Still laughing: Funny Cide takes Preakness

Posted: Sunday, May 18, 2003

BALTIMORE They might have to make a movie about this horse, too.

Especially if Funny Cide wins the Belmont Stakes the way he won the Preakness on Saturday, running away from the field on the turn for home and finishing with a near-record 9 3/4-length victory.

A win in New York on the first Saturday of June and America will have its first Triple Crown winner in a quarter century and a real ''horse of the people'' to rival the celluloid version of Hollywood's soon-to-be-released ''Seabiscuit.''

Consider the plot lines:

The first gelding, who also happens to be the first New York-bred, who happens to be owned by a group of high school pals from Sackets Harbor, N.Y., will try for a Triple Crown on a track where he happens to be unbeaten in three races.

And riding him is Jose Santos, who endured the humiliation of a stewards' investigation before he was cleared of having anything other than a whip in his hand when he rode Funny Cide to victory in the Kentucky Derby.

After the Preakness runaway, an elated Santos declared:

''The only machine I had today was the red horse I was riding.''

It was the second remarkable win in two weeks for Funny Cide, journeyman trainer Barclay Tagg and the owners, who kicked in $5,000 apiece to start Sackatoga Stable in 1995.

''It really has not sunk in yet,'' Sackatoga general partner Jack Knowlton said. ''Hopefully Barclay can keep him on the edge because that will be one heck of a day for New York.''

But the victory probably meant the most to Santos, who vowed to win to ''show the public that everything we were doing was fair and square.''

Funny Cide pulled away from Peace Rules heading into the stretch and steadily increased his margin before a cheering crowd of 100,268 at Pimlico Race Course which happens to be the same track where Seabiscuit defeated War Admiral in a match race Nov. 1, 1938.

''It was a wonderful feeling, believe me,'' said Santos, who was cleared by Churchill Downs stewards just five days ago. ''Winning the Preakness was more sentimental because with all the (stuff) that happened. And now we did it. And I don't think nobody can say anything about Mr. Santos, about Funny Cide or Barclay Tagg.''

Santos' Derby ride was investigated after a published photograph and a story in The Miami Herald raised suspicion that the rider had something other than a whip in his right hand when he crossed the finish line. He was cleared of wrongdoing Monday.

''Jose is a world-class rider and a world-class human being,'' Tagg said. ''Those photographers and people in Miami are nuts.''

Knowlton referred to the controversy as hitting ''a couple of very little bumps in the road'' that were handled expeditiously by the stewards.

Funny Cide's victory was 1/4 length shy of Survivor's 10-length victory in the first Preakness, in 1873. Even more, it moved him to the brink of racing immortality.

On June 7 he will attempt to become the 12th Triple Crown champion and first since Affirmed in 1978. The chestnut will be the fifth horse in the last seven years to get a Triple chance, and ninth since Affirmed swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont a quarter century ago.

A gelding has never won the Triple Crown.

At the finish, Santos stood in the stirrups, put his fingers to his lips and then held up two fingers as if he wanted to make sure all the world could see there was nothing in his hand.

The 9-5 favorite in the field of 10 3-year-olds, Funny Cide covered the 1 3/16th-mile Preakness in 1:55.61, well off the record of 1:53.4 last accomplished by Louis Quatorze in 1996.

Midway Road, a 20-1 shot, was second, with Scrimshaw third and Peace Rules fourth. Senor Swinger was fifth, followed by New York Hero, Foufa's Warrior, Cherokee's Boy, Ten Cents a Shine and Kissin Saint.

Even Bob Baffert, who trains Senor Swinger, was impressed.

''It was fun watching and listening to the crowd respond to Funny Cide when he drew off like that,'' said Baffert, a four-time Preakness winner. ''I'm getting off the trail at this bus stop and rooting for Funny Cide to win the Triple Crown.''

Funny Cide won for the fifth time in seven starts and earned $650,000 for Sackatoga, boosting his career money totals to $1,889,385. Tagg, a self-described eternal pessimist, bought Funny Cide for $75,000 late last year.

''I have to admit I was not surprised,'' Tagg said, referring to the overpowering win. ''I thought he had it in him.''

The winner returned $5.80, $4.60 and $3.40. Midway Road, with Robby Albarado aboard, returned $15.40 and $9 and Scrimshaw paid $4 to show.

It was Funny Cide's show all the way.

The horse, who had beaten only New York-bred competition prior to his Derby victory, was brushed at the start by New York Hero. But he settled in quickly to follow the duel that developed between Scrimshaw and Peace Rules. Funny Cide was third along the backstretch, with Santos just waiting for the right time to make his move.

He did it just before the turn for home.

Funny Cide had pulled even with Peace Rules and then whoa! the gelding found another gear and left the others reeling in his wake.

Funny Cide buried the ''photo finish'' controversy with his decisive win, and now shifts the focus to the Belmont Stakes, which at 1 1/2 miles is called the Test of the Champion.

''I've been riding 27 years and this is the best horse I ever rode in my life,'' said Santos, who won the Belmont aboard Lemon Drop Kid in 1999.

There's no question the horse with the funny name is on a historic run.

Two weeks ago, as a 12-1 shot, he became the first New York-bred and first gelding in 74 years to win the Derby. The son of Distorted Humor, out of Belle's Good Cide, is the first New York-bred in 107 years to win the Preakness and the first gelding since Prairie Bayou in 1993.

The homecoming for the Belmont could produce a record crowd when New York's newest hero tries to join an elite group of Triple Crown winners that includes Citation, Whirlaway, Secretariat and Seattle Slew.

A record crowd 103,222 attended last year's Belmont when Derby-Preakness winner War Emblem stumbled at the start and finished eighth in his Triple try.

Peace Rules, a close third in the Derby, was no match for Funny Cide in the Preakness. The loss left trainer Bobby Frankel still looking for his first win in a Triple Crown race. The Hall of Famer is now 0-for-9.

D. Wayne Lukas had two horses in the field, Scrimshaw and Ten Cents a Shine, his record 29th and 30th starters. The Hall of Famer has won the Preakness five times.

Among the horses Funny Cide may face in the Belmont are Derby runner-up Empire Maker, Atswhatimtalknbout, Dynever, Most Feared, Outta Here, Pretence and Ten Most Wanted.

Should Funny Cide sweep the Triple Crown, he would earn a $5 million bonus paid by Triple Crown Productions.

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