War Emblem, Charismatic, Real Quiet, Silver Charm, Sunday Silence, and Alysheba all have one thing in common, other than the obvious fact that their Triple Crown bids ended in disappointment and defeat. The common thread? None of them were "New York horses."
Funny Cide's jaw-dropping performance in the 128th Preakness Stakes (gr. I) sets him up as the fifth horse in the last seven years to arrive at Belmont Park with a chance to win the $5-million Triple Crown challenge bonus from VISA USA. He is, unlike the six near-miss candidates listed above, a New Yorker through and through.
For starters, after his Kentucky mating at WinStar Farm, the son of Distorted Humor was born in New York, at Joe and Anne McMahon's farm near Saratoga Springs. Nine of the 10 members of his ownership group, Sackatoga Stable, are residents of New York, the 10th being from neighboring Connecticut. Trainer Barclay Tagg, for many years based in Maryland, now calls New York his home during the non-winter months. Finally, there is Jose Santos, a native of Chile who has ridden in the Empire State virtually all of his career.
For those reasons, the 2003 Triple Crown is, quite simply, a New York story.
Funny Cide was back in his Belmont Park stall less than eight hours after stunning the racing world with his 9 3/4-length victory. He will resume training on the surface over which the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) will be contested on June 7. He will sleep in his own bed and race in his own backyard, where he won the first three starts of his career last fall.
That is an advantage no horse going for the Triple Crown has had since 1981, when Pleasant Colony tried unsuccessfully to become the third Triple Crown winner in five years.
Funny Cide's New York roots may or may not be enough to put him over the top as racing's 12th Triple Crown winner, but it's odds-on they will propel the Belmont Stakes into another galaxy for publicity and on-track business.
Last year, 103,222 Triple-Crown-thirsty fans turned out at Belmont to watch War Emblem's run for glory. Barring horrible weather, the New York Racing Association should have no trouble surpassing that mark when Funny Cide makes his bid.
If New Yorkers love anything, it's...well...fellow New Yorkers. They will give Funny Cide a reception the likes of which has never been seen before at any racetrack in the country. Politicians will climb all over themselves to embrace the horse industry in front of cameras and reporters. Celebrities will want to be seen at the track, cheering for Funny Cide to finish the job. The sport of kings will be the king of sports in the Big Apple and throughout the Empire State.
Between now and then, the New York and national media will be all over the story, celebrating the state's growing breeding program, the Everyman owners and their yellow school bus, the long-suffering trainer, and the falsely accused jockey. Newspaper columnists who have never been to the racetrack will find their way out to Belmont to pay homage to this New York legend. The small town of Sackets Harbor in upstate New York, where the seeds of the Sackatoga Stable partnership were first planted, will be overrun by camera crews and reporters who will be fighting for the handful of rooms available at the Ontario Place Hotel.
Network newscasts, which only a couple of weeks earlier focused on the "funny business" that was alleged to have taken place in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), will now look at the fun business of owning a Thoroughbred racehorse together with old friends.
The next few weeks will be an exciting time for everyone in racing. Hop aboard the magic bus and enjoy the ride.