- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 7, 2003

NEW YORK. — All across the world, 2-year-old colts are crossing their legs today, hoping Funny Cide falls short of his quest to be horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 25 years.

Too bad, boys. Funny Cide will make gelding all the rage today when he outdistances the field at the Belmont Stakes to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Maybe I’m jumping the gun a little bit. Funny Cide will win. I’ve got it on as good authority as you could find in the sports pages of America for more than 30 years, but we’ll get to that later.

Actually, there may not be a rush to snip if Funny Cide wins. After all, they say the money in horse racing is in the breeding, with multimillion dollar stud fees paid by horse owners looking to capture a little bit of magic, so to speak. That is why you don’t see great horses race beyond their third year. The stud fees can far outstrip track winnings. It’s just too enticing to ignore.

And there’s no guarantee that lightening the load will make a horse run faster. Before Funny Cide, the best known gelding may have been Zippy Chippy, who went something like 0-for-100, and, I think, may have even lost a race to Calvin Pickering or some other ballplayer in a Red Wings promotion in Rochester.

Sometimes, though, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him … well, you know. War Emblem has turned out be a breeding bust, and as great a horse as Secretariat was on the track, it didn’t translate to success in the bedroom.

And if Funny Cide is the toast of the horse racing world after today, owners who are frustrated by their horses’ lack of success after spending thousands upon thousands of dollars to take care of their investment may opt to cut their losses.

Breeding is much more of a risk these days because of MRL — mare reproductive loss syndrome, which, according to the book “Horse Sense” by Bert Sugar and Cornell Richardson, has cut the gross foal crop nearly in half.

A gelding, though, has no choice but to race and can race for years — which could turn out to make Funny Cide one of the all-time horses. After today, he could become the identity of the sport, and he could remain so for years to come if he remains active at the track.

I went to Belmont Park yesterday to see whether the buzz was there anticipating a Triple Crown winner. After all, this stage has been set four times since 1997, with the same horse winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown — the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness — only to wind up losing the Belmont. War Emblem did it last year and Charismatic in 1999, preceded by Real Quiet and Silver Charm. So it would be understandable if there was skepticism about Funny Cide’s chances to become just the 12th Triple Crown winner in racing history.

But there is a sense that the timing may be right, particularly with the film “Seabiscuit” about to enter theaters across the country. And I didn’t need to come to Belmont Park to know that other factors line up to give Funny Cide a good shot at winning today. All I needed to do is call the Press-Enterprise newspaper in Bloomsburg, Pa., and ask to speak to their field hockey writer, who just happens to have been the most read boxing (more than 300 world championship fights) and horse racing writer (99 Triple Crown races) in America.

If you have read about horse racing, you know who Ed Schuyler Jr. is. He covered the sport for the Associated Press for more than 30 years, which means his accounts appeared in hundreds of newspapers around the country because most newspapers do not send writers to cover horse racing. They rely on the wire services, and, therefore, they relied on Ed Schuyler.

Fast Eddie retired last year and, after living in New York for 37 years, went back to his hometown of Bloomsburg to work at the same newspaper his father used to edit and is as happy as a clam. “I haven’t covered anything since a playoff game between Athens and Central Columbia in girls softball,” he said. “They giggle a lot more in girls softball than they do in boxing.”

I met Fast Eddie covering boxing, but horse racing was his favorite, and he covered three Triple Crown winners — Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed — and eight near misses. He thinks Funny Cide won’t miss.

“He is a good horse at the top of his game,” Fast Eddie said. “He was 3-for-3 on this track as a 2-year old. He is at home, and he only has five horses to beat.

“Empire Maker [the Derby favorite who didn’t race in the Preakness] is a tough horse, but in 134 Belmonts, only one winner has come off a five-week rest, and Empire Maker has been away for five weeks,” Fast Eddie said. “Funny Cide ran tough in the Derby, and his style is perfect for this race. I just think he is a [heck] of a horse,” Fast Eddie said. “It’s been 25 years. It’s time.”

If Funny Cide wins, does that mean he is a great horse? He will be one of only 12 to win a Triple Crown, and no gelding has ever done it.

If he wins, he will have earned it — the hard way.

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