide in the Wood, hardly breaking a sweat, and then was training smartly for the Derby before his bruised foot (Achilles’ heel?) cast a shadow over an otherwise sunny proposition that he could not lose.

I still thought that he couldn’t lose, and thought I was getting an early Christmas present when I discovered his odds were 5-2 just prior to post time. (Thankfully I had him across the board and actually made a few dollars when he finished 2nd.)

While he did not win the Derby, he ran a very strong race considering that it appeared that he did not care for the track, and may have been still feeling the effects of that bad foot. It was just that Funny Cide ran the race of his life (at least until the Preakness) and would not be denied.

Can Empire Maker win the Belmont? I believe that he can, but Frankel will have to take a gamble to do it. With no speed in this race, I believe that Santos will simply let Funny Cide inherit the lead; he will not be gunning for it.

If I were Frankel, I would give Bailey instructions to “send” Empire Maker. Taking a page from the match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral, Seabiscuit was “sent” and War Admiral never could catch him. I think the surprise tactic of “sending” Empire Maker would catch Santos napping, and if Empire Maker can get an unchallenged lead, the Unbridled in him should carry him the last 1/8 of a mile while the Distorted Humor in Funny Cide hits the proverbial brick wall, especially if Funny Cide is pressed early to keep up with Empire Maker.

If, however, Funny Cide is the one who gets an easy lead, you will see a rerun of the Derby with Empire Maker chasing Funny Cide across the finish line.

Let’s take a look at the tale (tail?) of the tape. In order to win the Belmont, you need a horse who can get the distance, is fit, and has the preferred running style:

Breeding: Empire Maker, by Unbridled out of Toussaud should relish this distance, while Funny Cide by Distorted Humor out of the Slewacide mare Belle’s Good Cide will have problems, especially if he does not have the lead at the top of the stretch. Advantage: Empire Maker

Condition: Funny Cide keeps getting stronger with every race and seems to be thriving. His Preakness was so awesome that he can’t help but bounce a little, but unless it is a BIG bounce, he can still make history on Saturday.

Empire Maker has not had a race between the Derby and the Belmont, and horses showing that pattern have a very poor record in this race. Going back to 1990, only Commendable did not have a race within 4 weeks of the Belmont. (Several Belmont winners did not run in the Derby or Preakness, but used the Peter Pan as a Belmont prep, and the 1990 winner Go and Go used a race in Ireland on May 12 of that year. All winners except Commendable, had a race within 4 weeks of the Belmont.)

Advantage: Funny Cide

Running Style: Most Belmont winners have tactical speed and race close to or on the lead. Rarely does a closer win the Belmont.

Both Funny Cide and Empire Maker prefer to stalk the pace and each is capable of taking the lead if no one else wants it.

Advantage: Neither

I just can’t separate these two horses. If Empire Maker had run between the Derby and the Belmont, he would be my choice, as I really feel that he is the superior horse. However, Funny Cide has an edge on conditioning and is running on his home track where he is 3 for 3. That cancels out the breeding advantage of Empire Maker.

My heart will be with Funny Cide of course as will just about everyone else’s.

Both horses will be very heavily played and there will be no value in betting each to win, or even boxing an exacta. You have to try for a trifecta and even then it will not be generous. However, somebody has to finish 3rd, let’s see if we can figure out who that might be.

TEN MOST WANTED – Oscar’s Bud Longshot

As you study the past performances of this field, one thing becomes readily apparent (besides the fact that there are two standouts). There is only one horse in this field who has achieved a Beyer number that is competitive with Funny Cide and Empire Maker. Take a look at Ten Most Wanted’s Illinois Derby. Ok, so who did he beat? Hey, who did Funny Cide beat in the Preakness besides an exhausted Peace Rules?! Cherokee’s Boy did come out of the Illinois Derby to win the Tessio in his next start, so he wasn’t exactly an empty stall.

If this son of Deputy Commander runs back to his Illinois Derby, he is the 3rd best horse in this race, and he will be closing fastest of all. He is bred to get this distance, and with Pat Day riding, you know there will be gas left in his tank when they hit the stretch. The question is will Funny Cide and Empire Maker come back to him?

One scenario says yes. Funny Cide’s work on Tuesday was an absolute bullet. Santos will certainly be “Cidearmed” for the Belmont. If that work did not take too much out of him, and with no other speed in the race, he is liable to pull Santos to the front on his own. If that happens, Bailey will have to use Empire Maker early because he knows he cannot let Funny Cide get an uncontested lead. If these two hook up early, they will certainly be shortening strides down the stretch. Ten Most Wanted is capable of blowing past them.

You think not? Think back to the 1997 Belmont. Down the stretch came Gary Stevens on Silver Charm and Davis Flores on Free House focused on each other like they were on War Admiral and Seabiscuit and no one else was running. Neither of them noticed Chris McCarron making a move on Touch Gold in the middle of the track until he swept by them both in deep stretch to win, costing Silver Charm the Triple Crown.

It’s possible that Jose Santos and Jerry Bailey will be playing the same game of watching each other and never notice Pat Day making a move on Ten Most Wanted. With a short field, there is a good chance that he will get a clear run, something that he would absolutely need to win.

