Funny Cide wins in a laugher

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 18, 2003

BALTIMORE -- Funny Cide barreled down the stretch for a runaway victory and sweet redemption for his jockey in the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, setting the stage for a Triple Crown try at Belmont Park in three weeks.

It was the second remarkable win in a row for the New York-bred chestnut gelding, journeyman trainer Barclay Tagg and an ownership group of high school pals who kicked in $5,000 apiece to start Sackatoga Stable.

The win, however, may have meant the most to jockey Jose Santos. It came just five days after he was cleared by Churchill Downs stewards investigating a photograph and a news report that raised the question of whether he carried something other than his whip when he rode Funny Cide to victory in the Kentucky Derby.

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Instead of two days, Santos had to wait less than two minutes for the verdict this time. Funny Cide pulled away from the field turning for home and steadily increased his margin through the stretch before the cheering crowd of 100,268 at Pimlico Race Course.

His powerful finish was something to behold: He won by 9 3/4 lengths -- 1/4 length shy of Survivor's 10-length victory in the first Preakness, in 1873.

The win moved Funny Cide 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.

Funny Cide will be the fifth horse in the last seven years with 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, blew a kiss 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.

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.

''This is a wonderful horse. New York, here we come!'' Santos said.

In winning his first Preakness, Santos took a jab at the post-Derby controversy.

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

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

Jack Knowlton, Sackatoga's general partner, referred to the controversy as hitting ''a ''couple of very little bumps in the road'' that were handled expeditiously by the stewards at Churchill Downs.

Santos had vowed to win the Preakness to ''show the public that everything we were doing was fair and square.''

Santos' 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 buried the controversy with his decisive win, and now shifts the focus to the assault on the Triple Crown. The Belmont Stakes, 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.

Funny Cide is on a historic run like no other race horse.

Two weeks ago, 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 on the first Saturday of June 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 was a close third in the Derby, but 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 in the series.

Bob Baffert saw his Preakness winning streak end at two. He won with War Emblem last year, and Point Given in 2001.

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.