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Aug 03, 2003

Racing Today

By: John Piesen

I don’t get to read everything about horse racing (who does?), but I have yet to see anything in print about the remarkable similarities between Seabiscuit and Funny Cide, notably their connections.

On Monday, my family contributed our share to “Seabiscuit” s opening-weekend $21 million box-office, and we all certainly felt we got our money’s worth, although, unlike at other venues, there was no standing ovation at the end. The eight people in the theater just picked up their popcorn and left.

Although the film obviously took liberties with the truth (I especially loved the part where owner Howard’s’s wife ran from the stable to the apron in four seconds, and jumped on top of a car, without smudging her lipstick to catch the big race), it was impeccably produced, directed and casted. Especially the 15 horses who played Seabiscuit, and Gary Stevens (where did he get all that black hair?) as George Woolf, who would make a helluva movie himself with Stevens in the lead role.

But again what was really amazing were the similarities in the connections of Seabiscuit and Funny Cide.

Both horses came along in hard economic times (although I don’t mean to compare the current economic woes to the Great Depression). Both are rags-to-riches stories. Both are owned by genial hucksters. Both are trained by veteran,introverted trainers – Silent Tom and Bland Barclay. And, of course, both are ridden by down-on-their-luck jockeys whose careers and lives were foreveraltered by being in the right place at the right time.Even the “bad guys” are comparable.

Seabiscuit’s biggest rival was War Admiral, a state-of-the-art, impeccably-bred horse from racing’s Eastern establishment. Funny Cide’s main rival, Empire Maker, is a regally-bred monster of a horse from racing’s middle eastern establishment.Forty million people huddled around their radios to listen to the Seabiscuit-War Admiral Match Race.

I expect 40 million will be glued to their TV sets on Aug. 23to watch Funny Cide-Empire Makers in the Travers.(I also thought it was ironic that the winner of Monday’s stake at Saratoga was Film Maker!)As we all know, Funny Cide and Empire Maker return to action on Sunday for the first time since the Belmont, but at different venues. Both have to win to make the Travers the Race of the Century, but neither is a lock. Both are training well, and should run well, but the racing landscape is littered with the remains of horses who flopped in the wake of debilitating Triple Crown campaigns.

Of the two horses, Funny Cide appears to have the more difficult task in Monmouth Park’s Haskell than does Empire Maker in Saratoga’s Jim Dandy.Empire Maker, who opened the 7-2 favorite last weekend in the Breeders’ Cup Classic futures (Funny Cide is 12-1), will be 1-5 against Swaps Stakes winner During; Strong Hope, Nacheezmo, one-two in the Dwyer, and recent allowance winners Tafaseel and Congrats. (Note here that Rich Migliore opts to ride Tafaseel, a 20-1 shot, in the Jim Dandy, rather than Sky Mesa, who will be third choice in the Haskell.)In addition to Sky Mesa, Funny Cide’s competition in the Haskell will comprise Peace Corps, Wild And Wicked, Excessivepleasure, Max Forever and Kool Humor. (Note to the boys at the Form. It’s Kool Humor, not Cool Humor).“If you plan to go against a Triple Crown horse,” says John Ward, the trainer of Sky Mesa, “the time to get him is his first race back.

If there’s a time when a horse is vulnerable, now is the time.”Since regular rider Edgar Prado opts for Peace Corps, and The Mig (Ward’s second choice) chooses to stay at the Spa, Ward had to go hunting for a big-name rider, and he was lucky to find one: Robby Albarado.“I’m going to tell Robby to ride Sky Mesa just like he rides Mineshaft, and we’ll be OK,” says Ward. “They have similar styles.”

The long-range forecast for this weekend calls for some nasty weather. Presuming the forecast is wrong, Monmouth should break all records on Sunday. In addition to the Haskell, there will be five other stakes on the 13-race program. The Haskell post is 5:40 (Eastern), and the race will be televised nationally on ESPN 2.The kicker is that Joe Bravo, the King of Monmouth Park whose career goal is to ride a Haskell winner, has no mount in the big race. Six of the seven Haskell runners are shippers, and all will bring their own riders -- and Jose Ferrer has the return call on Max Forever, the only local runner. Max Forever is pure speed so there’s the possibility that he may make things interesting on the front end for Funny Cide and Peace Corps. In any event, we are looking at some sizzling fractions, which may set the race up for a closer.


For me, the racing highlight of last weekend was Beau Town’s victory in the BingCrosby Breeders’ Cup Handicap at beautiful Del Mar. As I wrote last week, I have always believed that Beau’s Town was a serious sprinter, and he more than proved it in the Bing Crosby with a length and a half score under first-time Pat Valenzuela.“I had no idea this horse was so fast,” P Val said after the race. Well, he should have looked at the films of Beau Town’s races the last two springs at Oaklawn Park. This was by far the biggest victory for owner David Hulkewicz, but rather than basking in the glory after the race, the Texan’s main focus was getting back at Form columnist Mike Watchmaker.All year, Watchmaker has omitted Beau’s Town from his daily “Top Ten” list on page 2 of the Form, a decision that has riled Hulkewicz.“I called Watchmaker on it last month,” Hulkewicz said Monday. “He told me that Beau’s Town was beating a bunch of bums in Arkansas, and that he had him 35th in his rankings.“I can’t wait to see where he puts him this week,” says Hulkewicz. “After all, he managed to beat some horses who Watchmaker had in the top 10.”Hulkewicz will see that Watchmaker has Beau’s Town fifth this week. Actually, Beau’s Town was so impressive in the Big Crosby that he was bet down to 6-1 in the Breeders’ Cup Spriont futures. Only the field (at 5-1) is shorter.Beau’s Town will not run again until the Breeders’ Cup, which will be held on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita.“There are some races for him,” says Hulkewicz, “but I’d rather give him some time off, and have a fresh horse for the Breeders’ Cup.

We’ll keep him here at Del Mar for a month, then send him to Louisiana Downs to train up to the Cup.”

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