I have covered hundreds of stakes draws over the year, but never one as dramatic as this morning’s
Travers draw in a steaming-hot paddock at Saratoga.
The 200 media-types gathered for the occasion were expecting five horses to be entered for the Travers,
but, in the immortal words of Teddy Cox, the late, gifted columnist for Daily Racing Form, a surprisingly
large field of eight was entered for Saturday’s $1 million Grade 1 for 3-year-olds at a mile and a quarter.
The five horses set in stone for the Travers were and are Empire Maker, Sky Mesa, Strong Hope,
Ten Most Wanted and Wild and Wicked.
The three surprises were and are Funny Cide, Peace Rules and Congrats.
All three additions have stories.
Starting at the bottom, trainer Shug McGaughey had been saying for days that there was
no chance Congrats would make the Travers. The field was too deep. The horse was too slow.
He’d look for an allowance race.
So surprise! Congrats went in, got the rail, and Mike Luzzi was named to ride.
Peace Rules, fresh from winning the Haskell at Monmouth Park, was supposed to await the
Pennsylvania Derby on Labor Day at Philadelphia Park.
“But I’d been hearing so many rumors about Empire Maker’s health,” Frankel said at the
draw, “that I started believing them myself. Empire Maker is fine, but just in case he’s
not, I put Peace Rules in as a backup.”
Only one of the two will run, Frankel insisted, and the entry was made the 8-5 favorite by
trackmaker Don LaPlace. Jerry Bailey was named on both. It was interesting that Bailey, who
never met a camera, microphone or tape recorder he didn’t like, slipped away from the draw
after the names of the runners were announced, thereby avoiding probing questions from the press.
But the biggest addition of course was Funny Cide.
Trainer Barclay Tagg had been saying for a week that it was “very unlikely” that Funny Cide
would run in the Travers as much as he wanted to run him. But the day after Funny Tagg worked
a half-mile in :47 4/5, Tagg did an about-face, and spent $5,000 of
his owners’ money to enter him. It will cost another $5,000 to start. Tagg has up to 45 minutes
to post (that’s 5:40 p.m. Eastern) to scratch.
Asked by emcee Tom Durkin what number Tagg could give about Funny Cide’s chances to
start, Tagg replied “75 per cent.”
That left the media wondering if Tagg meant 75 per cent the gelding would start…or 75 per cent
he won’t start.
When Tagg left the impromptu dais, he was surrounded by cameras and microphones, and was
asked to clarify what he meant.
“I meant 75 per cent he will start.” he said with an exasperated expression on his face.
I don’t what it meant, but Jack Knowlton, the managing partner of the syndicate that owns and
races Funny Cide, stood right at the edge of the circle surrounding Tagg, trying to listen to what
Tagg was saying, meanwhile being ignored by the press.
So I asked Knowlton what a victory by Funny Cide would mean.
“It would be tremendous, fabulous,” said Knowlton, “and it would make him the 3-year-old
Personally, I don’t believe Funny Cide has any kind of a chance in the Travers…if he goes.
horse was bad in the Belmont, much, much worse in the Haskell, and has all of one public
under him as he prepares to run 10 furlongs against the best 3-year-olds in the land on what may
be a brutally hot day.
I believe that Tagg, a career horseman with impeccable credentials, would say the same thing.
And I also believe that the owners of Funny Cide have come under intense pressure the last
two weeks, primarily from management and just-plain fans, to run the horse in the Travers.
In a period in which NYRA is being beaten up on all sides, what could be better than getting out a
record crowd (70,000 or so) to see hometown hero Funny Cide in the Travers?
I also have my doubts about Empire Maker. Frankel can laugh all he wants about the rumors
surrounding his horse, but why would he enter Peace Rules, and why would Bailey disappear,
unless something was wrong.
The Travers is filled with intrigue. It will be fascinating to see what develops between now and
The race itself may be anti-climactic.
WORDS OF WISDOM
Baseball lifer Don Zimmer is also a huge racing guy.
Here are a couple of recent examples.
Zimmer, a Yankees bench coach, watched an Oriole baserunner fall down two or three steps from
an unguarded home plate in the 12th inning last Saturday night in Baltimore, costing the
Orioles the tying run.
“I know exactly how the guy feels,” said Zimmer. “That’s been happening to my horses my
Zimmer was also asked why is wristwatch these days is set permanently at 2:30.
“I can’t find time to fix it,” Zimmer explained. “Nobody at the track can do it.”
I competed against the jockeys in go-cart races Tuesday at the Great Escape amusement park
near Lake George, a half-hour from Saratoga.
Afterwards, I asked Rich Migliore, a New York rider for 25 years, if he was going on the roller coaster.
“No way,” said Migliore, “I’m scared to death of them.”
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing,” I said, “considering what you do for a living.”
“On the racetrack, I’m in control,” said the Mig.
And, by the way, the Mig loves his horse, Trademark, in the Fourstardave Stakes on the Travers card Saturday.
“My horse is a freak,” the Mig said.