When Funny Cide won last year's Kentucky Derby, he became the first gelding to wear the roses since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929. And that posed the pleasant prospect of having a Derby champion around for a few years to sustain fan interest, rather than galloping off to the breeding shed.
Unfortunately, after backing up his Derby victory by winning the Preakness Stakes, Funny Cide went into a swoon that cast a shadow over his potential for long-term stardom.
He finished a fading third behind Empire Maker and Ten Most Wanted in the Belmont Stakes over a sloppy track. Then he was a dull third, beaten by 9 lengths, in the Haskell. No magic happened when Julie Krone replaced Jose Santos in the Breeders' Cup Classic as Funny Cide ran next-to-last in a field of 10, beating only Volponi.
So many people, including the racing establishment, heaved a sigh of relief when Funny Cide kicked off his 4-year-old campaign in style with a 5-lengths victory in a Saturday allowance race at Gulfstream Park. Four rivals had no chance and Santos needed help from an outrider to pull Funny Cide up after he finished the 7-furlong event.
"He needed a confidence-builder and this 7-furlong race was perfect," said winning trainer Barclay Tagg. "It helped him get fit without knocking him out. That's why I wanted him to go 7 furlongs, because he was so fresh."
Santos added the New York-bred son of Distorted Humor "was very strong today. ... You could see today that he was back on top of his game again."
Tagg said the Feb. 7 Donn Handicap "is certainly a possibility" as Funny Cide's next start. "I don't know if he can beat those kind of horses right now or not. I'm not going to be forced into a certain schedule.
"If I don't think he's ready for the Donn this year, maybe we'll try it next year," Tagg said. "My main goal is to have him running for four or five years. My goal is to keep him famous and keep him happy."
In early preps for this year's Kentucky Derby:
Skipaslew, a Virginia-bred son of Skip Away out of the Seattle Slew mare Slew Be, closed smartly through the stretch to win Saturday's $100,000 Golden Gate Derby by 2 lengths over O.K. Mikie. Bensquito was third. Skipaslew, toting Eric Saint-Martin, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:41.84 on a wet-fast track. "He doesn't have the build of your typical Triple Crown contender," said winning trainer Doug O'Neill. "But he has the heart, experience and seasoning." Owner Merv Griffin added, "We're on the path (to the Kentucky Derby). He finished beautifully today." Skipaslew was claimed for $50,000 last summer at Hollywood Park and since has won three stakes events.
At Gulfstream Park, Wynn Dot Comma rallied from well back in the field to win Saturday's $100,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes by 1 1/4 length over Saratoga County. Ghost Mountain was third in the 6-furlong event, clocked in 1:10.60. Joe Bravo rode Wynn Dot Comma, a Florida-bred colt by Struggler, for trainer Martin Wolfson. Last year, Wynn Dot Comma accounted for the Birdonthewire Stakes and the Here Comes My Baby at Calder as he won four of five starts and finished second in the Jack Price Juvenile. "What I'd really like to do is run him in the Gotham (at Aqueduct) and see how he does in a 1-turn mile," Wolfson said. Wynn Dot Comma's sire was a successful sprinter in England and France.
Hosco led all the way to a 1-length victory in Sunday's $100,000 San Miguel Stakes at Santa Anita. With Tyler Baze up, the Kentucky-bred son of Honour and Glory ran the 6 furlongs in 1:09.36. Roi Charmant was second and Gethsemani third. The favorite, The Herc, stalked the leaders and then faded to finish sixth. "He doesn't act like a horse who will go two turns," admitted winning trainer Doug O'Neill. "But, at the same time, before he ever ran, he didn't act like a horse who'd win three in a row. ... After a little bit of champagne he'll be able to get the mile and a quarter. After a few bottles."
Shiloh Bound was making his first attempt on the grass in Saturday's $60,000 Black Gold Handicap at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. He won, too, leading all the way to a 1/2-length score over Bachelor Blues. Bojangles was third. But trainer Walter Bindner said he would have been just as happy had the race been washed off the turf. "They were forecasting rain, so I was hoping that the race might come off and we could see if he could do two turns on the dirt," Bindner said. "But, I'm quite happy that it turned out he liked the turf." Shiloh Bound, a former claimer, is a son of Cat's Career. He is unbeaten in three starts.
