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The Golden Gelding As Funny Cide closes in on Triple Crown history, we asked where all that horsepower came from. The answer will make you squirm

June 09, 2003
June 09, 2003

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June 9, 2003

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The Golden Gelding As Funny Cide closes in on Triple Crown history, we asked where all that horsepower came from. The answer will make you squirm

They are gone now, removed through two tiny incisions, each no
longer than a crayon, from a yearling colt named Funny Cide more
than 19 months ago. But even in their absence they remain vital
to this modern racetrack fairy tale. They have made 10 workaday
owners celebrities, but their absence has prevented the group
from getting wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. They are the
source of a thousand jokes designed to make men clamp their legs
together and squirm. They are the reason that Funny Cide can race
until his body fails, a star in a sport that desperately needs
one. And they are the reason that he could, with a victory in
Saturday's Belmont Stakes, become the first horse in 25
years--and the first gelding ever--to win the Triple Crown.

This is an article from the June 9, 2003 issue Original Layout

They are Funny Cide's testicles.

This is the story of their brief life and ongoing legacy, a tale
that began in Saratoga Springs on the night of Aug. 12, 2001, at
a sale of select New York-bred horses. Outside a dark green sales
barn along East Avenue, an unnamed, modestly bred chestnut stood
with his groom. Tony Everard, a 63-year-old pinhooker (racetrack
slang for somebody who buys young horses and holds on to them
until they mature before reselling them at a profit) from Ocala,
Fla., liked the colt and promptly paid $500 for Kentucky
veterinarian Jerry Johnson to examine him. Johnson felt
underneath the colt's hindquarters and told Everard, "He's a
ridgeling," a horse with an undescended testicle. Ridgelings,
however, are common, so with his brother Joseph putting up half
the $22,000 auction price, Everard bought the colt and shipped
him to Ocala, where he took a place in Barn Two at Everard's
65-acre New Episode Training Center.

Everard turned out Funny Cide in a sprawling paddock, where he
played for several weeks with other yearlings in the shade of
sycamores and live oaks. But there was little doubt that he would
soon undergo a routine surgical procedure that removes a horse's
testicles. "It was an easy call," says Everard. "My motto is, Get
them to the races. With ridgelings, that one testicle will always
[cause them discomfort when they run], especially when they're
changing leads on the turn. They won't try hard for you."

On the evening of Oct. 26, 10 weeks after his arrival in Ocala,
Funny Cide was vanned five miles from New Episode to the Ferguson
& Associates Equine Clinic, where Dr. Phil Hammock placed the
horse under general anesthesia before moving him to an operating
table with a two-ton custom hoist. As the colt lay on his back,
Hammock made one cut at the base of the inguinal ring, between
the abdomen and the scrotum; pulled out the left, undescended
testicle; and cut it loose with special, plierslike tools called
(male squirm alert) emasculators. The emasculators also crushed
the connecting arteries and veins, which induced blood clotting
and eliminated the need for sutures. Hammock made another
incision in the scrotum to remove the normal testicle in a
similar fashion. The procedure lasted 20 minutes, after which
Funny Cide was transferred to a padded stall. He was back on his
feet scarcely an hour after anesthesia was begun. "The whole
thing went smooth as silk," says Hammock.

Horses are commonly castrated for three reasons: 1) to correct a
medical condition, often an undescended testicle; 2) to stanch
the flow of testosterone and prevent overdevelopment of a horse's
chest and shoulders, thus lightening the load on his fragile
front legs; 3) to remove the mating instinct from a horse whose
hormone-driven behavior (think 16-year-old boy) is making him
difficult to train. It is the last of those reasons that leads
many horsemen to geld colts almost as a matter of routine. "Once
they're gelded, they've only got one brain instead of two, and
all they've got to worry about is training," says California
trainer Jeff Mullins, whose gelding, Buddy Gil, won this year's
Santa Anita Derby.

Within weeks of his castration Funny Cide was making huge strides
as a racehorse. In November 2001 he was spotted by trainer
Barclay Tagg and, four months later, was bought by Sackatoga
Stable for $75,000, a neat return on Everard's investment.

The vet's scalpel, of course, cuts two ways. It's possible that
Funny Cide's castration helped make him the champion that he is
today. It's certain that the surgery made him worthless at stud.
Everard could have instructed Hammock to leave the healthy
testicle, which would have made Funny Cide a stallion worth
millions after victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. "If
Funny Cide were a stallion, the breeding farms would be all over
him," says Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Last year War
Emblem won the Derby and the Preakness before finishing eighth in
the Belmont for trainer Bob Baffert and was sold for more than
$17 million in the fall.

Everard, however, has no regrets. Funny Cide's breeding did not
suggest great stud potential. He is from the first crop of a sire
named Distorted Humor, a decent, if unspectacular, racehorse who
won eight races in 23 starts, and the mare Belle's Good Cide, a
$2,800 yearling who won only two of 26 career races. Everard
liked some of Funny Cide's bloodlines--Distorted Humor was a
grandson of the late, prepotent Mr. Prospector--but he believed
that gelding him would hasten a solid career at the track. "I'm
convinced he would never have been the same horse intact,"
Everard said last week, standing in the warm sunshine outside the
barn where Funny Cide first lived. "He probably would have never
won a race."

According to the Jockey Club, more than 25% of all thoroughbred
starters in North America in 2002 were geldings, a figure that is
surely low because many geldings are not reported. Colts are
often not gelded because their owners cling to the dream that
their pedigrees will produce seven-figure syndication and stud
fees that can exceed $100,000 per coupling. (Stallions can mate
dozens of times each breeding season.) Donnie McFadden, Buddy
Gil's breeder, says that he's trying to talk one of his owners
into gelding a well-bred yearling he purchased for $300,000. "The
sword will eventually fall," says McFadden, "but the owner just
can't give up the hope of breeding him."

