By Mike Farrell
Has it really been 16 years since Funny Cide made his improbable bid for Triple Crown glory? Those were certainly good times for the unlikely hero, and for racing in general.
The New York-bred gelding trained by a former jump jockey and owned by Sackatoga Stable, a blue-collar crew from Sackett’s Harbor, New York, who traveled to the races in a yellow school bus, captured the nation’s attention with victories in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and the Preakness (G2).
A huge crowd turned out for the Belmont Stakes (G1) on a miserable rain-soaked afternoon and left disappointed as Funny Cide did his best but finished third behind Empire Maker and Ten Most Wanted.
“I just feel bad for all the people who came out,” trainer Barclay Tagg said at the time. “We were beaten by a good horse.”
The Funny Cide crew is back again with a promising prospect. Could it be time tune up the bus?
We will know more after Saturday when Tiz the Law faces six rivals in the $500,000 Champagne (G1) for 2-year-olds.
The Champagne is one of four Breeders’ Cup “Win-and-You’re-In” races over a stakes-filled weekend at Belmont Park.
The quartet of stakes offer all-fees-paid entries in the season-ending championships less than a month away.
On Sunday, three more Breeders’ Cup slots are on the line in the $500,000 Flower Bowl (G1) for fillies and mares on the turf, the $400,000 Frizette (G1) for 2-year-old fillies and the $150,000 Futurity (G3) for 2-year-olds on the grass.
The Champagne could be a tall order for Tiz the Law. He won his only start, a state-bred maiden race at Saratoga.
The way he won suggests the son of Constitution has much more to offer. He powered to a 4 ½ length win after shaking loose, earning a 90 Beyer Speed Figure which is easily best in the field. The lack of experience is only meaningful knock.
Manny Franco replaces Junior Alvarado, who opted to stick with Green Light Go, the Saratoga Special (G2) winner.
The race also includes Gozilla, third in the Hopeful (G1) and Big City Bob, winner of the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park.
The other three runners — Alpha Sixty Six, Trucelent and Three Technique –are in the same boat as Tiz the Law: jumping from the maiden ranks into stakes company.
Todd Pletcher, trainer of Alpha Sixty Six, seeks his seventh Champagne win with a colt who also makes his second start following a maiden win.
“We’ve been successful in the past doing this with some nice 2-year-olds,” Pletcher said. “So hopefully he can step up.”
In addition to the guaranteed spot in the BC Juvenile, the Champagne winner also earns 10 qualifying points on the road to the 2020 Kentucky Derby.
The Frizette, the companion event for fillies on Sunday, lured Quality Response from California for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
It seems like a roundabout way to get to the BC Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita by way of Belmont. She easily won both starts, a maiden special at Del Mar and the restricted Phone Chatter Stakes at Los Alamitos.
“You can place her anywhere you want,” Baffert said. “She has speed. I’m really excited about her.” Joe Talamo flies in for the ride.
Similar to the Champagne, the Frizette winner banks 10 qualifying points toward a slot in the next year’s Kentucky Oaks.
In the Flower Bowl, it will be no surprise if Sistercharlie punches her ticket for a defense of her title in the BC Filly & Mare Turf.
The 5-year-old Irish bred has won 6-of-8, all Grade 1 victories, since arriving in the U.S. and joining the Chad Brown barn. As has been the case in her last two races, the late-running Sistercharlie will again have the benefit of a rabbit as stablemate Thais has also been entered to insure an honest pace.
The Futurity, a six-furlong dash, is a wide-open contest for juvenile turf runners.
Another Miracle, a son of American Pharoah trained by Gary Contessa, captured the Skidmore Stakes at Saratoga last time out in his grass debut.
The other major event of the weekend in New York is the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (Gr 1) on Saturday which is named for the legendary columnist for the Daily Racing Form. It seems odd that this prestigious race doesn’t offer a Breeders’ Cup invitation.
Channel Maker, winner of this race last year, returns for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott in the 1 ½ mile test. He ran fourth in his last three starts and gets a new rider as John Velazquez replaces Joel Rosario.
Mike Farrell has worked in thoroughbred and harness racing for much of his career in journalism. Mike is a turf writer, harness writer, and handicapper, covering and analyzing races at dozens of racetracks around the country. Based on the East Coast, Mike has covered the Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup for a number of publications, including Daily Racing Form, as well as The Associated Press. He spends time at Gulfstream Park taking in the races, and also hits the harness racing circuit in the Northeast region. He’s been a fixture at The Hambletonian and the Haskell Invitational for longer than he’d like to remember.