Funny Cide arrived at Pimlico Race Course on Friday a Kentucky Derby winner with something to prove. He departed last night the emphatic winner of the Preakness, with vindication, new respect and one last hurdle to surmount.
With an electrifying performance in front of 100,268 chilly patrons, the New York-bred gelding captured the 128th Preakness by 9 3/4 lengths. Only one horse has won the race by more - Survivor by 10 lengths in the inaugural Preakness in 1873.After snaring the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Funny Cide will attempt in three weeks to win the Belmont Stakes and become the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown. This is the fifth time since 1997 that the Preakness has sent a horse to the Belmont with a chance for racing immortality. The last horse to sweep the three races was Affirmed in 1978.
Funny Cide's victory set off a delirious celebration in the winner's circle centered on trainer Barclay Tagg, who labored in Maryland for three decades; jockey Jose Santos, who overcame charges of cheating in the Derby; and the horse's 10 owners, who got into racing eight years ago for the fun of it.
"I think he showed today the Derby was not an aberration," said Jackson Knowlton, managing partner of Sackatoga Stable, the fun-loving syndicate. "This horse truly has a tremendous amount of talent."
Funny Cide won the Preakness with an overpowering performance that left no doubt about his superiority. He broke so swiftly from the No. 9 post that Santos was able to glide him toward the rail into perfect position. He trailed only the speedy Peace Rules and Scrimshaw into the first turn.
Funny Cide quickly dispatched Scrimshaw down the backstretch. Approaching the far turn, he challenged Peace Rules.
It looked for a moment as if Funny Cide and Peace Rules, third in the Derby, might pull away and stage a dramatic duel to the wire. But Funny Cide glided past around the turn, first poking his nose in front, then his head, then his neck.
Peace Rules and the rest of the field were helpless to fight back. Before they knew it, they were looking at Funny Cide's tail. He secured a clear lead by the time he turned for home. Then he lengthened it, stride by stride, until it seemed as if he were running alone.
Midway Road, a 20-1 long shot, rallied from seventh to claim second. Scrimshaw held on for third, and Peace Rules faded to fourth.
A 9-5 favorite, Funny Cide paid $5.80 to win and headed a $120.60 exacta, $684.20 trifecta and a $792.20 superfecta for a $1 ticket. His winning time was 1 minute, 55.61 seconds.
"I couldn't find my horse, so I was watching Funny Cide," said Bob Baffert, trainer of Senor Swinger, who finished fifth. "It was fun watching and listening to the crowd respond to Funny Cide as he drew off like that."
Funny Cide and Santos left no doubt that they needed nothing illegal to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown. One week after the Derby, The Miami Herald published a photo and article that raised questions about what Santos carried in his right hand.
He carried his whip, clearly, but the photo showed a dark image that could have been, the paper reported, an illegal battery-operated device for shocking horses into running faster. A swift investigation by the Churchill Downs stewards exonerated Santos.
"The Derby was one of the happiest moments of my life," said Santos, a native of Chile who grew up in poverty. "Winning the Preakness was more sentimental because of all the [controversy] that happened. Now I don't think anybody can say anything bad about Jose Santos, Funny Cide or Barclay Tagg."
Tagg, 65, trained in Maryland until January 2002, when he transferred his last horses to New York. He hadn't trained a Derby horse before Funny Cide and hadn't come close to competing in a Triple Crown race.
He said Funny Cide shouldn't have a problem with the Belmont's 1 1/2 miles. The competition may be stiff, however. Atswhatimtalknbout, Dynever and Empire Maker are expected to run.
"He's shown he has stamina, and he's shown he has speed," Tagg said. "He should be ideal for the Belmont."
Santos won the Belmont in 1999 with Lemon Drop Kid. He said there's no comparison between that horse and Funny Cide.
"I've been riding for 27 years, and this is the best horse I've ever rode in my life," he said.
Funny Cide's owners plan to keep racing him. He is a gelding, so he can't be a stallion. Knowlton credited Tagg and his assistant, Robin Smullen, with transforming Funny Cide from a $75,000 purchase last year as a 2-year-old into a horse one victory away from a Triple Crown.
"Barclay has been a class act," said Knowlton, who owns a small health-care consulting firm in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. "Every move that he's made with this horse has been right."
Some have been unorthodox, especially preparing Funny Cide for the Derby and Preakness at Belmont rather than sending him early to both races. Funny Cide arrived at Pimlico the day before the race and left shortly afterward last night.
"I think he won impressively," Knowlton said, "and hopefully Barclay can keep him on edge going into the Belmont, because that will be one heck of a day for New York."