Sakatoga Stable managing partner Jack Knowlton leads Funny Cide and Alan Garcia to the winner's circle
The $100,000 Wadsworth Memorial Handicap is the Independence Day feature at Finger Lakes Racetrack. This year, 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Funny Cide, now a 7-year-old, was invited to ship up to the Farmington, NY, oval. His owners Sackatoga Stable were lured by a doubled purse (the Wadsworth is usually a $50,000 event) and an opportunity to help raise funds for the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption program which assists in placing former Finger Lakes race horses in homes after their racing careers have ended. The Sackatoga group sold Funny Cide merchandise from a tent next to the paddock and signed autographs, with all profits from the sales going to the adoption program. As well, they brought in Funny Cide's trophies from his Derby, Preakness, and 2004 Jockey Club Gold Cup victories.
The stands were packed with Funny Cide fans, making it the second largest crowd ever at Finger Lakes.
Despite rainy conditions all day, a crowd officially estimated to be 11,400 (admission is free so there is no turnstile count) came out to see their state-bred hero compete in Western New York for the first time. Funny Cide is the first Triple Crown race winner to race at Finger Lakes since it opened in 1962, and one of only a few Derby winners, such as Exterminator, Assault, and Tomy Lee, to race at such an advanced age.
A field of eight older horses entered the Wadsworth Memorial, a 1 1/8 mile trip over the fast, sealed track. As expected Funny Cide was sent off as the even-money favorite, coming off two straight third place finishes, in the Wagon Limit
Funny Cide was 6th early on. You can see the mud splashing back at him as they go by for the first time.
When the gate opened, Funny Cide was off slowly but settled in fifth out in the four path first time past the stands and around the clubhouse turn as Johnnie Bye Night went to the front and set the pace 3-wide, avoiding the rain-soaked rail. Johnnie Bye Night set a pace of 23.71, 47.87, and 1:12.14 while as many as 3 lengths clear of 37-1 Mad Bob Cat who pressured him most of the way down the backstretch. Mad Bob Cat tired midway around the far turn, as 12-1 Tiger Speech, who sat third early, took over second. Entering the stretch, Johnnie Bye Night continued to lead by a head over Tiger Speech, but Funny Cide had just hit his best stride and was closing well down the center of the track. Funny Cide ran by both Johnnie Bye Night and Tiger Speech inside the 1/8 pole and drew away to win by 3 lengths in a time of 1:51.77. It was just a length back from Johnnie Bye Night to Tiger Speech in third.
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 5 Funny Cide Garcia 4.00 2.60 2.20 3 Johnie Bye Night Davita 3.20 3.00 2 Tiger Speech Messina 4.40 Winning Time: 1:51.77 $2 Exacta 5-3 11.20 $2 Trifecta 5-3-2 49.40 $1 Superfecta 5-3-2-7 42.50Results Chart
Funny Cide strikes a pose for his winner's circle photo. Jack Knowlton, managing partner of ownership group Sackatoga Stable said, "We didn't go back to Woodbine (for the Dominion Day) which was the original plan, since they put in Polytrack. This is really a special day for us, which was being planned since last year. We just wanted him to put on a good show in front of the hometown crowd. This is what everybody came to see. Nobody's going home disappointed, except the owners of the other seven horses. With this crowd, we hope that this gets some of these people to come back to the racetrack again." Knowlton mentioned that because of Funny Cide, more investors have joined the group. Sackatoga currently owns 7 horses, with 50 investors involved.
Funny Cide walks over from the stables before the race. Winning trainer Barclay Tagg, interviewed at Belmont Park, said, "He won the race, and I was glad for that. They said they had the second-largest crowd in Finger Lakes' history. There's a New York-bred race at Saratoga for him. The owners like to barnstorm; they sent him to Canada last year and he won. They sent him to Finger Lakes this year and he won that, so you can't knock it."
Funny Cide enters the paddock with assistant trainer Robin Smullen (right) while the crowds of fans watch. Smullen said, "I don't think he cared for the surface. It looked like he struggled the whole race. I was worried when he left the gate. My heart just sank. But when I heard the crowd go crazy I knew he was going to win."
Asked if Funny Cide still enjoys racing at age 7, Smullen said, "He still loves it. He's got dapples from ear to tail. They don't look like that if they're not happy. Hopefully, we can use this as a springboard and keep going. He's healthy and he's happy, so let's have at it. Funny Cide looks the other horse in the eye and says, 'Let's go. I'm the old man. I'll show you how it's done'."
Funny Cide in the post parade. Winning jockey Alan Garcia said, "I gave up 4 or 5 rides at Belmont Park to ride here today. My agent told me if I have an opportunity to ride a good horse like this, to take it. We took so long behind the gate circling before the start, I thought, this is not good. On the backstretch, I took hold of him and I wanted to wait and wait and then at the 1/2 mile pole I had to ask him to keep running. After that I took him to the outside and he gave me some more acceleration. He got to the lead and he kept going for me."
There was such a big crowd for the winner's circle photo that they had to do it on the track to get everyone in. Assistant trainer Robin Smullen, when asked about the decision to switch riders to Alan Garcia, said, "He's ridden him twice in the morning. Funny Cide is so difficult to ride in the morning but Alan got along with him so well. I get on (Funny Cide) every day but Alan was on for his last two breezes. Two words describe Alan Garcia: patience and perseverance. He does both of those things with all of his rides, not just on Funny Cide."
Left: Second place finisher Johnie Bye Night in the post parade. He won the race last year and jockey John Davita Jr. was a bit premature in holding up 2 fingers to suggest he would repeat the victory.
Right: Third place finisher Tiger Speech returns after the race to be unsaddled.
Funny Cide's trophies on display from left to right: the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Preakness, and the Kentucky Derby.
A view of the track at Finger Lakes.
Mark O'Keeffe and Andy Reese of the All-Star Buglers performed for the day.
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