By Dan Liebman -- Perhaps I would do the same thing if I covered a sport only a few weeks a year. General sports columnists try their best to cover the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), but they often fall short.
This year is a good example. In the aftermath of Funny Cide's victory, countless columnists wrote how upset the "blue bloods" in Kentucky were that a New York-bred gelding won racing's most coveted prize. Kentuckians are mad, they also wrote, because Funny Cide will not be able to pass along his genes. This might all make for good copy, but it just isn't true. If Funny Cide were a colt, nine breeders out of 10 would still rather breed to Empire Maker. The Derby is a great race. So too are countless other races. That used to be hard for a Kentucky-bred to write, but not anymore. Winning the Derby doesn't make a horse a "great" horse and it certainly doesn't make him a "great" stallion. The fact is what you have to be to win the Derby is the best on Derby Day. Right now, we don't know if Funny Cide is a better horse than Empire Maker--or any other member of the Derby field. What we do know is on May 3, 2003, Funny Cide was the best horse. He was well trained, well ridden, and got a great trip. He is a most deserving winner. But who's to say the best 3-year-old isn't Sky Mesa, Toccet, Vindication, Badge of Silver...or any one of 1,000 others? Conversely, who's to say Funny Cide isn't the best 3-year-old? He might be. We just don't know yet. The Derby winner goes down in the history books, and no one can take that away from him (or her on occasion). It is an important race to win. With many horsemen pointing toward the Derby, the race takes on special meaning. Fans notice too. People who don't know Arazi from Azeri now know Funny Cide. A good horse can come from anywhere, just like good people. But while Funny Cide may have been dropped in New York, his sire stands in Kentucky and he was bred by a Kentucky farm. New York breeders should be proud of finally having a Derby winner, but it obviously would mean more if he had been mated and bred by a New York farm, sired by a New York stallion, and produced from a mare domiciled there year-round. Breeders everywhere will tell you--if they are being honest--that more male horses should be gelded. It is understandable why many aren't, what with huge payoffs for those lucky enough to come up with a potential stallion prospect. But many males would not be the racehorses they are if not for the alteration. No one can predict whether a horse will make it as a stallion or not. This would be an easy game if that were the case. When told one stallion manager said he hopes one of 10 stallions he goes after makes it, Rich Decker, the man who formerly ran the farm where the Derby winner's sire stands, said, "I wouldn't be surprised if it was more like one out of 15." So Funny Cide cannot pass along his genes. Well, many Derby winners have passed on their genes. How good of a sire was Spend a Buck? How about Ferdinand? Alysheba? Sea Hero? Those are just a few from the past 20 years. Being a Derby winner doesn't assure being a good stallion. As mentioned, the game isn't that easy. For every Seattle Slew there is a Dust Commander. Kentucky horsemen may root for Kentucky-bred horses. But be assured that Funny Cide being bred in New York means nothing to the people with yearlings and weanlings by, or a mare in foal, to Distorted Humor. General columnists come out of the woodwork for the Derby, and thank goodness they do. We need them to pay attention to our sport. But to say Kentuckians are upset because a New York-bred gelding won the race is ridiculous. Where he was bred is merely an acide to the whole story.