The obsession with breeding damages a sport already struggling to
find an audience. Rather than risk injury to their successful,
well-bred horses, owners take them out of circulation as soon as
they've won big races. Last year 2-year-old Vindication, the
Baffert-trained son of Seattle Slew, was the best juvenile in the
U.S. "We were getting calls from breeders the day after he broke
his maiden," says Baffert. "With breeding like that, it's almost
impossible to keep them on the track." (Vindication was injured
late last winter and hasn't raced since.)

Meanwhile, there have been numerous geldings who raced for many
years and became fan favorites (chart, p. 34). Yet the gelding's
stamp on the Triple Crown has been minimal. Funny Cide was the
first to win the Derby in 74 years and only one, Creme Fraiche,
in '85, has won the Belmont, from which geldings were barred from
1919 through 1956 because owners feared that defeat by a gelding
would cut into their breeding profits. A Triple Crown horse that
raced on for many years might recapture parts of the sport's lost
audience.

It is noteworthy, then, that Jack Knowlton, the 56-year-old
managing partner of the Sackatoga syndicate that owns Funny Cide,
sat at a table in his Saratoga Springs office last week and
outlined Funny Cide's busy schedule. "The Haskell [Monmouth Park,
Aug. 3], Travers [Saratoga, Aug. 23], Jockey Club Gold Cup
[Belmont, Sept. 27], Breeders' Cup [Santa Anita, Oct. 25],"
Knowlton said. "As long as he stays healthy, he'll keep running."

As long as he keeps running, people will keep watching. "We need
more geldings in the world," says Baffert. For now, one is enough
to carry the game.

For complete coverage of the Belmont Stakes, including the
postposition draw and Tim Layden's daily analysis from Belmont
Park, go to si.com/more.

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES (FUNNY CIDE) [COVER INSET] FUNNY CIDE The Gifted Gelding Takes His Run at the Triple CrownCOLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES [T of C] ROCKET FUEL At Belmont, Funny Cide fills his tank for his date with history on Saturday (page 32).COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY HEINZ KLUETMEIER FLYING SOLO Funny Cide left the Derby field in the dust and will now try to become the first gelding to win the Belmont since 1985--and the first ever to win the Triple Crown.B/W PHOTO: BETTMANN/CORBIS (KELSO)TWO B/W PHOTO: AP (FOREGO AND JOHN HENRY)COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES (FUNNY CIDE) SEEING GREEN A Belmont win by Jose Santos and Funny Cide would earn a $5 million bonus.COLOR PHOTO: LOU CAPOZZOLA THE EVIL EMPIRE In the Wood, Empire Maker (left) held off his future nemesis by a half-length.

FAST COMPANY
Funny Cide is the first gelding with a shot at the Triple Crown,
but not the first to build an impressive racing resume.

KELSO

CAREER: 1959-66
STARTS: 63
WINS: 39
TOTAL PURSE: $1,977,896

JOHN HENRY

CAREER: 1977-84
STARTS: 83
WINS: 39
TOTAL PURSE: $6,591,860

FOREGO

CAREER: 1973-78
STARTS: 57
WINS: 34
TOTAL PURSE: $1,938,957

TRIPLE THREATS
What stands between Funny Cide and a victory in the Belmont
Stakes? History, and a field of foes led by Empire Maker

Since 1978 eight horses--including four in the last six
years--have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, only to
fall short in the Belmont Stakes. As usual, no Belmont horse has
run a 1 1/2-mile race before, and fatigue is the most obvious
pitfall. Who can forget Kent Desormeaux moving early on Real
Quiet in 1998, a strategic blunder that caused the horse to
flatten out at the finish and deprived him of the Triple Crown?

Don't count on Funny Cide's suffering the same fate. He has the
brilliant tactical speed that enabled him to get close to the
rail on the first turn in the Preakness despite an outside post.
That speed will also prevent the pacesetter, possibly Scrimshaw,
from stealing the Belmont on the lead. Once Funny Cide made his
move in the Derby and the Preakness, he showed no signs of
tiring. "Mile and a half?" says Tony Everard, the Florida trainer
who sold Funny Cide to Sackatoga Stable. "He can run three
miles."

So who poses the biggest threat?

Empire Maker was anointed the next superhorse before he was
soundly beaten by Funny Cide in the Derby. Nobody pretends to
know how he'll run, including his trainer, Bobby Frankel. Expect
jockey Jerry Bailey to stalk Funny Cide early and try to catch
him in the stretch, as he did in the Wood Memorial.

Dynever has created much buzz at Belmont with three wins in his
four starts as a 3-year-old. Though inexperienced against top
competition, he has a powerful closing kick--badly blocked for
much of the Grade III Lone Star Derby on May 10, he shook free
and stormed to victory--that could make him a factor.

Ten Most Wanted learned to relax behind the pace and close
strongly after losing two California stakes races early this
year. The result was an eye-popping victory at the Illinois Derby
on April 5. He also trained well before the Kentucky Derby but
ran a dull ninth that mystified his trainer, Wally Dollase.

Best Minister is this year's Sarava, the colt whom trainer Ken
McPeek took from an undercard victory on Preakness day to a
stunning Belmont win in 2002 as a 70-1 shot. This spring Best
Minister, a tireless stalker also trained by McPeek, convincingly
won the Sir Barton, a stakes race at Pimlico before the
Preakness. --T.L.