Sunday, May 18, 2003

Two down, one to go for Funny Cide

Derby winner runs away from Preakness field

By Richard Rosenblatt
The Associated Press

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."

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.

Funny Cide's victory was a quarter-length shy of Survivor's 10-length victory in the first Preakness, in 1873. Yet 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Order of finish:

Funny Cide9Santos1.90
Midway Road6Albarado20.00
Peace Rules7Prado2.40
Senor Swinger10Day4.90
New York Hero8Chavez19.60
Foufa's Warrior3Dominguez22.40
Cherokee's Boy1Fogelsonger9.70
Ten Cents a Shine5Bailey8.50
Kissin Saint4Migliore10.20

Funny Cide 5.804.603.40
Midway Road 15.409.00
Scrimshaw 4.00
Race notes: Track condition: Good. Winner's time: 1:55.610. Fraction times: quarter-mile, 23.370; half-mile, 47.140; three-quarter mile, 1:11.620; 1 mile, 1:36.420. Exacta: (9-6) paid $120.60. Superfecta: (9-6-1-7) paid $792.20. Trifecta: (9-6-1) paid $684.20.

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