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Funny Cide Is a Breed Apart

It might not be the preferred bloodlines, but the New York-bred's background is drawing plenty of attention.

June 02, 2003|Bill Christine | Times Staff Writer

VERSAILLES, Ky. — The last time Doug Cauthen was on the periphery of a Triple Crown sweep, he had one eye on the clock the night of the Belmont Stakes celebration.

"I was 15 years old and had to go to work at 5 o'clock the next morning," Cauthen said. "It was going to be my first day working as a groom for Laz Barrera."

Barrera trained Affirmed, who won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 1978, becoming the 11th and most recent Triple Crown champion. Cauthen's older brother, by three years, is Steve Cauthen, who also was a teenager when he rode Affirmed to three drop-dead victories over Alydar in their epic rivalry.

This Saturday, when Funny Cide tries to add the Belmont to his Derby and Preakness wins and take his place alongside Affirmed and the other Triple Crown titlists, the Cauthen brothers will be in the stands in New York, with a financial as well as a historic interest. Doug Cauthen, now 40, is president and CEO of WinStar Farm, the north-central Kentucky breeding operation that stands Distorted Humor, the stallion who sired Funny Cide in his first year in the breeding shed. "This year," Cauthen said proudly, "I finally got Steve to breed one of his mares to Distorted Humor." The value of that offspring would almost certainly be enhanced with a Funny Cide victory in the Belmont.

Funny Cide might be a New York-bred -- the first New York-bred to win the Kentucky Derby -- but his beginnings were actually in the heart of the Kentucky bluegrass, at 1,500-acre WinStar, where 90 broodmares and a roster of young stallions make their home.

The mating between Distorted Humor and Belle's Good Cide, in May 1999, took place at WinStar. Belle's Good Cide, in a nine-mare partnership between WinStar and two New York breeders, was sent to Joe and Anne McMahon's farm near Saratoga Race Track shortly before she foaled, on April 20, 2000, and the colt turned out to be Funny Cide. In the eyes of the Jockey Club, the thoroughbred registry in the U.S., that qualified Funny Cide as a New York-bred.

The ripple effect from Funny Cide winning the Derby -- and perhaps the Triple Crown -- is that Distorted Humor's stud fee will go up exponentially. The 10-year-old stallion started at $12,500 -- the year he was bred to Belle's Good Cide -- and was dropped to $10,000 in 2000 before it was jacked up to the $20,000 he stood at this past breeding season. Taking a stab, Doug Cauthen estimates that it might cost between $75,000 and $100,000 to breed a mare to Distorted Humor next year.

Explaining WinStar's deal with the McMahons, Cauthen said: "The truth is, we didn't have as much acreage as we have now, and we were running out of room for our mares. We considered sending Belle's Good Cide and some of our other, less commercial mares to Indiana and other places before we took on the McMahons as partners. Otherwise, we might have just sold those mares cheap. But we settled on New York, because we feel that that's the strongest state-run breeding program in the country."

Besides Distorted Humor, other Triple Crown links hang from the trees at WinStar. Another stallion standing here is Victory Gallop, who spoiled Real Quiet's bid for the Triple Crown by winning the Belmont in 1998. Our Emblem, the sire of 2002 Derby-Preakness winner War Emblem, was bought last year -- before War Emblem was beaten in the Belmont -- for $10.1 million by WinStar in concert with Taylor Made Farm. He stands at Taylor Made in Nicholasville, Ky. Tiznow, the only horse to win the Breeders' Cup Classic twice, also stands at WinStar.

There's even more. Russell Reineman, who for $900,000 sold 90% of War Emblem to Prince Ahmed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia less than three weeks before the colt won the Derby, retains a substantial breeding interest in Distorted Humor, a colt he raced from 1996 through 1998.

Distorted Humor won eight races, five of them stakes, and earned $769,964, but he never won beyond a mile. Although there are distance horses in his family, Distorted Humor's reputation as little more than a sprinter might have contributed to Funny Cide bringing only $22,000 when he was sold as a yearling at an auction of New York-breds. The average horse at the sale was sold for $43,378. Doug Cauthen thought that Funny Cide, whose pedigree on his dam's side is better at spelling distance, would have brought at least double his sale price, although he was then a ridgling, a horse with one testicle undescended.

It's not uncommon to castrate ridglings, ridding them of any discomfort, and that's what Tony Everard did. Everard, who bought Funny Cide for $22,000, is a Florida pinhooker, a horseman who buys horses with the intention of quickly reselling them, before they race, at a profit. In the case of Funny Cide, trainer Barclay Tagg and his 10 owners came along and paid $75,000 for him as a 2-year-old. Now Funny Cide's earnings, counting a $5-million Triple Crown bonus, would clear the $7-million mark if he wins the Belmont.

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