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Funny Cide gets last laugh in Jockey Club Gold Cup
Ed McNamara
Special to

ELMONT, N.Y. -- It seems a lot longer than 16 months ago that Funny Cide was a national celebrity with millions of passionate fans. Ever since that gloomy, rain-soaked day in June 2003 when his Triple Crown bid came apart in the Belmont Stakes, the New York-bred gelding has done a lot of disappointing.

America's Former Horse lost nine of his previous 11 races going into Saturday's $1-million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, and approaching the three-eighths pole it looked like it would be another sad story. After battling on or near the lead with Love of Money, Funny Cide began to drop back. "And Funny Cide is stopping!" exclaimed track announcer Tom Durkin. He was, but only to get a second wind.

By the time Jose Santos got him rolling again, Funny Cide was fourth in upper stretch. Suddenly, he looked as if he had plenty left, and the crowd of 16,508 responded with a roar as its old hero flashed the grit that made the spring of 2003 his time.

Funny Cide dug down and relentlessly closed on 20-1 shot Newfoundland, who had taken the lead entering the stretch and for a few strides looked home free under Edgar Prado. To Funny Cide's outside, The Cliff's Edge was rallying, and at the eighth pole Newfoundland still had Funny Cide by a half-length. The gritty gelding kept coming, and inside the sixteenth pole, Funny Cide knifed between horses and gained the lead. He edged clear to win by three-quarters of a length over Newfoundland, with The Cliff's Edge a length farther back. Love of Money, the 5-2 co-favorite with Funny Cide, faded to sixth.

As Santos brought Funny Cide toward the winner's circle, they received a warm ovation as one woman shouted, "This is redemption!" Amid rain and dark clouds, good vibes filled the biggest racetrack in North America. Even the relentlessly dour Barclay Tagg, a trainer who rarely sees a glass half full, smiled broadly.

"I thought he was done," Tagg said. "Maybe he wanted to take a breather, I don't know . . .  I was about ready to get sick then, but he came back running. He always does that. He never gives up. He always comes back running, even in some of his worst races.''

Todd Pletcher, Newfoundland's trainer, said he didn't count out Funny Cide even when his colt got clear of him on the far turn.

"At the three-eighths pole, when Funny Cide started losing ground, it looked as if Jose still had some horse," Pletcher said. "So I wasn't sure. At that point I thought we had a good shot, but when you're running against horses of this quality, these kind of things can happen."

Yet they don't play out quite this way very often, because Santos' up, back, up again ride produced one of the oddest running lines for a Grade I winner in many years. After being second, first, second and fourth, though, Funny Cide was in the right spot at the wire.

Tagg wasn't sure what Santos was doing midway on the turn, and neither was Jack Knowlton, managing partner of Sackatoga Stable.

"I kept telling Jose to take him back and cover him up a little bit, but he didn't do it until the quarter-pole,'' Tagg said. "I don't know what happened there. I haven't had a chance to talk to Jose yet.''

Said Knowlton:  "We were wondering what was going on.''

Let Santos explain.

"I didn't want Love of Money to get away with an easy lead," he said. "I knew Funny Cide had the speed, so I pushed him a little bit coming out of the gate. Love of Money tried to slow the pace down, and then fell back. That's when I decided to take the lead again. After the 47 3/5-second half-mile, I felt more comfortable with this horse because I know him well.

"I let him go, hit him a couple of times and he took off. He won like a champion."

Funny Cide ran 11/4 miles in 2:02.44 on a track rated fast but dampened by showers that started about 20 minutes before the Gold Cup. He paid $7.60 for only his third win in nine starts this season and his eighth in 20 career races. He'd lost four in a row since taking the Grade III Excelsior Handicap at Aqueduct April 3. The winner's share of $600,000 raised his career total to $3,174,485.

"Barclay has him honed; that's probably the best he's ever been and he showed it today,'' Knowlton said. "He doesn't always win, but he's always there. This is 17 out of 20 on the board and there aren't a lot of horses that do that.

"The two classic wins -- nothing can compare to the Derby and obviously the Preakness was huge -- this is obviously number three.''

The 4-year-old son of Distorted Humor earned a return trip to the $4-million Breeders' Cup Classic, Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park near Dallas. Last year, Funny Cide ran a no-chance ninth in the Classic at Santa Anita, competing in brutal heat, which he hates, off a nine-week layoff. Tagg didn't want to go to California last year. This time, he'll be far more upbeat -- for him, anyway.

"This was a very big race,'' Tagg said. "This means a lot to me. This used to be the defining race of the year before the Breeders' Cup [started in 1984].

"I told the owners, 'If he gets beat in here, even if it's an inch, I don't want to go to Texas, because he's been beaten enough this year. But I said, 'If he wins it, we'll have to go.'

"I guess they want to go."