The Funny Cide juggernaut rolled out of Maryland with a lot more steam than when it rolled in. The gelding's overpowering victory Saturday in the Preakness won over skeptics who now believe he has an excellent chance of winning the Triple Crown.
After Funny Cide won the Kentucky Derby on May 3 by 1 3/4 lengths, many racing fans wondered whether he could do it again Saturday in the Preakness. No, he couldn't, actually; he did it better. He devoured his nine competitors by 9 3/4 lengths, the second-largest margin of victory in Preakness history.
Larry Murray, trainer of Laurel-based Foufa's Warrior, seventh in the Preakness, was typical in his comments.
"He really didn't impress me in the Derby," Murray said of Funny Cide. "But, boy, did he make a believer out of me [Saturday]."
Yesterday, as the Preakness horses cleared out of Pimlico Race Course, that sentiment was pervasive. D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of two horses in the Preakness, suggested Americans could be watching a classic tale unfold.
"This is tremendous," he said. "This is what we need. This is as good as it gets. Fifty years from now, we may be having a movie about Funny Cide."
A movie about Seabiscuit, equine star of the 1930s, is being released in July.
Barclay Tagg, Funny Cide's trainer, said the horse seemed to have emerged from the Preakness in great shape. Tagg, a former Maryland trainer, spent yesterday at Timonium looking at yearlings that will be auctioned today and tomorrow. The owners of Funny Cide want Tagg to find them another horse or two.
"Everything has been a nice surprise with him," Tagg said. "You don't buy a horse and expect him to be a Triple Crown winner. We were looking for a nice New York-bred that would be worth $75,000 as a prospect."
Tagg and Robin Smullen, his assistant, bought Funny Cide for that price last year for his owners, the 10-person partnership known as Sackatoga Stable. Formed in 1995, the group won the first two legs of the Triple Crown with only the ninth horse they had bought.
"You just never know when this is going to happen," Tagg said. "You just have to have all the luck, and some other people have to have some bad luck."
A formidable field awaits Funny Cide in the Belmont Stakes on June 7 at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. His major threats would be Empire Maker, runner-up in the Kentucky Derby; Atswhatimtalknbout, fourth in the Kentucky Derby; and Dynever, late-developing and impressive winner of three straight.
"To tell you the truth, I'm not going to worry about any of them," Tagg said. "My feeling is now they have to come beat this horse. I'm not going to stay awake at night worrying about Empire Maker."
Nor should he, said several Preakness trainers.
"He's the best one out there," Lukas said. "That might have been speculation on Friday. It's not speculation Sunday morning. I very seldom use this term, but it's his race to lose."
Lukas' pair in the Preakness finished third (Scrimshaw) and ninth (Ten Cents A Shine). He said both horses might run in the Belmont, but Scrimshaw would be more likely.
Ten Cents A Shine, he said, might be gelded first. The colt has potential but doesn't have his mind on running, Lukas said.
Trainer Neil Howard said Midway Road, surprise runner-up in the Preakness, might contest the Belmont. But he, too, agreed Funny Cide would be hard to beat.
"To win the Derby is one thing," Howard said. "To come back and duplicate that in the Preakness is another. I know he wasn't beating Man o' War in my horse, but [Funny Cide] was impressive."
Lisa Lewis, trainer of Kissin Saint, last in the Preakness, described Funny Cide's Preakness as "awesome. He didn't just win by a nose. He put a big exclamation point there that he's coming back to New York."
Funny Cide is stabled at Belmont, and, being a New York-bred, he will likely attract New York loyalists to the Belmont.
"It's going to be wild," Lewis said.
Jennifer Pedersen, trainer of the sixth-place Preakness finisher New York Hero, returned home to New York immediately after the race. Before leaving, she lavished praise on Funny Cide.
"We have just seen a legend cross the finish line," she said. "America needs that, and New York needs it."
She said all Funny Cide needs is her horse's name. New York Hero is named after the people who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the people who worked to save them.
Funny Cide's name is a combination of his sire, Distorted Humor, and his late dam, Belle's Good Cide.
NOTE: The two Maryland-based horses in the Preakness seemed fine yesterday after disappointing finishes - seventh for Foufa's Warrior and eighth for Cherokee's Boy.
Murray, trainer of Foufa's Warrior, said the Maryland-bred gelding "looks like he'll survive, looks like he'll fight again. He just didn't punch in. Maybe I ran him back a little quick. It just might have been a little too much for him."
He said Foufa's Warrior would probably begin racing regularly on turf with the Virginia Derby as the main objective.
Gary Capuano, trainer of Cherokee's Boy, said the Maryland-bred colt "ran his race. He probably just got outrun."
He said he would give Cherokee's Boy a little breather while watching Funny Cide's bid for a Triple Crown in the Belmont.
"I was so happy for Barclay," Capuano said. "The horse ran just absolutely tremendous. Now, they've got him to beat."
Next for Preakness horses
1st...Funny Cide...Belmont Stakes
2nd...Midway Road...Belmont Stakes possible
3rd...Scrimshaw...Belmont Stakes possible
5th...Senor Swinger...Turf races
6th...New York Hero...Maryland-bred races
7th...Foufa's Warrior...Turf races
9th...Ten Cents A Shine...Belmont Stakes possible