That big inflated balloon known as Funny Cide's Triple Crown bid has begun to deflate, ever so slowly, as spring gives way to summer - and to Colonial Downs, Delaware Park, Monmouth Park and, finally, Saratoga.
Funny Cide, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, is headed to the Haskell Invitational Handicap on Aug. 3 at Monmouth. Empire Maker, winner of the Belmont Stakes, is headed to the Jim Dandy Stakes the same day at Saratoga. If all goes well, they'll clash again in the Travers on Aug. 23 at Saratoga in what could be an electrifying rematch.
Still, don't pay too much attention to the babble about that riveting rivalry between Empire Maker and Funny Cide.
Barclay Tagg, Funny Cide's trainer, cares nothing about rivalries. He's going to do what's right by Funny Cide, and he'll spurn the public and maybe even the gelding's owners if need be to make sure that happens.
As for Empire Maker, despite what his trainer, Bobby Frankel, says, the colt will probably be retired at the end of the year. Frankel has penciled in these races for Empire Maker: Jim Dandy, Travers and Breeders' Cup Classic.
That's it, three races for Empire Maker. Funny Cide's schedule looks like this: Haskell, Travers, Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders' Cup Classic.
So the two horses - who certainly have the necessary ingredients to whip up a tasty rivalry - will probably meet twice more. And by then the likes of Sky Mesa or Dynever or Ten Most Wanted might have jumped into the pot and spoiled the broth.
The commotion surrounding Funny Cide, however, could continue for years. He has captured the public's heart. If he rebounds from his third-place finish in the Belmont and starts winning again, he could remain a star for the rest of this decade.
His owners have been meeting in New York with agents and discussing a book and movie about Funny Cide. Jack Knowlton, managing partner of Sackatoga Stable, the 10-man group that owns Funny Cide, says he doesn't know whether the book or the movie will come first.
"We've had different advice from different people," Knowlton says. "We're learning as we're going."
Laura Hillenbrand's book, Seabiscuit: An American Legend, has been a longtime best seller, and the film based on the book comes out next month. If the previews and the building anticipation are any indication, the movie will be a smash hit. And this is the story of a horse who raced in the 1930s.
Imagine a heart-tugging movie about a horse people can still go to the track and see race. Funny Cide didn't win the Triple Crown, but as a gelding with nothing else to do, he could compete for years in the top races and become racing's biggest attraction since Cigar.
Funny Cide's owners are marching ahead with other "commercial ventures," as Knowlton puts it. Funny Cide merchandise is available for sale on the Internet at funnycide.com. A Funny Cide store will open Friday in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Knowlton's hometown.
"None of this was predicated on Funny Cide's winning the Triple Crown," Knowlton says. "The story is the story. This horse won the Kentucky Derby. This horse won the Preakness."
You can't argue with that. Funny Cide's story is good - every aspect of it - and people continue to embrace it.
New York Gov. George Pataki met with the Funny Cide connections last week for a second time, and the state Senate passed a proclamation and threw a party.
J.P. Constance, one of the owners from tiny Sackets Harbor, N.Y., says: "They threw us an awesome bash. They're just so pleased this is a New York-bred horse who has done so much for New York breeding and agriculture."
The owners are still doing several interviews each day. They flew to Louisville, Ky., late last week to attend a party at the Kentucky Derby Museum, during which the film of this year's Derby was unveiled. They also received their engraved Derby trophy and presented a trophy after a stakes race at Churchill Downs.
As Knowlton keeps saying: "It's pretty incredible."
Benders to feast again
The Maryland Horse Breeders Association will hold its annual dinner and awards ceremony Friday at the Carriage Room at Laurel Park. Tickets are still available. Call the breeders office at 410-252-2100 for details.
The group will honor Sondra and Howard Bender as Breeders of the Year, Shiner as Broodmare of the Year and Not for Love as Stallion of the Year.
The Benders will receive the award for the second straight year. They bred nine horses who won stakes races last year, including the 2-year-old Foufa's Warrior and the 7-year-old La Reine's Terms. The nine combined to win 13 stakes races. La Reine's Terms won five.
Shiner represents a half-century of breeding at Allaire duPont's Woodstock Farm in Cecil County. The 13-year-old Shiner, a third-generation producer for duPont, gave birth to last year's Grade I winner Shine Again and Grade II winner Shiny Band.