Funny Cide dominates Preakness, to try for Crown
By Ed McNamara
Special to ESPN.com
BALTIMORE -- Jose Santos gave the victory sign and showed the world his right palm. There was nothing in it but two-thirds of a Triple Crown after he and Funny Cide grabbed the 128th Preakness Stakes by the throat and shook it.
On a chilly, overcast Saturday afternoon that felt more like late November than mid-May, the Chilean-born jockey and the New York-bred gelding burned up a drying-out track. The long-barreled chestnut took all the drama out of the race before he entered the Pimlico stretch, turning the final quarter of a mile into a procession. His margin over longshot Midway Road was 9¾ lengths, the most lopsided Preakness since the first one in 1873, when Survivor romped by 10.
Funny Cide was clear by five at the eighth pole and drew away with stunning brilliance. Maybe his competition was substandard, but none of the 11 Triple Crown winners -- not Citation, not Secretariat, not Seattle Slew, not Affirmed -- won as easily in Crabtown.
"From the five-eighths pole, I gave him some loose rein, and he was just loping along," Santos said. "He's a wonderful horse. I want to tell everybody that the only machine I had with me was the red horse I was riding today."
The runaway came exactly one week after Santos was smeared by baseless allegations stemming from a story in the Miami Herald. A shadow on a photograph and a misunderstood phrase in a phone interview led the Churchill Downs stewards to investigate whether Santos had carried an illegal battery to shock Funny Cide into giving an all-out effort in the Derby. Videotape indicated that would have been impossible, but for two miserable days, Santos and his family suffered unjustly before he was cleared.
"Definitely, the Derby is one of the happiest moments of my life," Santos said. "And then the bomb blew up, and that was not nice … [But] then we went to a meeting in Louisville and everything was clear."
Funny Cide's spectacular encore again proved he can take off under his own power, and for the fifth time in seven years, a Triple Crown will be on the line in the 1½-mile "Test of the Champion,'' the Belmont Stakes. Trainer Bob Baffert came up short of a sweep three times there, with Silver Charm, Real Quiet and War Emblem, and he said that on June 7 he'll be pulling for Funny Cide to do what his colts couldn't.
"That was really impressive," said Baffert, who sent out fifth-place Senor Swinger. "Funny Cide was really rolling. I couldn't find my horse, so I was watching Funny Cide . . . It was fun watching and listening to the crowd respond to Funny Cide when he drew off like that. I'm getting off the trail at this bus stop and rooting for Funny Cide to win the Triple Crown."
Funny Cide became the first gelding to win the Preakness since Prairie Bayou in 1993. He ran 1 3/16 miles in 1:55.61 on a good track and paid $5.80 as the narrow favorite over 2-1 Peace Rules, who lost third by a nose to Scrimshaw. The exacta with 20-1 Midway Road, ridden by Robby Albarado, returned $120.60, the triple was worth $684.20 and the $1 superfecta came back $792.20. Funny Cide made $650,000 for his fifth win in eight career starts, boosting his earnings above $1.7 million for Sackatoga Stable.
As he did in Kentucky, Barclay Tagg shipped in Funny Cide late and didn't give him a workout over the track. He arrived with the gelding early Friday afternoon, and by early Saturday evening Tagg was ready to leave with the big money again.
"He's just done everything right," Tagg said. "It's been a really smooth last five weeks. I never had anything but faith in this horse going the distance, with his demeanor and his build. But a lot of people questioned it, which made me hesitant."
Peace Rules' failure dropped trainer Bobby Frankel's record in the classics to 0-for-10. "I have nothing to say," said Frankel, a world-beater every Saturday except for the first and third ones in May, Belmont Stakes day and Breeders' Cup day. "What can I say? He just got beat. He outbroke the field and he got beat. What else can I say?"
The play-by-play of the Preakness didn't amount to much, either. As he did in the Derby, Funny Cide was bumped at the start, recovered and immediately moved into a perfect spot, third behind two dueling pacesetters. Peace Rules got unwanted early heat from Scrimshaw, who moved up on his inside and pushed the Frankel colt as Santos bided his time. He knew Funny Cide could take Peace Rules whenever he wanted to, and soon so did Peace Rules' rider, Edgar Prado.
"I knew I was in a little trouble when I saw Funny Cide beside me," Prado said. No, big trouble. The winner moved strongly leaving the far turn, left a spent Peace Rules behind nearing the quarter pole and blew the race open as the crowd of 100,268 let loose.
Santos' wife, Rita, screamed, "C'mon, Funny!" Jack Knowlton, managing partner of Sackatoga Stable, howled "Yes! Yes! Yes!" Santos' 8-year-old son, Jose Jr., yelled "Daddy! Daddy!" The people's horse was long gone, and his owners from upstate New York were in line for the $5-million bonus that Visa offers for racing's most elusive and most grueling achievement, the Triple Crown.
"I think he showed today that the Derby was not an aberration," Knowlton said. "This horse truly has a tremendous amount of talent. We're just having a great ride, enjoying it. We wanted to take this thoroughbred back up to New York to have a shot at the Belmont."
Funny Cide is 3-for-3 at North America's biggest track, but those races were last year against fellow New York-breds. From the beginning Tagg thought he could become something special, but who could have envisioned this?
"It really has not sunk in yet," Knowlton said. "We've just got to go and enjoy this moment. We've got two-for-two."
As Baffert can tell him, that third one is always the toughest.