ELMONT, N.Y. - Funny Cide will break from Post 4 when he attempts Saturday to win the Belmont Stakes and become racing's 12th winner of the Triple Crown.
He will also face one fewer horse than had been expected. Best Minister, winner of the Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico Race Course, coughed three times during his morning gallop yesterday and was later found to have a lung infection.
The withdrawal of Best Minister left the Belmont field at six, the smallest since 1994, when Tabasco Cat won. Funny Cide was anointed the even-money favorite, followed closely by Empire Maker at 6-5.
Empire Maker will break from Post 1 in his first race since finishing second to Funny Cide in the Kentucky Derby. Jerry Bailey, Empire Maker's jockey, said he likes the rail in the 1 1/2 -mile race.
"It's really not relevant in this race," he said of post position. "But after losing the Derby, I attributed that in part to the wide trip. That shouldn't be a problem, at least going into the first turn."
From the inside post, Bailey said, Empire Maker could claim the lead if no one else wants it, or he could save ground until making his move later in the race. However, he said, he expects Funny Cide to break fastest.
"It might be very difficult to take that horse back [off the lead] after coming off a fast work," Bailey said, referring to Funny Cide's five-furlong breeze Tuesday in 57 4/5 seconds.
He said that, although Funny Cide's sizzling work showed that he is eager, perhaps over-eager, it also showed that he is ready.
"It shows he's on top of his game," Bailey said. "If I was in the other camp, I'd be more encouraged than discouraged."
Bailey said he wouldn't be surprised if any one of four horses won the Belmont. In addition to Funny Cide and Empire Maker, he included Dynever and Ten Most Wanted on his list of possible winners.
Ten Most Wanted arrived Tuesday from California, where he has trained steadily since finishing ninth in the Kentucky Derby. He got bumped at the break and exited the Derby with an injured back, said Wally Dollase, his trainer.
While trainers in New York adjusted training schedules for the Belmont because of excessive rainfall, Dollase said he prepared Ten Most Wanted without interruption.
"I haven't missed a beat in what I've wanted to do with my horse," Dollase said. "I think he's got a very good chance, or I wouldn't be here."
Dynever, who will be ridden by Edgar Prado, has won three of four races and presents this critical question: How good is he? He has looked brilliant at times - but against less stellar company than he will face in the Belmont.
Ken McPeek, trainer of Best Minister, said he was disappointed not to have a chance to repeat as Belmont winner. Last year, he won with Sarava, at 70-1 the biggest long shot to win the Belmont.
The owners of Best Minister, a late-developing colt, would have had to pay $120,000 to supplement their horse into the race.
"I'm glad this happened today [before entries were taken] and not tomorrow or the next day," McPeek said. "If he gets sick tomorrow, we've got a sick horse and we're out $120,000. Now we've got a sick horse, but a sick horse heals."
Field for 135th Belmont Stakes
PP Horse Trainer Jockey Last race Odds
1 Empire Maker Bobby Frankel Jerry Bailey 2nd Kentucky Derby 6-5
2 Supervisor Linda Rice John Velazquez 3rd Peter Pan Stakes 50-1
3 Scrimshaw D. Wayne Lukas Gary Stevens 3rd Preakness 20-1
4 Funny Cide Barclay Tagg Jose Santos 1st Preakness 1-1
5 Dynever Christophe Clement Edgar Prado 1st Lone Star Derby 5-1
6 Ten Most Wanted Wally Dollase Pat Day 9th Kentucky Derby 10-1