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Archive for Sunday, May 4, 2003

Seriously, Funny Cide up at Derby

Gelding holds off favorite Empire Maker

May 4, 2003

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— The winner was a gelding, the first in 74 years. The favorite finished second, and his foot was fine. Baffert and Lukas hardly mattered.

There sure was a Funny Cide to this Kentucky Derby.

"People just didn't believe in this horse because he is a gelding," jockey Jose Santos said. "This is an excellent horse. I can't believe we won the Kentucky Derby."

Neither can a lot of people, including Bobby Frankel. The trainer had the two favorites in Empire Maker and Peace Rules, but his colts couldn't catch Funny Cide. Empire Maker, the top choice at 5-2, was 13¼4 lengths behind, with Peace Rules a head farther back.

"It wasn't meant to be," Frankel said. "That's all I can say. The other horse ran a good race, and he beat me."

Indian Express was trainer Bob Baffert's lone chance for his fourth Derby win in the past seven years, but the colt was never in contention and finished 14th.

"I saw disaster," Baffert's assistant Jim Barnes said. "He's missed the break. He had a lot of trouble going into the first turn."

Four-time Derby winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas fared no better. He had two 3-year-olds in the 16-horse field -- Ten Cents a Shine was eighth and Scrimshaw 11th.

Unlike most Derbies, this one lacked sizzle. And when it became clear Frankel's horses were beaten, there was more of a letdown feeling of "Funny Who?"

Perhaps the oddest element was that Funny Cide nearly stayed home in New York because his trainer didn't want to deal with traveling to Churchill Downs. Good thing he changed his mind. Not only did he win his first Derby, so did Santos.

Making his winning move around the far turn, the chestnut overtook pace-setting Peace Rules and then held off Empire Maker to become the first horse bred in New York to win the Derby.

Funny Cide, with jockey Jose Santos, drives to win the Kentucky
Derby. Santos rode Funny Cide, a gelding, to the victory Saturday
at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.

Funny Cide, with jockey Jose Santos, drives to win the Kentucky Derby. Santos rode Funny Cide, a gelding, to the victory Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.

Funny Cide, trained by 65-year-old Barclay Tagg, became the first gelding since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929 to win the Derby. Since then, 74 geldings -- a neutered male horse -- tried and failed.

But not this one -- now one of only eight winners.

The victory by Funny Cide also turned the tables on Empire Maker, who beat the gelding by a half-length in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 12.

After that race, Tagg was reluctant to leave town. He even waited until Wednesday to bring his 3-year-old to town.

"So many things go wrong in this game all the time," Tagg said. "To have everything go right week after week after week and it finally comes to this, is a blessing."

Tagg made Derby history of his own, becoming the first trainer to win on his first Derby try since Cam Gambolotti won with Spend a Buck in 1985.

Funny Cide, a 12-1 choice by the crowd of 148,530 -- the fifth largest -- was third down the backstretch, behind a speed duel between Brancusi and Peace Rules. When Brancusi tired entering the final turn, Santos moved Funny Cide off the rail to go after Peace Rules.

As they turned for home, Funny Cide was between Peace Rules on the inside and Empire Maker on the outside. Under Santos' urging, Funny Cide drew clear and covered the 11¼4 miles in 2:01.19, the 10th fastest in Derby history.

"We got a beautiful trip and settled in very easily," Edgar Prado, aboard Peace Rules, said. "He tried very hard, we just go beat."

Atswhatimtalknbout was fourth, followed by Eye of the Tiger, Buddy Gil, Outta Here, Ten Cents a Shine, Ten Most Wanted, Domestic Dispute, Scrimshaw, Offlee Wild, Supah Blitz, Indian Express, Lone Star Sky and Brancusi.

Jockey Jerry Bailey said Empire Maker's bruised foot wasn't a factor.

Owner Jackson Knowlton holds up the trophy in the winner's circle
after his horse, Funny Cide, won the Kentucky Derby. Owner David
Mahan, center, and jockey Jose Santos, right, also bask in the
celebration Saturday in Louisville, Ky.

Owner Jackson Knowlton holds up the trophy in the winner's circle after his horse, Funny Cide, won the Kentucky Derby. Owner David Mahan, center, and jockey Jose Santos, right, also bask in the celebration Saturday in Louisville, Ky.

"If it had bothered him, he wouldn't have changed leads on command the way he did," said Bailey, a two-time Derby winner. "I still think he's better than that other horse, but that doesn't change what happened."

Purchased as a yearling for $22,000 by Sackatoga Stables in upstate New York, Funny Cide returned $27.60, $12.40 and $8.20. Empire Maker paid $5.80 and $4.40. Peace Rules paid $6.

In earning $800,200 from the $1,100,200 purse for his first victory in four tries this year, Funny Cide boosted his winnings to $1,239,385.

Although Frankel finished 2-3 with his powerful entry and had three wins and a second on the day's undercard, he left town 0-4 in the Derby and winless in Triple Crown races.

Empire Maker ruled the backstretch during Derby week, and not just because he was the overwhelming favorite. When the colt returned from a jog Tuesday, he was favoring his bruised right front foot.

That's when the media circus began, with crowds gathering outside Frankel's barn every morning for injury updates. With the Derby, any nick to the favorite becomes big news.

But by Friday, Frankel proclaimed Empire Maker ready to win the Derby: "Bet against him at your own risk," he said. "He's going to run good. Don't worry about it."

The odds, though, changed slightly on Derby day, with Empire Maker dropping from 6-5 on the morning line to 3-1 before settling at 5-2.

It all ended with the Derby favorite's jinx very much intact.

Since Spectacular Bid won in 1979, only one favorite -- Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 -- has come through.

"When they turned for home, I thought he was going to win it. I'll live to fight another day. So will the horse," Frankel said.

Funny Cide seemed to win against all odds. A winner of only three races last fall at Belmont for New York-breds only, the son of Distorted Humor was winless in three starts this year before the Derby. He was fifth behind Offlee Wild in the Holy Bull on Jan. 18, a race in which he hit the starting gate and ran extremely wide.

Funny Cide set the pace in the Louisiana Derby, won by Peace Rules, but finished third. The effort was good enough to earn a start in the Wood.

In that race, Empire Maker's margin of victory was slim, but Funny Cide was all out in the stretch to keep pace with the winner.

That's when Tagg faced a decision. "I couldn't not bring him," he said before the Derby. "He deserves a shot."

Not only did he get it, he won.

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