A Letter to Barclay Tagg...from Steve Haskin
Updated: Thursday, June 12, 2003 9:35 AM
Posted: Tuesday, June 10, 2003 3:48 PM
Photo: Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Barclay Tagg, who saddled Funny Cide to win two-thirds of this year's Triple Crown.
You said the day after the Belmont Stakes you "felt just absolutely terrible for all the people who've been behind me so much and been behind this horse - not to be able to do it."
Terrible? Hardly. By now, the initial disappointment of losing the Belmont should have worn off, and you should be feeling only pride and a sense of accomplishment. You owed the people nothing. You owed Sackatoga Stable nothing. Funny Cide owed them nothing. You've got it all backwards. Every single person at Belmont Park on Saturday owed you and Funny Cide, period.
You didn't win the Triple Crown, but in some ways you did something more important. You made 100,000 people see the sun when there was no sun. You made them feel warm and dry when they were cold and wet. You made them cast aside their chosen idols and worship a Thoroughbred racehorse. You made the normally hushed halls of Belmont Park resound with deafening cheers. You enabled Funny Cide for a brief moment to join the likes of Jimmy Walker, Fiorello LaGuardia, and Joe DiMaggio in the pages of New York history.
And most important, you enabled a New York-bred gelding to transcend the Sport of Kings and infiltrate mainstream America like no other horse in the last 30 years – Funny Cide on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer? Now that's what I call bridging a wide chasm.
Many feel you didn't embrace the media the way you should have. But in the end, they all managed to get their stories and photos to their readers, who ingested every word and image as if they were gluttons, indulging in one Funny Cide feast after another.
Think back to your days hauling your one horse by trailer to Penn National in a snowstorm for an 11 p.m. race and having to sit in the trailer with a blanket around you to keep warm. Think back to when you first got stalls at Pimlico, then proceeded to accidentally set fire to your tack room. Did you ever think you'd return to Pimlico some 30 years later and set off so many sparks that you'd pretty near burn the whole darn place down?
The New York Racing Association took one look at the inferno that you and Funny Cide ignited in Maryland and quickly began to prepare for the massive jolt of electricity that promised to rock the huge grandstand on Belmont Stakes Day. You may have lost the race, but no one can ever say you didn't deliver that jolt of electricity.
Funny Cide did not enter gates of Triple Crown immortality, but he did provide three weeks unlike anything ever seen before. Those three weeks, especially June 7, will remain frozen in time, reminding people just how much a racehorse and this sport can affect a person, a town, a city, a state, a country.
We've all grown up with horses, and have been touched by them, whether it's Black Beauty, the Black Stallion, Trigger, Silver, or even Mr. Ed. Those feelings of our youth don't die; they just become dormant as we move on and pursue other endeavors. But on rare occasions, a horse like Funny Cide and his fairy tale story comes along to awaken those feelings and passions. To be responsible for that happening is a rare gift, and certainly doesn't warrant "feeling absolutely terrible for the people." The people will go back to their normal lives, as will you, with nothing but wonderful memories.
The bottom line is that, you, and Bobby Frankel, remained true to yourselves, at the risk of alienating others – you, the media, and Frankel, the public. I guess the media will never know who Barclay Tagg is, and the public certainly doesn't know who Bobby Frankel is. The truth is, no one needs to know. You both gave us Funny Cide and Empire Maker, and in the long run, that's all that really matters.
Pardon me if I'm sounding maudlin. Hey, I've been on the Triple Crown beat since January. Part of me is glad it's finally over, while another part of me misses it. It's that part that is taking over here. Once I get all this mushy stuff out of my system I'll return to normal, whatever normal might be.
In closing, it doesn't matter why Funny Cide got beat -- the track, the fast work, the horse becoming rank and being restrained, the distance, the Web site and merchandising whammy (the racing gods frown upon that, by the way). None of it means a thing now. It simply wasn't meant to happen. Entrance into the pantheon of the Triple Crown gods is reserved for only a chosen few who had proven their potential greatness well before the Kentucky Derby.
So, take care, and thanks at least for the 10:30 slot each day, and for bringing Robin out with you to add a genteel touch to the proceedings. I'm sure I'll be seeing you both and Funny Cide at other big races this year, and next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, and...
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