Funny Cide tries for the home fans
NEW YORK -- Robin Smullen believes a Triple Crown sweep by Funny Cide could provide a lift for all New Yorkers.
The New York-bred gelding will try to become the 12th Triple Crown winner Saturday afternoon before a hometown crowd at Belmont Park.
"This is a personal thing with me," said the chestnut gelding's exercise rider and assistant trainer
. "Perhaps after 9-11, people are looking for something really good to happen. It happened in New York and this is a New York-bred. Everybody really wants something good to happen, whether it's with a horse or something else"
Barclay Tagg, Funny Cide's trainer, remembers watching the towers collapse on a television on the Belmont backstretch.
"We were standing in a barn down there watching 9-11 on television as those characters flew those planes into the Trade Center," Tagg said. "It wasn't a day that gave you a lot of confidence in the future of racing or New York either."
Tagg finds New Yorkers rallying around Funny Cide.
"The reaction that everyone's had to this horse has just been super," saidTagg. "It's got to be a nice thing."
Penn State connection
One letter that made a major impact came from Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.
"He was an assistant coach when I was an undergraduate there," said Tagg. "It was thrill to get a letter from him."
Although they've never met, Tagg holds Paterno in high esteem.
"He's one of the most outstanding college football coaches we've had inAmerica," said Tagg.
"There's a little girl, Allison, who wrote us from Arizona," said Smullen. "She's 10 years old and, in the letter, she wrote that she would like to be the backup ride for Funny Cide, if we ever need one."
She would not have any difficulty making the 126 pound weight assignment.
"She says she's very strong and she weighs 60 pounds," Smullen said. "Shehas two horses of her own. It's great to get that kind of fan mail."
Lukas, who trained four Belmont winners, will challenge Funny Cide with Scrimshaw, a 20-1 longshot. Gary Stevens has the mount and he became the fifth rider on the colt who has made only seven starts when he guided him to a third-place finish in the Preakness.
"I don't throw in with any of them," said Lukas. "I don't get married to any of these riders."
The jockeys are free agents and Lukas prefers to keep it that way.
"It's a one day contract and I paid you," said Lukas. "Thank you. We're not going to dinner or hold hands. We move on to something else."
The attitude comes from Lukas' background as a high school and college basketball coach in Wisconsin.
"Ten years of coaching taught me to not get close to those players," said Lukas. "I tried to treat them well but I never tried to get close to them."
Lukas realizes it is a two-way street. Top jockeys, like Jerry Bailey, will jump from horse to horse as opportunities present themselves.
"I admire Bailey for that," said Lukas. "I always said Bailey would ride for Charles Manson if he had the best horse."
Bailey has the Belmont mount on Empire Maker, the Kentucky Derby runner-up,for trainer Bobby Frankel.
New shoes for the Belmont
Dynever has been wearing protective bar shoes to protect a bruised foot.
"He'll have the bar shoes taken off Friday at lunchtime," said trainer Christophe Clement.