Members of the Sackatoga Stable are off on another wild ride – not to Churchill Downs on their yellow school bus, but to a small market racetrack on the wings of pure optimism.
Finger Lakes, a dirt-only outpost for patchwork-prone thoroughbreds on the fringes of competitiveness, noted last week that the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was going to participate in its 4th of July Wadsworth Memorial Handicap.
In order to subsidize Funny Cide’s journey from Saratoga Springs, track president Chris Riegle announced that he convinced local horsemen to assist with a $50,000 boost of the Wadsworth purse. Normally, a stakes for 3-year-olds and up at a distance of 1 1/8 miles for $50,000, this year’s Wadsworth, now doubled in purse size, will be for $100,000.
Riegle argued successfully that Funny Cide’s appearance in the stakes would boost attendance for the holiday card by 400 percent. Not bad, for a 7-year-old gelding that is so past his prime he makes Perfect Drift look like an up-and-comer.
“I’m not seeing a horse that doesn’t run as fast as he ever did,” explained Jack Knowlton, Sackatoga’s spokesman, last week in The Saratogian newspaper. Nevertheless, his sight may be well short of 20/20. Funny Cide hasn’t finished better than third in six recent starts, but this hasn’t dissuaded the New York-bred’s owners from campaigning him aggressively.
Poor vision aside, Knowlton lacks nothing in enthusiasm. By sheer chest-thumping, he’s moved front and center in the racing game by exploiting the excitement created by one horse. He became the main man in New York racing by simply promoting the sport whenever he was given the chance to promote Funny Cide. In addition to serving on the Ad Hoc Committee to recommend a new franchise operator for Empire State racetracks, Knowlton keeps busy granting interviews, giving speeches and making his voice heard at every turn imaginable.
Public relations are exactly the functions that he and his partners will perform in Canandaigua, New York this Wednesday. The Sackatoga Stable owners won’t just be sitting around Finger Lakes’ tiny Turf Club awaiting the results of the Wadsworth. They’ll be signing autographs for the benefit of the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program and posing for photographs with fans.
Moreover, as an added attraction, Finger Lakes fans will get to see Funny Cide’s Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Jockey Club Gold Cup trophies. “We get a lot of support from New York State in general, but particularly from the Watertown, Syracuse and Rochester areas,” Knowlton said about his ambassorship. “The more people that get exposed to a champion, the better it is for the game,” he said diplomatically and accurately.
Maybe it takes simple folks from little towns like Sackets Harbor, New York, where several members of the Sackatoga Stable hail from, to understand this dynamic.
After Street Sense won the Kentucky Derby this May, Arlington Park officials had the opportunity to pursue the horse’s Chicago-based owner to bring his champion back to the site of his maiden triumph by boosting the purse or providing a bonus for a midsummer race that could have served Street Sense as a prep for the Travers, but they didn’t.
Jim Tafel is too busy and Dick Duchossois too disinterested to consider anything extraordinary for Street Sense. Jack Knowlton and Chris Riegle, on the other hand, are blue collar guys who understand that the Wadsworth Memorial and Finger Lakes is a good fit for the people’s horse.