All of Gotham on Cide
By ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun
ELMONT, N.Y. -- As the favourite for today's Belmont Stakes, the betting value is long gone on Funny Cide. But this horse has shattered the odds at every turn, so why wager against him now?
He is both a New York bred and a gelding meaning the gritty chestnut has gallantly dispelled two of the knocks the racing world had hung on his halter.
Now comes the grandest assignment yet and the biggest reason to root him on.
When Funny Cide and five others are loaded into the Belmont Park starting gate at 6:38 p.m. this evening, tension will hang thick in the Long Island air.
Riding on his back will be the weight of history. It's been 25 years since Affirmed last claimed the Triple Crown, after all.
Should this year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness champ survive the 11/2-mile Test of the Champion at sprawling Belmont, he'll join the elite group of 11 before him.
And as a gelding with the potential of a long-racing career ahead, he could ultimately become the most popular.
"I'm not a dreamer," said Jack Knowlton, managing partner of Sackatoga Stable who recruited five of his high school pals from tiny Sackets Harbor, N.Y. into horse ownership.
"Nobody could have come up with a story like this, not even a fiction writer."
He's right. Once upon a time, a gelding won the Derby for the first time since 1929. He was a New York-bred horse too, something that had never happened.
At $75,000 he was a beer-budget horse living champagne dreams.
His fun loving owners travelled to the Derby in their "yellow stretch limo" otherwise known as a school bus and planned to take four of them today.
His jockey, Jose Santos, was falsely accused of jolting his horse with an electrical device on the way to the Derby win.
Then he went to the Preakness and won by almost 10 lengths, the largest margin since the invention of the photo finish camera.
And now comes the concluding chapter -- the final jewel and the $5-million bonus attachment for a win.
Funny Cide will attempt to further defy the odds in front of a partisan crowd expected to hit 120,000. Bred, trained, owned and ridden by New Yorkers, he has taken Gotham by storm.
Four times since 1997 a horse has reached the Belmont with a shot at the Crown, but none have created a buzz like this.
Even trainer Barclay Tagg, a 65-year-old, old-school conservative horseman who has never before been on racing's biggest stage is dumbfounded.
"By the time he got through the Derby and the Preakness, his coat should be a little dull and he should be off his feed and a little tired," Tagg said yesterday.
"But he has just gotten better and better. Good horses have overcome that kind of stuff and he has overcome it so far."
It won't come easy, a win in the Belmont never does.
Even though it's the smallest field since 1994, there are some serious threats, none more than beaten Derby favourite Empire Maker.
Just five weeks ago the regal Kentucky bred became Empire Faker when he misfired in the Derby and finished second. Trainer Bobby Frankel felt the pain and wants to make it right today.
"I hope everybody hates me after the race," Frankel said. "It means I did my job."
There are other threats such as Ten Most Wanted and Dynever, horses who have caught the eye of wiseguy players looking for value.
Even though the challengers have history working for them, they all know who they must beat.
Take it from the classy gal who campaigned the greatest of them all, 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat.
"Funny Cide reminds me of a big red horse I used to know, Penny Chenery said recently. "I hope he smashes the field on Belmont Day."