- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 18, 2003

BALTIMORE — Funny Cide turned the 128th Preakness Stakes into a laugher.

With the largest winning margin in 130 years, Funny Cide moved within one victory of becoming the first Triple Crown champion in 25 years with a runaway 93/4-length victory yesterday before 100,268 at Pimlico Race Course. Jockey Jose Santos barely used his whip in the stretch as the horse proved the long-shot victory in the Kentucky Derby wasn’t a fluke.

Funny Cide covered 13/16 miles on a “good” track in 1:553/5, paying $5.80 to backers that included former President Bill Clinton.

Funny Cide will try to become the 12th Triple Crown champion in the Belmont Stakes on June7 at Belmont Park, where the gelding has won all three career starts. However, all eight Derby-Preakness champions have failed since Affirmed completed the sweep in 1978.

“I don’t think it will be a problem for him,” trainer Barclay Tagg said. “Speed is a definite help in the Belmont. He has stamina. But who knows what he can do — it’s another quarter-mile [at 1[1/2] miles]. I was told I couldn’t win these two races, so all the pressure is off anyway.”

In the most dominating performance since Survivor won the first Preakness in 1873 by 10 lengths, Funny Cide stalked leader Peace Rules until the final turn before suddenly jumping the third-place Derby finisher.

“I knew I was in trouble when I saw Funny Cide,” Peace Rules jockey Edgar Prado said.

Funny Cide led by five lengths entering the stretch, and by that point the only drama involved second place for exacta bettors. Long-shot Midway Road overcame traffic troubles to finish second at 20-1, producing a staggering $120.60 exacta despite Funny Cide’s victory as the 19-10 favorite.

Santos turned the whip into a fashion accessory, tapping Funny Cide lightly twice at the eighth pole just to keep the gelding focused before tucking it under his arm and hand-riding to the finish line.

“I didn’t want [Funny Cide] to get looking around or something,” Santos said. “It was an open road for him, and nobody can catch him.”

Funny Cide probably could have stumbled and still won during an impressive victory that bettered his Derby performance. While Funny Cide clearly benefited from a good trip in the Derby, he dominated nine rivals in the Preakness.

“I have to admit I was not surprised. I was grateful,” Tagg said. “I thought he had it in him to do that. Everything went perfectly.”

Sakatoga Stables owners again celebrated a victory for the working class. Together since 1995, when six former high school buddies pooled $5,000 each, the upstate New Yorkers arrived at the track in their “yellow stretch limousine” — commonly known as a school bus. The group will remain today for a yearling sale at nearby Timonium Fairgrounds while looking for Funny Cide’s successor, bolstered by the $650,000 winning purse.

“Funny Cide showed today that the Derby was not an aberration,” managing partner Jack Knowlton said. “This horse truly has a tremendous amount of talent.”

Runner-up Midway Road was the only loser whose backers could complain of bad racing luck. The colt was pinched inside in the opening half-mile, couldn’t find room along the backstretch and never found a clear path until the stretch, when he surged from fourth to second over Scrimshaw.

“You’ve got to be careful going through those tight spots,” jockey Robby Albarado said. “But once he got through he was a game second.”

Peace Rules tried to steal the race early, outrunning several expected long-shot speedsters to lead after the first turn. It wasn’t the normal style for the horse, who prefers to stalk the leaders until late, but the speed-favoring track and shorter distance seemed to favor Peace Rules’ bid to win off the early lead. However, the 5-2 second choice tired badly leaving the final turn to finish a nose back of Scrimshaw for fourth.

“[Scrimshaw] inside of me didn’t help me going into the first turn,” Prado said.

Preakness bettors made the Scrimshaw-Senor Swinger entry a surprising 5-1 third choice given trainers D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert have combined for nine Preakness victories in 11 years. However, they were third and fifth, respectively.

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