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A Dark Horse Brightens Our Hopes

Feeling let down by Sammy and Martha? Well, here's an overachiever you can still cheer for.

June 06, 2003|Gerald Eskenazi | Gerald Eskenazi covered sports for the New York Times for 41 years before retiring in 2000. His autobiography, to be published next year, is titled "Blood, Sweat and Cheers."

In the midst of our slough of despond this week over Martha Stewart's fall from gracious living and Sammy Sosa's bat that was infused with illegal cork, the nation turns its eyes Saturday to a feel-good hero: a colt named Funny Cide.

If Martha and Sammy let us down once they achieved the American dream, Funny Cide comes along to raise the possibility that it remains alive.

No gelding has ever won the Triple Crown, the springtime series of races that starts with the Kentucky Derby, continues with the Preakness and ends raucously Saturday at New York's Belmont Park at the difficult distance of 1 1/2 miles.

No colt, period, has captured the Triple Crown for 25 years. But along comes this neutered beast, really an outsider in the thoroughbred establishment. He had a testicular problem that could have proved painful in training. Thus, Funny Cide was gelded. He was known in the trade as a ridgeling.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday June 23, 2003 Home Edition California Part B Page 11 Editorial Pages Desk 0 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Seabiscuit -- In a June 6 Commentary by Gerald Eskenazi, it was incorrectly stated that the story of the racehorse Seabiscuit was told in a "hit movie." The movie is scheduled for release in July.

That put an equine stigma upon him. Indeed, in the great races of Europe and Britain, geldings are not allowed. And then there's the fact that the group that owns him, now affectionately dubbed the "Hicks From Sticks," includes six old high school buddies from Sackets Harbor, N.Y., wherever that is.

So Funny Cide became the first gelding since 1929 to capture the Derby. You remember the last one to do it, don't you? His name was Clyde.

Funny Cide's jockey, though, had to survive an investigation into whether he used a "battery," an electrical stimulus that makes a horse move even faster. Exoneration was theirs.

Then came the Preakness victory.

And now, get ready for more than 100,000 fans making Funny Cide the toast of New York.

Americans love these set pieces that show the fiber of our being, the kind of folks we are deep down. Coincidentally, while Funny Cide is attempting to dash into history, the story of another underdog horse, Seabiscuit, has become a hit movie. Can you feel the love?

So much that has happened in the sports world in recent years tends to diminish it -- home-run-hitting ballplayers using steroids or ephedra; an over-age Little League pitcher for a championship team; one of the world's great soccer players testing positive, over and over, for banned substances.

Yet we leap at the chance to create still another hero, someone to make us forget the charlatans and the fallen idols. Sports in the United States has always been the repository of this hope, for it is always black and white and often decided quickly.

I hope that Funny Cide captures the Triple Crown. It's not that we need him to. Let's face it: We'll get by, regardless of the outcome.

But we're also romantic enough to believe that hicks from the sticks can cobble together $75,000, buy themselves a baby horse that turns out to have only one testicle in the right place, and somehow wind up in a singular event on a June weekend that will keep tens of millions of people screaming at their television sets for almost two minutes.

That's not just a New York story. That's one to tell the children about.

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