HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, July 17, 2023 – In hindsight, what happened on the evening of May 3, 2003, at the Albany Tele-Theater Clubhouse was a funny thing, although I remember thinking at the time not so much.
When I arrived at the cashier’s window, I had just finished celebrating the events of the day and held a worthy collection of tickets on the winner and exacta of the feature race at Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby.
Better still, I had a small bunch of Oaks-Derby Double tickets which, if memory serves, were worth $177 per ducat. Marylou’s Bird Stone in the first leg and a “gutsy gelding’ to complete the play. Indeed, those were heady times in the Capital District of upstate New York.
As I stepped up to cash in, the mutuel clerk said: “Sorry sir, you will have to come back tomorrow.”
“I apologize sir, but we’ve run out of money.” And that wasn’t only the case at 711 Central Avenue in Albany.
At that time, Capital Region Off-Track-Betting had approximately 40 off-track bet shops covering the 16 counties that serviced horseplayers in the upstate region to the west and north of the state capital.
“It was 20 years ago but I would say about half our shops ran out of funds,” recalled Capital OTB President John Signor by phone from his executive office in Schenectady. “I remember it took about three days to add funds so all our customers could collect their winnings.”
Funny Cide’s Triple Crown run and summer campaign led the way to record earnings for the company that year and gave racing and off-track community added visibility across the entire state.
“When the Triple Crown ended we rented a school bus and the group visited all of our branches. When he later raced at the old Gulfstream Park, the school bus rolled down the length of the stretch to the finish line. Gulfstream later welcomed Funny Cide into their Hall of Fame.
“We couldn’t be happier to have been associated with Sackatoga Stables. Jack Knowlton could not have been more accommodating in helping us to promote the sport. Capital OTB owes a lot to Funny Cide and Jack Knowlton. They helped to put us on the map.”
Thoroughbred racing does, too. Funny Cide was beloved. How many retired racehorses, after all, receive Christmas cards while collecting a pension? He put the town of Farmington, NY, on the map, too, when he doubled the capacity of Finger Lakes Racetrack for his final race.
Funny Cide passed on Sunday, two decades after his Derby victory at a time when racing was being conducted in the town of his birth 23 years ago. And so this weekend, he joined the fraternity of past champions who touched the hearts of so many, in and out of racing.
Treasured champions of the past, horses named Kelso and John Henry and Forego had two things in common. All were geldings, and all raced well past the age when today’s Equine Gen X’s and Gen Z’s have called it a career. The game, and racing’s true fans, miss them deeply.
HRI’s Footnotes for Wednesday’s Feature, three-year-old state-bred fillies going one mile on turf, listed in spot order with early line odds:
RED MOON (2-1) tardy from gate, was taken back to last under rating hold, made very good turn move 4-wide into 6-path entering lane, finished well down the center; probably best?
BERNT AGAIN (8-1) stoutly restrained speed between horses much of the way 2-3 wide, lowered her body and lengthened stride late.
MZ. BIG BUCKS (5-2) set very solid/fast pace comfortably, re-break soon after entering stretch, clearly deserving winner in strong front-end effort.
CAMP AKEELA (12-1) rated between horses throughout 2-3 wide, angled out into 4-path, finished one-paced.
CLOVER STREET (10-1) restrained speed stalking lively pace from good position throughout, tipped 5-wide into lane, finished evenly behind 2-for-2 Todd/Winstar winner.
LITTLE LINZEE (5-1) stalked pace 3-4 wide across the track throughout, solid rally 4-wide entering lane, finished with energy, evenly through last furlong in 12:23.
BEA BEA KAZ (30-1) steadied while keen between horses 3-4 wide backstretch in close quarters
QUEENS OVER THREES (30-1) [no video available, May 18 race two-back] restrained speed on the fence throughout, tipped out 3-4 midstretch, ride made the difference.
ORANGE FREEZE (6-1) restrained speed 3-4 wide good trip backstretch, surged 4 wide approaching headstretch, momentum carried her 6-wide into lane, solid rally through stretch but was one-paced nearing finish late.
The Skinny: Either one of the early favorites will be hard to beat, lean goes to Red Moon with tougher trip over strong front-end winning Mz. Big Bucks. Orange Freeze, off the Morey claim and uncoupled mate of Red Moon a little interesting, Rosario sticks.
The enthusiasm that always accompanies the opening of Saratoga was decidedly dampened by the blows it suffered as a result of significant rainfall. It wasn’t the overall amount, necessarily, but then timing is everything.
We begin out of respect for the Godfather, who insists on hearing the Bad News immediately:
The transition of clean surfaces into severely wet ones, accompanied by a plethora of rescheduled turf races, wreaked havoc with respect to bet-ability and watch-ability–even a graded turf stakes was lost to the elements.
Including off-the-turf, trainer, veterinarian and main-track only declarations, 99 entrants spent one of the first four days of the meet on the sidelines. Obviously, field sizes were negatively impacted. In all, 298 horses did answer the starter’s call to the post.
By our old-school count, 12 races had fewer than six combatants: Five races were run with five betting interests, four races went as 4-horse fields, and three answered the bell going with a mere three horses leaving the gate. The number of defections and small fields had to set some kind of infamous standard.
Since no one can control weather phenomena–never mind 2023’s Climate Change Summer From Hell—there was Good News generated by what transpired between the fences:
The Ortiz Brothers, Irad Jr. and Jose, ended the first week of the meet right where they left off at Belmont Park, where Jose clinched the riding title by one winner with the competition going down to the final race of the meet. At the end of the first short week, the Ortiz boys led all others, tied at seven winners.
Others getting off quickly were Flavien Prat, with four including Saturday’s upset win of In Italian in the G1 Diana. Four riders tied for fourth with three wins each: Javier Castellano, Luis Saez, Kendrick Carmouche and Dylan Davis, two of Castellano’s coming in stakes.
Linda Rice, Belmont’s leading trainer in a rout, has not slowed down upstate. Her five wins in four days leads Chad Brown and Mark Hennig, each with three, with six trainers tied with two each, among those Hall of Famers Todd Pletcher and Bill Mott.
The ‘Graveyard’ claimed three odds-on graded stakes victims on the first Saturday of the meet, but favorites overall fared well, winning at a 41.5% clip over 41 races.
this live column will be updated through Wednesday’s Week 2 opener.