In races for 3-year-old fillies:
--Wild Speed let Crafty Friend show her speed through the early stages of Saturday's $60,000 Sandpiper Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. But when jockey Derek Bell asked her to run, Wild Speed easily moved to the lead with a furlong to go and won by 2 1/4 lengths. Crafty Friend held second and Atti Girl Fergie was third. The 6 furlongs went in 1:11.93. "We're looking for her to go a little farther so we want her to learn to relax, get some dirt in her face and run at other horses," said winning trainer Javier Contreras. Wild Speed, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Forest Wildcat, now has a career record of 4-3-1.
In other weekend racing:
During, a 2-1 favorite in a 10-horse field, rallied from just off the pace to win Saturday's $200,000 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes by 1 length over Toccet. Touch the Wire was third. During, a 4-year-old son of Cherokee Run, got the 1 1/16 mile in 1:41.63 with David Flores riding for trainer Bob Baffert. Flores said During was waiting on the turn for other horses to move before he took his own shot at the lead. "That's how good a horse he is," Flores said. "He loves a battle." Baffert said the $300,000 Strub Stakes on Feb. 7 may be During's next race.
Also Saturday, Megahertz came from last in a field of just four starters, despite a slow pace, to win the $150,000 San Gorgonio Handicap for fillies and mares at 9 furlongs on the grass. The British-bred, 5-year-old mare by Pivotal finished in 1:49.51, beating Garden in the Rain by 1 length. Firth of Lorne and Mer de Corail completed the order of finish. "She ran her race as planned," said winning jockey Alex Solis "All I had to do is make sure she had a good trip. The pace was slow, but it worked out to our advantage." The victory was trainer Bobby Frankel's 100th Santa Anita stakes triumph. Only Charlie Whittingham (204), Ron McAnally (105) and D. Wayne Lukas (103) have more.
Harmony Lodge took charge at mid-stretch in Sunday's $100,000 First Lady Handicap, then repelled a late bid by House Party, winning by 1 3/4 lengths. Mayo On the Side was third. Richard Migliore was in from New York to ride the winner, a 6-year-old daughter of Hennessey. The 6 furlongs took 1:09.64. "I was a little concerned because speed hasn't been doing that well and my horse has speed," said Migliore. "But the two horses on the lead got out there and kind of blocked the wind for me."
Aloha Bold raced closed to the pace in Sunday's $60,000 Colonel Power Handicap, got a clear lead by mid-stretch and held on well to beat Ole Rebel by 1 length. El Ruller was third while the favorite, Saintly Look, never fired and finished last of eight. Aloha Bold, a 6-year-old son of Flying Chevron, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:09.99. "We got a good break," said winning rider Lonnie Meche. "He was real kind on the outside and was full of run at the head of the lane."
Saratoga Humor raced quickly to the fore in Saturday's $50,000 Wishing Well Stakes for fillies and mares and coasted home first, 1 3/4 lengths ahead of favorite Emily Ring. Ballado's Halo, who stumbled out of the gate, was third. Saratoga Humor, who also won the $75,000 New Year's Eve Stakes at Mountaineer last week, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.33. "She's very, very fast," said winning jockey Rafael Bejarano.
Streak of Royalty prompted the early pace in Saturday's $50,000 Winsham Lad Handicap, then got the lead when pace-setting favorite This Cat's For You broke down on the second turn. Streak of Royalty opened a big lead and held on to beat Komax by 1 length. Personal Beau was third. Streak of Royalty, a 5-year-old, New York-bred son of Regal Classic, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:34.56.
News and notes
Santa Anita press staff reports Alex Kahn, long-time sportswriter for United Press International and Associated Press, died Saturday at age 94. Kahn was a well-liked and well-respected press box regular and maintained a keen interest in racing. He is survived by his wife of 69 years, Marion.