Racing: Funny Cide downed as Empire strikes back

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Just as Refuse To Bend's Triple Crown aspirations evaporated with his Derby defeat, Funny Cide failed in his bid for immortality as America's 12th such hero last night in New York, trailing third in the Belmont Stakes in front of an adoring capacity crowd.

The winner, Empire Maker, finished second in the Kentucky Derby after an interrupted preparation but was absent from the Preakness.

Funny Cide, the odds-on favourite and the city's homespun hero after his underdog victories at Churchill Downs and Pimlico, broke smartly under Jose Santos and was forced to make the running, in contrast to his two successes.

The chestnut gelding, who had to run a gauntlet of flashguns as soon as he stepped out of his barn, was a sitting duck when Jerry Bailey, on Empire Maker, drew alongside off the final turn of the 12-furlong contest and had no answer to the winner's charge down the home straight.

Empire Maker, a son of Unbridled, stayed on stoutly on a track reduced to sloppy mud by incessant driving rain to hold the late thrust of Ten Most Wanted, ninth in the Derby, by a neck with Funny Cide five lengths adrift. It was a first Triple Crown event for trainer Bobby Frankel and, ironically, the man who spoiled the fairytale is a native New Yorker.

The last US Triple Cown winner was Affirmed 25 years ago. Funny Cide was the ninth winner at Churchill Downs and Pimlico since then to attempt the treble, including four in the past six years.

Those who failed included true champions like Spectacular Bid and Sunday Silence, underlining the difficulty of the task in the final, longest leg.

The élite roll of honour remains Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1946), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978).