ELMONT, N.Y. - With the defections yesterday of Midway Road and Outta Here, the challengers to Funny Cide in the 135th Belmont Stakes on Saturday at Belmont Park number a half dozen.
A field of seven would be the smallest since 1997, when Touch Gold spoiled Silver Charm's Triple Crown bid. Entries will be taken and post positions drawn tomorrow for the race scheduled at 6:38 p.m. Saturday on NBC.
Barclay Tagg, trainer of Funny Cide, has set this morning for the gelding's final breeze before his assault on history in the Belmont, the 1 1/2 -mile "Test of the Champion."
Funny Cide has been training magnificently at Belmont since winning the Preakness by 9 3/4 lengths, the second-largest margin in the race's history. Funny Cide won the Kentucky Derby by 1 3/4 lengths in the 10th-fastest Derby ever.
For Funny Cide to become racing's 12th Triple Crown winner, he will have to defeat a small but dangerous collection of combatants. Leading the charge is Empire Maker, who finished second in the Derby as the highly touted favorite. The Belmont will be his first race since that disappointing effort five weeks ago.
The other challengers will be Best Minister (winner of the Sir Barton Stakes), Dynever (winner of the Lone Star Derby), Scrimshaw (third in the Preakness), Supervisor (third in the Peter Pan Stakes) and Ten Most Wanted (ninth in the Kentucky Derby).
Neil Howard, trainer of Midway Road, said the Preakness runner-up would skip the Belmont and run, instead, in the Ohio Derby. Bill Currin, trainer and part-owner of Outta Here, said his colt, seventh in the Kentucky Derby, would remain in California and contest the Swaps Stakes.
In workouts yesterday, Best Minister breezed four furlongs in 47 seconds at Belmont Park. Ken McPeek, his trainer, saddled Sarava to a long-shot victory in last year's Belmont.
"It was a little faster than expected," McPeek said of Best Minister's run. "He needed to get something out of the work. That was the purpose of coming in here early."
Best Minister, who won the Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on the Preakness undercard, arrived at Belmont last Tuesday.
At Hollywood Park, Ten Most Wanted breezed five furlongs in 59 3/5 seconds. Said Wally Dollase, his trainer: "He's been training sensationally since the Derby."
The Illinois Derby winner exited the Derby with a sore back after being bumped at the break.
At Churchill Downs, Scrimshaw breezed five furlongs in 1 minute, .20 of a second. "He came home in 23 [seconds] flat," said D. Wayne Lukas, his trainer. "He looked awfully good."
Scrimshaw and Ten Most Wanted are scheduled to fly to Belmont today. The other five Belmont contestants are here already.