Saratoga Springs, NY--August 10, 2007

Dear Diary,

They came from Northern California and Ohio and Long Island and from right down the street from this storied race course to say goodbye to their favorite New York bred hero, foaled a few miles from this racetrack seven years ago at Joe McMahons farm.

They came because his story made people feel good about a racehorse again. And they came to Saratoga today to salute their very own Kentucky Derby champion.

Funny Cide, a gelding from the wrong side of the breeding shed owned by a bunch of high school classmates from a small town in upstate New York, against a powerful favorite with the regal name Empire Maker, owned by oil rich foreign interests, trained and ridden by members of Racings Hall of Fame.

They had finished close together in that years Wood Memorial but it was Funny Cides second place finish that showed everyone he belonged with the elite members of that three-year-old class. They would settle it in Louisville, while America watched.

The karma was good for a potential Kentucky Derby upset. The day before, a good filly named Bird Town, owned by the woman they call the Queen of Saratoga, socialite Mary Lou Whitney, was the upset winner of the Kentucky Oaks. Could it be an all-Saratoga Oaks-Derby double?

Among Jose Santoss 91 Grade 1 victories, this one gave him his first and only Kentucky Derby julep cup and helped put him in the Hall of Fame on Monday. His ride was a confident and smart one, stalking comfortably while in winning position throughout, taking the lead for good at the precise moment in the stretch when the move needed to be made.

Empire Maker was coming hard, and it appeared momentarily that his late momentum would carry him past the Derby upstart. But thats when racing first heard the apt term coined by Triple Crown racecaller Tom Durkin, the gutsy gelding Funny Cide.

As he hit the Churchill Downs finish line in front, the crowd at the Saratoga harness track went absolutely wild, way beyond the exuberance normally reserved for cashing a winning ticket.

People were jumping up and down, literally, trying to slap high fives but missing in their uncontrollable excitement. It was about more than cashing a bet: the Saratoga horse had done it. No waiting until August to stick your chest out.

Meanwhile, on the Churchill backstretch, Santos was screaming into Donna Brothers equine microphone: Get with the Program, New York Bred, as he pointed downward at his Derby winning mount, parroting a tagline made famous in a television commercial.

By now the whole state was celebrating, and the New York breeding industry received the publicity boost it needed, one putting it on the map for good. Good horses can be bred here, even Derby winning geldings.

At the Capital Off Track Betting Teletheater that afternoon, the crowd, Im told, was no less exuberant. There, and at a handful of other simulcast locations, winning bettors were given an apology and told to come back tomorrow.

Between the winning Oaks-Derby double winners, the $26 win mutuel, and all those winning exactas, trifectas and superfectas keyed by Funny Cide, the venues had run out of cash: Its Saturday. The banks are closed. Come back tomorrow.

And nobody seemed to mind.

There were other moments: Vindication for his Derby win after a Miami newspaper falsely accused Santos of riding with a battery, an illegal electrical device used to stimulate racehorses. There was photographic proof that the claim was false, and the gelding and Santos proved it at Pimlico.

Empire Maker skipped that dance, but got even with his Derby rival in the Belmont Stakes. The combination of Funny Cides enervating Preakness, a too-fast Belmont workout, a wet racetrack, and the Test of the Champions additional quarter mile all conspired against him.

But he tried hard, like always, and his many fans were still proud of what he had accomplished against significant odds. His third-place Belmont Stakes finish could not diminish those feelings.

There were other important victories, of course, but none more significant as an older horse than his victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup the following year.

Funny Cide has dropped back, said Durkin of the gutsy gelding. And indeed he had. Surely he was beaten as the field was approaching the quarter pole in the classic for older horses. But Funny Cide found another gear, rallying a second time, and out-gutting his rivals from between horses in a performance for the ages.

The JCGC was to be his prep for the Breeders Cup Classic. I asked one of his owners at the harness track one afternoon, the late Gus Williams, how important would it be for Funny Cide to win the Classic.

The Classic? harrumphed Williams. Hell, I just want to win five more Gold Cups, referring to the achievement of the mighty Kelso when the race was run at two miles and not at its present mile and a half distance.

Last year, at age six, the horse that inspired books, his own flavor of ice cream, a micro beer, and a future full length feature film, started to lose steps. This year, there were efforts where you could see the flame that once made him great and so very popular was flickering perceptibly.

Then came the whispers that the gelding should be retired before he embarrassed himself further by losing to rivals he would once trounce, that he had earned the privilege of living life as an equine pensioner.

Finally, after winning the Wadsworth Memorial at the lower tier racetrack in Canandaigua, New York, Finger Lakes, where he attracted an overflow crowd, he was retired. Sort of.

Unlike many racehorses that are angered by boredom, a decision was made to keep him at the racetrack instead of a farm, now working as the stable pony for his trainer Barclay Tagg and assistant Robin Smullen.

And so he led the field for todays fourth race to the post, a maiden sprint for New York bred two-year-olds at seven furlongs, the same distance he raced as a two-year-old of 2002 when he showed he might have a bright future. But not even those closest to him expected a ride like this.


First Race: Todd Pletcher mega-dropdown Super Hero totally outclassed field of $25,000 claimers, blowing the race open at mid-turn, over the sealed muddy track.

Second Race: Indescribable did all the work, racing Who Fu into defeat, but Imagistic picked up the pieces and got the money, nipping Inda who stalked the leaders from the four path throughout but couldnt hold last-run winner.

The Waya Stakes: Overnight event was switched to the wet main track and truncated from 12 to 9- furlongs. Warrior Girl was very game through the stretch after chasing the leader into the straight but Nunnery was too game, giving Bill Mott his 11th winner of the meet. Absolutely no excuses for Pletcher-trained Jade Queen.

Fourth Race: Horse to watch Mor Chances (see Diary from 7/28) timed her run a lot better this time with the switch to Cornelio Velasquez to get the money at fair odds. Biohazard showed much improved speed in her first wet-track start, as if really moving up in the going; note.

Fifth Race: Three of Ministers Bids four lifetime victories came when he was fresh. You can make that 4-for-5, stalking the pace comfortably and solidly repelling late run of Hesanoldsalt, who now has finished second in six of seven starts this season. Old pro Evening Attire raced well but was hindered by the pedestrian pace.

Sixth Race: Off the turf maiden event for juvenile fillies went to Mike Hernandez trained newcomer Slipstone who had good position into the lane and finished off her run with some authority. Laurens Go Go made a solid move into command, looming the winner, but couldnt even hold off late running newcomer Upper Level for the place award. Bar City was a late scratch after breaking through the gate at the start.

Seventh: Another winner for Rick Dutrow stable as In Command, steadied backstretch and again on turn awaiting room, angled out, then finished like a rocket to win going away. Take to repeat under similar conditionsTzipi had horrible trip as gate woes continue at this meet. Steadied by an assistant starter while fractious in the gate, she broke in the air, then raced behind and between horses thereafter. Clearly deserves another chance; note.

The Heed: Another overnighter, this one switched to the wet main track. Dorm Fever benefited from the new conditions, turning back with recent conditioning, a pedigree for the going, and a well timed late move from Garrett Gomez. She could make it three straight next out as she continues her development; follow progress.

Ninth Race: Danzaway drew in from the also-eligible list then drew away from the field in the late going, obviously relishing the wet track, giving Tom Bush another longshot winner.