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May 27, 2024

Anybody's Field: The 2003 Belmont Stakes

By Sand Pilarski

Poor Funny Cide. The horse that everyone hoped would become the first gelding ever to win a Triple Crown came in a dismal third in the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes. And no wonder. The track was as thick with wet mud as a hog wallow, the skies pouring nearly eight inches of rain on the area in the past week, and one more inch for good measure that morning.

In a mess like that, there's no telling which horse is going to win a race. Some horses simply hate wet weather, and will get downright mean and muley about having to go out in it. Other horses just don't care. In sloppy going like it was for Saturday's race, it's easy for a horse to lose his footing and fall, or strain to run through the heavy ground and pull muscles. Some trainers and owners will remove their horse from a race if the track is mucky.

Jockey Jose Santos pushed Funny Cide out to the front right from the start, hoping to ease the discomfort of the mud race a little -- getting pelted in the face with mud is a real deterrent to horse and rider alike. Santos held the horse back from an all-out pace, hoping to save his energy, and that may have been the downfall of the race. Funny Cide didn't like the muddy surface, Santos told reporters later. And as Empire Maker (who was bred to be a distance runner) swept by, it looked like Funny Cide had stopped trying, as if he had said, "Fine, you held me in and didn't want me to run fast, I can agree with that." Then Ten Most Wanted leaped ahead, too, and while Empire Maker and Ten Most Wanted splashed on, no amount of urging could make Funny Cide give out that last necessary effort.

Trainer Bobby Frankel was finally vindicated by Empire Maker's win; Empire Maker was the horse favored to win the Kentucky Derby and bid for the Triple Crown in the first place.

But although the blanket of Belmont white carnations went to another horse, it was Funny Cide who prompted the most cheers as he walked past, defeated. The gelding's fans looked at the sky and the rain, and the track and the slop, and shook their heads. What lousy luck, they said, to have come so far and then have to compete in a mess like this.

Yes, there was some lousy luck involved. And that's why, when you have a situation where anything can happen, they call it 'a horse race.'

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2003-06-09
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