Funny Cide up'Little guys' win as Empire Maker upset in Derby
By ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Who's laughing now, Bobby Frankel? A sure thing turned into a Funny thing in yesterday's 129th running of the Kentucky Derby as yet another favourite bit the dirt at historic Churchill Downs.
Just a day after grumpy trainer Frankel guaranteed Empire Maker would win the opening jewel of the Triple Crown, life turned Funny Cide up.
Longshot lovers among the 148,530 at the Downs lapped it up as jockey Jose Santos pointed his mount's snout at the finish line and drove away from Frankel's fickle favourite.
"This is one for the little guys," said Jack Milton, one of the hard partying, 10-member winning ownership group known as the Sackatoga Stable.
"This is a thrill beyond belief. Everyone who dreams of owning a horse can look at what we've accomplished."
What they pulled off was a stunner on a number of levels and the odds of 14-1 were just the start.
Funny Cide became the first New York-bred to win the Derby, snubbing his nostrils at the uppity-ups in Kentucky. He also became the first gelding to secure the garland of roses since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.
Funny Cide strode across the wire 13/4 lengths in front of Empire Maker, covering the 11/4 miles in 2:01.19 on a track rated fast. Frankel's other starter, Peace Rules, was a head back in third. The winner returned $27.80 US and anchored an exactor of $97 and a triactor of $664.80.
One of thoroughbred racing's enduring appeals is that long shots and little guys can have their day. It happened again on a sunny late afternoon in the world's most popular race.
The big shots in the thoroughbred game can take themselves too seriously at times as they pour over the minute details of stallion deals and perfect breeding mixes.
Empire Maker is a product of that world. Owned by a Saudi Prince, he is so fashionably bred the offspring he one day produces will undoubtedly be worth millions.
As a gelding, Funny Cide won't have such fun in the stallion barn when his racing days are done. But the Sacketoga boys, who are everything the slick, rich folks are not, will more than make up for it.
They don't come to the track in $2,000 suits and buy up luxury suites. They lived the Derby dream for what it is and said yesterday they don't expect to ever get another shot.
Not that there's a need now.
It began a few years back, when a group of friends from Sacket's Harbour on the New York shore of Lake Ontario pooled some money together in the pursuit of fun.
"We originally owned some standardbreds but really decided that was a dead end," Milton said. "So we talked about getting a thoroughbred and threw in $5,000 apiece."
That first runner was in 1995 and named Sacket's Six. He earned enough money to get them off to the races and eventually buy a son of Distorted Humor for $22,000.
With the winner's share of $800,200, Funny Cide topped $1.2 million in earnings. It was the four-legged jackpot's first win over anything other than horses bred in his home state.
"It's like hitting the lottery -- but a lot more fun," Milton said.
In the Derby, the winner gamely turned the tables on Empire Maker who prevailed in the stretch of the Wood Memorial where they had met three weeks ago.
Funny Cide stalked the early pace set by Brancusi, who would eventually stagger home last in the field of 16.
At the top of the stretch, the chestnut assumed the lead for the first time. Meanwhile, a lusty roar erupted from the crowd at the old track as Empire Maker swung three wide and made his bid for the lead.
The 5-2 favourite hung like a painting on the wall, though, leaving Funny Cide and his fun-loving connections to get their picture taken in the winner's circle.
"The most unexpected things can happen in this game," said trainer Barclay Tagg, who won the Derby in his first try. "You will think you have a big shiny horse who is running beautifully and bad things can happen.
"That's why you have to enjoy moments like this. And we will. Believe me."