Funny Cide Fails to Win Triple Crown

AP Racing Writer

NEW YORK – Funny Cide’s improbable run at the Triple Crown ended in the mud Saturday at the Belmont Stakes, splashed aside by a rival who wasn’t about to let a gelded nobody become part of racing royalty.

Empire Maker caught Funny Cide on the far turn and beat him soundly, a defeat that left thoroughbred racing still longing for its first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. That stretch is now the longest in history.

Despite a steady rain, Funny Cide drew the second-largest Belmont crowd, 101,864, who hoped to see the New York-bred join the likes of Secretariat and Seattle Slew. It was not to be.

Instead, he became the fifth Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner in the last seven years to come up short in the grueling 1 1-2-mile Belmont.

This time Empire Maker turned the tables on Funny Cide, who upset trainer Bobby Frankel’s colt in the Kentucky Derby. He ran up alongside Funny Cide with three-eighths of a mile to go and jockey Jerry Bailey cruised home in the slop, holding off closer Ten Most Wanted by three- quarters of a length.

Funny Cide, sent right to the lead by jockey Jose Santos, finished third, five lengths behind the winner. The first gelding to challenge for the Triple Crown never seemed to handle the sloppy surface.

Empire Maker was timed in 2:28.26 and gave Frankel his first win in a Triple Crown race. The Hall of Famer was 0-9 in the series, but had come close twice before in the Belmont. Medaglia d’Oro was second last year, and Aptitude was the runner-up in 2000.

In the days leading up to the race, Frankel relished the role of spoiler, saying, “I hope everybody hates me after the race — then I’ll know I did well.”

Bailey said he knew he had Funny Cide beat “from the top of the backside.”

“I knew he’d wear himself out,” he said.

Owned by Saudi prince Khalid Abdullah, Empire Maker bruised his foot Derby week and finished 1 3/4 lengths behind Funny Cide. He skipped the Preakness, but was “dead fit” for Belmont, Frankel said.

“You know he’s the best horse,” Brooklyn-born Frankel said. “He pulled up but then he took off when that other horse (Ten Most Wanted) challenged. I wanted the race to shape up like that.”

Funny Cide’s trainer Barclay Tagg was disappointed he couldn’t deliver a Triple Crown.

“I feel bad for all the people who were behind him wanting him to win this,” Tagg said. “I was pretty confident.”

Funny Cide put in a sizzling final workout Tuesday, leading to speculation that he might have left his best race on the track.

Tagg said that wasn’t the case.

“I really truly think that had nothing to do with it,” he said. “You never know what they’re going to do in mud.”

Though racing is still without a Triple Crown winner, it may have gained a rivalry. Empire Maker owns a 2-1 advantage over Funny Cide, having won the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 12.

The two could meet again in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga in August.

Empire Maker, the 2-1 second choice, returned $6, $3.70 and $2.80. Ten Most Wanted, ridden by Pat Day, returned $5.80 and $3.20. Funny Cide, the even-money favorite, paid $2.70. Dynever was fourth, followed by Supervisor and Scrimshaw.

Funny Cide broke cleanly and moved right to the lead passing the grandstand as the crowd cheered on their New York hero. Scrimshaw was second along the inside, with Empire Maker running smoothly in third.

Along the backstretch, it appeared Funny Cide started fighting Santos and that’s when Bailey knew he was looking at a victory.

“He was pulling on Jose, and my horse was relaxed,” Bailey said. “The key to running a mile-and-a-half is to get your horse to relax.”

Midway through the final turn, when Empire Maker took control, it was clear there would be no Triple Crown winner.

Funny Cide’s defeat extended the Triple Crown drought to a record 26 years. Secretariat won in 1973, 25 years after Citation.

Empire Maker, not Funny Cide, was supposed to be the big Triple Crown threat this year. He won the Wood and took the Florida Derby by nearly 10 lengths and was the clear favorite to win the Kentucky Derby. But he dropped out of the spotlight when the gelding, owned by some high school pals from Sackets Harbor, N.Y., won at Churchill Downs.

Frankel, however, never lost confidence and for the past two weeks has said Empire Maker was ready to win the Belmont.

“I don’t feel bad right now,” Frankel said. “I feel great. I didn’t think I’d get beat this time, and I was right.”

Only 11 horses have won the Triple Crown. Sir Barton became the first in 1919.

The loss also denied Funny Cide’s owners a $5 million bonus, along with the $600,000 Belmont purse.