In another example go back one year earlier to 1986 and the Pacific Classic. Cigar is attempting to break Citation’s record of 16 consecutive victories when jockey Bailey is faced with a dilemma. Should he let Siphon have an uncontested lead and try to run him down, or should he challenge him and hope to hold off the closers. He chose the second alternative and although he beat Siphon, he had nothing left to hold off Dare And Go in the stretch.

Dollase said that his bumping incident with Scrimshaw at the start of the Derby resulted in a back injury to Ten Most Wanted that required the help of chiropractor David Hand (great name for a chiropractor!) the Monday following the Derby. His 7f work in a quick 1:25 flat indicates that he is “back” to where he was prior to the Derby. If you’re looking for an omen, Dr. Hand worked on Touch Gold prior to his victory in the 1997 Belmont! Want another omen? Touch Gold was sired by Deputy Minister who is the paternal grandsire of Ten Most Wanted. Hey, stranger things have happened.

Clearly his style does not fit this race, however, he is capable of running a Beyer of 110 (Illinois Derby), and if he can duplicate that performance, he is definitely a player. Empire Maker earned a 111 Beyer, however, it was on a muddy track in the Wood. His best fast track Beyer is 108. Likewise, Funny Cide’s best Beyer of 114 was achieved in the Preakness on a good track. His best fast track Beyer is his Kentucky Derby’s 108.

By Deputy Commander out of a Criminal Type mare, the distance will be no problem, so if he likes Belmont, is completely recovered, and runs the race he ran in the Illinois Derby, he is a “must use” for your exotics and a possibility for the win at a nice price. Remember, he won the Illinois Derby coming from behind on that speed-favoring track, so don’t necessarily toss him because “closers never win the Belmont” (remember a horse named Victory Gallop?).

As far as I am concerned Ten Most Wanted is the One Most Feared!

A note of caution: Although he has never raced on an off track, he is not particularly well bred for that surface, so if the track is off so are all bets on him. Both Funny Cide and Empire Maker excel over an off track where both have achieved career best Beyers.


Scrimshaw’s May 27 work at Churchill, while not brilliant was certainly solid, and indicates that he appears to be holding his form, which was good enough to get him the show money in the Preakness. It is unlikely, however, that he can improve on that performance in the Belmont and he has never finished in front of either Funny Cide or Empire Maker.

Scrimshaw often loses his races at the start, as evidenced by the comment lines in his last 5 races (most recent listed first):

(1) came in; (2) drift in, bump start; (3) bobble, bump; (4) slow start; (5) broke in He does have the preferred running style with his tactical speed, however, due to his poor starts, he has been forced to use too much to soon. He is not fast enough to clear the field for an easy lead, and does not have a strong enough stretch kick to seriously close on the leader in the last 16th. I expect him to be forwardly placed and run well to the head of the stretch, where I think he will begin to back up and be passed by at least some of the closers. He is, however, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, and you must always respect that fact. I thought Commendable had absolutely no chance.


Dynever is the mystery horse. He has won his last 4 races easily, but has not really beaten much. His best Beyer is 101, considerably lower than it will take to challenge Funny Cide and Empire Maker. His pedigree screams distance, although as a son of Dynaformer, trained by Clement, his best races will be on the turf. He broke his maiden stalking the pace and taking the lead at the half mile marker, however, I believe that was because he completely dominated his competition, not because it was his preferred running style. In all his other races, he has come from near the back of the pack, and as I’ve said earlier, that is not the style that typically wins the Belmont. In addition, he has had a minor foot bruise and has been wearing special shoes. Although Clement may say, like Frankel did about Empire Maker before the Derby, that the horse is “100%”, you just have to wonder.


This is a race that will be fun to watch, but is really not worth betting. The two favorites will be even money or lower, and if you really like one of the other horses you will get absolutely no value because of the short field.

The trifectas with the favorites in the first and second spots will pay about $12-$18 unless Supervisor comes in 3rd. Your hope if you are trying to make money would be for one of the other horses to come in 2nd, splitting the two standouts. Even that trifecta would be relatively low paying.

It really isn’t worth betting, folks, but if you must…..


$2 BOX FUNNY CIDE and EMPIRE MAKER in the win and place spots over: TEN MOST WANTED, SCRIMSHAW, and DYNEVER

$1 BOX FUNNY CIDE and EMPIRE MAKER in the win and show spots with: TEN MOST WANTED, SCRIMSHAW, and DYNEVER in the place spot If you really believe in omens, get a trifecta box of FUNNY CIDE, EMPIRE MAKER, and TEN MOST WANTED and hope that 1997 repeats itself.

It’s only fitting that America’s Horse and his remarkable jockey should have their own anthem. So when they play the National Anthem before the races on Saturday, substitute these words for America’s Horse….


Oh Jose can you see, those reporters weren’t right, They tried hard but they failed to prove you had been cheating. His broad strides made you stars, showing courage and fight, O’er the tracks where you’ve run, and those you have been beating. Oh it just won’t be fair, if he breaks in the air, Show them proof you were right, and you win fair and square. Oh Jose when you win give us all a great big wave, ‘Cause you’ve been straight and you’ve been true, and you’re honest and brave.

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