As we bid farewell to 2003, we look back at what may have been one of the most exciting years in recent memory. Racing was in the public eye more than ever this past year, and long-time followers of this great sport can only hope that the added publicity will lead to sustained interest and new fans. Much of this came from the release of the movie Seabiscuit, starring Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, and jockey Gary Stevens, which opened to rave reviews from racing and non-racing people alike.
The year started off as every other year, with the Road to the Triple Crown and of course the Classic races themselves. In a story of contrasts, you couldn't have found two horses as different as rivals Funny Cide and Empire Maker. Empire Maker, the regally bred son of the great broodmare Toussaud and the pride and joy of the Juddmonte Farm and Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, won the Wood Memorial and was the deserving favorite to win the Kentucky Derby. Many felt that with his breeding, he was already a Triple Crown champion. However, right behind him in the Wood was Funny Cide, a New York bred gelding owned by a group of high school buddies from Sackets Harbor and trained by the relatively unknown Barclay Tagg. Funny Cide turned the tables on Empire Maker three weeks after the Wood, capturing the Kentucky Derby and being the only New York bred and the first gelding since 1929 to wear the Roses.
What transpired in the two weeks between the Derby and the Preakness was unprecedented. A photograph of jockey Jose Santos aboard Funny Cide in the Derby made it appear to some that Santos was carrying a dark object in his right hand, the same hand holding his whip. An investigation by Churchill Downs officials was launched, to see if there was any wrongdoing. Santos and his family had to face the accusation that he cheated to win the Derby. It turned out that the "dark object" was simply a shadow cast by Santos' fingers, and when examining the "object" closely, you can actually see the Juddmonte Farm colors worn by Jerry Bailey aboard Empire Maker.
Admirably, Funny Cide's owners, the Sackatoga Stable, and trainer Barclay Tagg, stood by their jockey the whole time, and when he was cleared by the officials, he rode Funny Cide to victory in the Preakness over a wet track. Santos, feeling vindicated, waved his open right hand at the Pimlico crowd. Bobby Frankel decided to keep Empire Maker in the barn and train him up to the Belmont.
Three weeks later, over 100,000 people came to Belmont Park braving the heavy rain hoping to witness history, with Funny Cide attempting to become racing's twelfth Triple Crown winner. Unfortunately, Empire Maker and Frankel got their revenge, defeating Funny Cide who did not like the very deep going. This was the fourth time in six years a Triple Crown bid was broken up at Belmont Park, after Real Quiet (1998), Charismatic (1999), and War Emblem (2002) won the Derby and Preakness but could not complete the sweep.
Many felt this rivalry would continue throughout the year, but it wasn't to be. The nemeses would never meet again, with Empire Maker retiring early and Funny Cide finishing 9th in the Breeders' Cup Classic after losing the Haskell. Empire Maker's trainer Frankel went on to win a record 25 Grade 1 races in a single year, while his jockey Jerry Bailey set a new world record for stakes win in a year with 70.
The handicap division, usually the glamour division of racing, didn't really have a standout. Medaglia d'Oro, Mineshaft, and Candy Ride each had their turns in the spotlight, but with the latter two ducking the competition at Santa Anita, Pleasantly Perfect upset the Breeders' Cup Classic for trainer Richard Mandella, who won an unprecedented four of the eight Cup races that afternoon.
Of course, with all the excitement and joy the sport brings, there are always losses each year. The great jockey Bill Shoemaker passed away a week before the Breeders' Cup, and many racing personalities and fans showed up at Santa Anita for his memorial service. On the equine side, many were shocked to learn that Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic winner, Ferdinand, who was ridden by Shoemaker, had been slaughtered in Japan after he was retired from stud duty.
Here are a few of the gone but not forgotten names in racing with links to articles about them:
Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Spectacular Bid
Photo courtesy of Linda Draut
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