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Funny Cide’s owner celebrated day with wife, friends

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As most of the 101,867 were getting soaked to the bone at Belmont Park three hours before the 135th running of the Belmont Stakes, Eric Dattner was enjoying a catered buffet lunch with his family in the North Shore Terrace, high above the muddy track.

Membership has its privileges.

The biggest day of his 32-year horse-racing career was here for the Douglaston resident, part owner of Funny Cide — the 3-year-old chestnut gelding that took the world by storm — and Dattner was especially happy to be able to experience it with his family.

“I’m glad my family’s here. We’ve had a nice, relaxing afternoon and everybody’s having fun,” Dattner said. “The fact that we can share it is tremendous.”

Dattner had 20 coveted tickets to watch the New York-bred attempt to capture the elusive Triple Crown, and among those there to share his moment were his wife, Jean Dattner, sons Michael and Greg, their wives Silke and Chriss and his sister, Eva Cashdan, who made her first trip to Belmont Park with her husband, Shelly.

“It’s great, it’s very exciting,” said Cashdan, who lives in Amherst, Mass. “My brother has owned pieces of horses before, but this is the best horse. It’s wonderful.”

Added son, Michael, 34, who also attended the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes: “It’s been quite a trip. I mean this is less than once-in-a-lifetime, so it’s been very exciting. It’s nice to celebrate with everyone; that’s what makes it more special.”

Dattner didn’t arrive at Belmont in a stretch limousine or even a bright-yellow school bus with the other somewhat eccentric owners of Funny Cide from upstate Sackets Harbor.

A car service was just fine for the modest retired mechanical engineer.

“He tends to kind of stay in the background while the rest of the Sakatoga Stables guys have reached a level of prominence,” said son Gary Dattner, a former Bayside resident who now resides in Roslyn. “He’s not here for the publicity; I’m not even convinced that he’s here for economic reasons. He loves racing and the excitement of having a horse at this level; he’s achieved his goals. I don’t know where you go from here.”

Even three hours before Funny Cide attempted to put its name next to legends Secretariat, Affirmed and Seattle Slew, Dattner was still not nervous, although he did say the pressure for Funny Cide to win was becoming almost too much to bear.

“The expectations have been raised so high. In the Derby we thought we had no chance, and when we won it was unbelievable,” the Forest Hills High School grad said. “(In) the Preakness we were a strong contender, but there was competition. Now the expectations have been raised so high, half of New York City is behind us. We feel there’s such a burden on us now to come through.”

And while Funny Cide gave the second-largest crowd in Belmont history a thrill, leading for much of the mile-and-a-half race, it was rival Empire Maker who played the part of spoiler, winning the race in 2:28.26. Funny Cide finished five lengths behind in third.

But despite the disappointment, Jean Dattner said the memory of just competing for the Triple Crown will last a lifetime.

“It’s something I never imagined would happen in our lifetime. Everything about it is very exciting,” she said. “That’s really part of the fun, to share it with our family.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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