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Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Funny Cide of Saturday

Courtesy Toronto Star

He travels with his own special brand of bottled water and his own hay and oats but don’t call Funny Cide a snob.
The 6-year-old gelding is entitled to all the special attention a celebrity deserves.
The winner of the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and oh-so close to becoming racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner, Funny Cide is still as popular as ever.
Yesterday, Funny Cide made his first international trip a winning one as the gritty gelding led all the way to win the $200,800 Dominion Day Stakes at Woodbine.
It was the 31st career start for the popular gelding, who attracted hundreds of adoring fans, young and old, to the Etobicoke track, all cramming to get a snapshot of their equine hero.
Funny Cide, who became the first gelding in 74 years to win the Derby, was the fifth Derby winner to race at Woodbine and the first to win there since Secretariat won the Canadian International in 1973.
And while the majority of Derby winners in the last three-quarters of a century years were whisked off to stud not long after the Derby score, Funny Cide continues to race.
These days, the gelding has his own website and line of merchandise from t-shirts to bobbleheads and mugs and mouse pads.
“Every week there are numerous emails on his website from fans,” said Jack Knowlton, one of 10 owners who make up the Sackatoga Stable, based in New York.
“It allows people to follow him and know where he’s going to race next.”
Indeed, it’s not hard to see Funny Cide knows he is special as he pranced into the Woodbine walking ring yesterday afternoon, dragging his caretakers along with him.
“He’s kind of a ham, he likes the attention,” said Knowlton. “He knows he’s the man.”
Now older and wiser than he was when he marched through the Derby and Preakness. Funny Cide seemingly does only what needs to be done these days to win races.
Since his Preakness score, the New York-bred has won four stakes races but is certainly not as fast as he used to be.
“He’s got a mind of his own,” said jockey Richard Migliore, who was aboard for the Dominion Day score. “He’s strong willed and been around long enough that he knows how he wants to do things.”
You could say fame has gone a bit to Funny Cide’s long and attractive caramel-coloured head.
Not only does his human travel companion (yesterday it was Derek Sturniolo) have to bring the horse’s equipment and supplies from his home base at Belmont Park in New York but be ready for some sparring when bathing or grooming the 2003 champion 3-year-old.
“He still thinks he’s a stud horse,” said Sturniolo. “He’ll rear up and try to bite but he’s not mean about it, he’s just a showoff.”
Funny Cide’s longtime caretaker, Robin Smullen, the assistant trainer to Barclay Tagg, said Funny Cide still attracts a lot of attention wherever he goes.
“There are backstretch tours at Belmont and they stop by our barn and announce that Funny Cide lives there, he’s a hometown hero.”
Migliore, one of the North America’s top riders, has only ridden Funny Cide four times but knows what the crafty veteran gelding is all about, especially after his last race on May 20 at Pimlico racecourse in Baltimore, Maryland.
“I was going to end up four or five wide on the first turn so I tucked in to save ground,” said Migliore. “But the dirt hit him in the face and he got mad. I tried to restrain him, then when I asked him to run, he didn’t want to go.
“You just have to hope he’s in the right frame of mind because he can be a grumpy old guy sometimes.”
On his way back to the winner’s circle after putting away the very tough Cryptograph in the 1 ¼ mile Dominion Day, Funny Cide was greeted by a loud ovation from the crowd.
“We’ve been international now with him,” said Knowlton. “He‘s taken us places we never thought we’d go. So many great American horses have come up (to Woodbine) to do well and now we can add Funny Cide to that list.”


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