Funny Cide, a gelding, still feels the love
NEW YORK -- He'll never have that twinkle in his eye for the filly of his fancy. There will be no little Funny Cides romping around pastures in New York. No one will ever refer to him as a stud.
Even though he's been gelded, Funny Cide will still feel the love.
Whether or not he wins the Belmont Stakes on Saturday and becomes the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years, Funny Cide already has captured the imagination of the racing world.
With his victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, the upstart New York-bred has emerged as the 21st century version of Seabiscuit, a true horse of the people. Make that a gelding of the people.
But just because he's gelded, or castrated, doesn't make him a bad horse. Some of the most beloved horses in history were gelded. Kelso, Forego and John Henry, to name a few.
"They were just marvelous, the kind of horses that ought to be folk heroes," Funny Cide's trainer Barclay Tagg said. "Absolutely, geldings make great athletes."
Funny Cide, gelded primarily because of an undescended testicle that compromised his ability to run comfortably, may just end up a cut above them all. No gelding has ever challenged for the Triple Crown, and if he comes through, an expected record crowd that could reach 120,000 will turn Belmont Park into a love-fest to celebrate the 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed in 1978.
Because Funny Cide won't be sent off to some farm next year to make babies and earn millions at stud, there's only one alternative -- keep racing. This year. Next year as a 4-year-old. The year after that. And so on, for as long as his powerful legs hold out.
"Maybe it's a blessing he's gelded," Affirmed's jockey Steve Cauthen said. "He can win the Triple Crown and stay around and keep racing. He may not have turned out to be the horse he is if he hadn't been gelded. It could be the boost racing needs."
After a horse is gelded, he tends to become more focused on training, less interested in fillies, and his racing career lasts longer because he's easier to handle.
Kelso, racing's only five-time Horse of the Year (1960-64), was retired at age 9 with 39 wins in 63 starts.
Forego, after finishing fourth behind Secretariat in the 1973 Kentucky Derby, was retired at age 8 with 34 wins in 57 starts. He was Horse of the Year three times, from 1974-76.
John Henry, now 28 and living at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, was retired in 1984 with 39 victories in 83 starts. A two-time Horse of the Year, he's the all-time leader in earnings among geldings at more than $6.5 million.
"They didn't disappear into the breeding shed, or into obscurity because they couldn't breed well. They kept racing," Tagg said. "Funny Cide is a big, stout, sound horse. If we handle him well, and with a little luck, maybe he'll be around for a long time."
That would be a refreshing change.
Last year, trainer Bob Baffert's War Emblem won the Derby and Preakness but stumbled at the start of the Belmont in his Triple try. The colt raced three more times, was sold for $17 million and retired to stud, where, so far, he has been unsuccessful in covering mares. In 2000, Fusaichi Pegasus won the Derby before he was sold for $60 million and retired to stud.
"We need more geldings in the world. They last longer," said Baffert, who won the 1992 Breeders' Cup Sprint with the 5-year-old gelding Thirty Slews.
Geldings are not uncommon in racing. Of the 72,825 individual thoroughbred starters in North America in 2002, 18,796, or 25.8 percent, were geldings, according to The Jockey Club. They cashed in, too, taking in more than $282 million in purse money, or 23.1 percent of the purses available last year. The Jockey Club says the figures are minimum since gelding reports are not always filed.
In Triple Crown races, geldings have fared well, when they were allowed to run. Funny Cide is one of eight geldings to win the Kentucky Derby -- the first since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929; he was the seventh to win the Preakness; and would be the second to take the Belmont (Creme Fraiche won in 1985). Geldings, though, were banned from the Belmont from 1919-1956, mainly because owners did not want to see their colts' value as a stallion diminished with a loss to a horse who was unable to reproduce.
After a horse is gelded in what is described as painless surgery, he usually returns to training within two to three weeks, said Tony Everard, who bought Funny Cide for $22,000 at the Saratoga yearling sales in 2001 before selling him for $75,000 to Jack Knowlton and his high school buddies of Sackatoga Stable in March 2002.
Funny Cide was a ridgling -- a male horse with one undescended testicle -- when Everard made his purchase, and he knew surgery was imminent. The decision to geld Funny Cide was made easier because his future as a stallion was questionable due to pedigree: his sire Distorted Humor is unproven and his mare, Belle's Good Cide, won two of 26 starts and died in March of colic.
"With ridglings, it's better to go ahead and geld them early," he said. "My experience is once they start training around turns they are moving faster and getting pinched and it hurts them. Then they don't want to run."
Tagg believes Funny Cide's status as a gelding has helped him stay fit through the Triple Crown grind.
"When you castrate horses, they don't quite get that heavy growth up front," the trainer said. "Their front end is usually 65 percent of their weight and then you put a jockey on and there's a lot of pounding on their front legs. Castrating a horse tends to distribute the weight a little bit more. I think that helps with the soundness. I've found that geldings tend to stay sounder longer."
Says Dr. Larry Bramlage, a veterinarian for the American Association of Equine Practitioners: "Many of the famous geldings of the past were totally ineffective racehorses as intact males and became stars when once gelded."