WinStar's Walden Sees Sunny Side of Funny Cide

(from Churchill Downs notes)
Although WinStar Farm would love to have a Kentucky Derby winner under its colors, the victory in Derby 129 by the WinStar-bred Funny Cide was certainly the next best thing. It could get even better if he adds a Preakness (gr. I) win tomorrow.

Not only did the breeding and racing enterprise owned by Kenny Troutt and Bill Casner notch a coveted Kentucky Derby victory in just its third year in operation, the winner is a gelding from the first crop of WinStar stallion Distorted Humor. There will be no sons and daughters of Funny Cide on the track, but again WinStar has the next best thing.

Churchill Downs-based Elliott Walden trains WinStar's racing stock -- a group of horses that includes Grade I winner Awesome Humor, another member of Distorted Humor's first crop, and South African import Ipi Tombe. Walden also trained Distorted Humor, a track record-setting sprinter and middle-distance specialist who counted Churchill Downs' 1998 Ack Ack Handicap (gr. III) among his career victories.

Walden said his success with Distorted Humor on the track makes it gratifying to see that son of Forty Niner doing so well in his career at stud. But the value added to the young sire by a Kentucky Derby winner in his first class provides ample reason for the entire team at the Versailles, Ky. farm to celebrate

"It's a big bonus for WinStar," he said. "To get a young sire of his magnitude in their first three years is special -- especially because we have lost so many great stallions in the last five years. We've lost Unbridled and a lot of top stallions. So for him to maybe step-up and get into that upper echelon of stallions, that's exciting."

Distorted Humor, who currently stands for a $20,000 stud fee at WinStar, ended 2002 as America's top freshman sire, with Funny Cide and Awesome Humor being the stars of his initial crop of 2-year-olds. Others in that crop included Humorous Lady, winner of Belmont's Astarita (gr. II), and Crack Up.

But the Kentucky Derby victory took Distorted Humor into a whole new league. Although he ran well in stakes company beyond a mile, it seemed a stretch for many to think of him as a sire of horses that would succeed at classic distances. But Walden said his Kentucky Derby success is not that surprising.

"People say that he was a sprinter, but the reality of it is that he got beat a nose in the Kentucky Cup Classic (gr. II) at Turfway (by Semoran) and (jockey) Pat Day threw his stick up in the air at the three-sixteenths pole," he said. "It was just unfortunate. He got beat a head in the Fayette as a 3-year-old going a mile and an eighth against a tough 5-year-old (Isitingood). So he could go a mile and an eighth."

The other side of the coin is that WinStar elected to sell the New York-bred Funny Cide rather than keep him for their racing operation. Walden instead has his 4-year-old half-brother, Coincide, who finished a close second last Sunday in a turf allowance at Churchill Downs.

But Walden, who is still searching for his first Kentucky Derby after near-misses with runners-up Victory Gallop in 1998 and Menifee in 1999, said he has not looked at the Derby success of Funny Cide in a "what if" frame of mind. He said there's too much good news for the WinStar team in Funny Cide's Visa Triple Crown run to dwell on those thoughts.

"The fact that the Derby win elevated Distorted Humor so much is very exciting," Walden said. "Would I have liked to have been training him? Sure, I would have liked to have been training him. But what's good for the team is good for me and that part of it I've got no problem with."