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Santos Keeps Funny Cide Up

After a dominating performance in the Preakness, gelding has a chance to be the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

May 18, 2003|Bill Christine | Times Staff Writer

BALTIMORE — Would it be poor form to suggest that Funny Cide's demolition of the 128th Preakness was a case of assault and battery?

Assault, maybe, but please, no battery.

Ridden by Jose Santos, who was absolved nine days after the Kentucky Derby of winning the race with an illegal electrical prod -- or battery -- Funny Cide warmed up chilly Pimlico on Saturday with a devastating victory. Before 100,268 fans in 50-degree weather, the New York-bred gelding cantered by a near-record 9 3/4 lengths, and now the Triple Crown has another horse one win away from the Derby-Preakness-Belmont Stakes sweep.

After four near-misses in the last six years, Funny Cide will try June 7 in New York to become the 12th Triple Crown champion, and the first since Affirmed in 1978.

Funny Cide's Triple Crown sweep would be worth a bonus of $5 million, and his trainer, Barclay Tagg, seems confident beyond his self-styled reputation as a pessimist.

"I think his speed will help in the Belmont," said Tagg, the 65-year-old Preakness rookie who watched many runnings of the race from the roof of a barn on the Pimlico backstretch. "He's shown that he has stamina and he's shown that he has speed. He ought to be ideal for it. You don't know until they do it. It's [a quarter-mile more than the Derby], so you don't know until they do it."

Breaking from the No. 9 post in a 10-horse field, Funny Cide was in perfect position at the first turn, shadowed Peace Rules down the backside and put away his chief rival before the quarter-pole was in sight. Santos didn't let up through the stretch, hitting his mount seven times right-handed, then twice from the left as they reached the wire 9 3/4 lengths in front. In 127 previous Preakness runnings, only Survivor's 10-length win in 1873, the first time the race was run, has been by a greater margin.

Peace Rules, the third-place finisher in the Derby and winner of the Louisiana Derby the day Funny Cide ran third, seemed demoralized when the winner went by him so easily. Midway Road, a 20-1 shot, was second, three-quarters of a length ahead of Scrimshaw, who had a nose on Peace Rules. Senor Swinger, New York Hero, Foufa's Warrior, Cherokee's Boy, Ten Cents A Shine and Kissin Saint followed those four across the line.

About three inches of rain Friday and early Saturday left the Pimlico strip listed as good for the Preakness, but Funny Cide had already shown his mettle on an off track. In the mud at Aqueduct, he ran a solid second in the Wood Memorial, three weeks before the Derby.

His time Saturday for 1 3/16 miles was 1:55 3/5. The third consecutive favorite to win the Preakness, he paid $5.80 to win and earned $650,000 of the $1-million purse for the 10-man syndicate that bought him on the recommendation of Tagg for $75,000 as an unraced 2-year-old.

"My horse is a fighter, and Funny Cide is a grinder," said Edgar Prado, who rode Peace Rules. "That helped me hold off Funny Cide a little longer. But by the five-sixteenths pole, I knew we were in trouble. My horse started getting smaller and smaller. Funny Cide was just too tough, and we can only live to fight another day."

Santos and his 8-year-old son, Jose Jr., were together, as they were after the Derby, for the post-race news conference.

"This is the best part," the boy said, and the worst part for the entire Santos family was what broke in the Miami Herald a week after the Derby. There was an inconclusive photo that Santos might have had something besides a whip in his right hand at the wire, speculation that ended on May 11 when the Churchill Downs stewards, after an exhaustive inquiry, ruled that the 42-year-old jockey was blameless.

"The bomb blew up [after the Derby]," Santos said after the Preakness. "All I wanted to do [after his meeting with the stewards at Churchill] was have peace of mind going into this race. I was determined to win the Preakness no matter what."

At Pimlico on Friday, when Santos rode in four races, there were a few references from the fans about the folderol over the machine, another racetrack term for a battery.

"But today they were great," Santos said. "All I could hear before the race was, 'Ole, Jose, ole, Jose,' and that was great. Now, after all that happened, and now that we did it again, I don't think nobody can say anything -- about me, about Funny Cide or Barclay Tagg. He was running like a nice machine. He was rolling at the end."

Funny Cide is the seventh gelding to win the Preakness and the first since Prairie Bayou in 1993. Funny Cide was the first New York-bred to win the Derby. Only two New York-breds had won previous Preaknesses, and none since Margrave in 1896.

In the Belmont, Funny Cide will be running in a 1 1/2-mile race staged largely by breeding snobs, who, for many years, banned geldings from competing. The rule was dropped in 1957, and Creme Fraiche, in 1985, became the first -- and only -- gelding to win the race.

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