Funny Cide's greatest moments on the track certainly did not come at Saratoga, where he failed to win in two starts, but when he returned Sunday, local fans gave him a welcome worth of a champion. Matt Hunter reports.
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- There was no mistaking the biggest star at Saratoga Sunday, 2003 Kentucky Derby winner, Funny Cide.
"This horse is one of the reasons I love horse racing," said Ben Meyers, a racing fan from Ballston Spa.
"He's basically my favorite [Kentucky] Derby winner," said Dawna Wood, who made the drive from Massachusetts to see the 13-year-old chestnut. "So to be able to meet him today is huge."
Seldom does an equine star elicit such love at Saratoga without stepping foot in the starting gate, but it was all "oos" and "ahs" for Funny Cide Sunday as he dazzled adoring fans in Saratoga's paddock.
"It's a bucket list item, to be honest," Wood said. "To be able to see him in person is great."
"He looks great," Meyers said. "He's a little bigger in some places, I think we all get a little bigger in certain places the older we get."
Ten years ago, the "Golden Gelding" won over the hearts of racing fans everywhere when captured the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, before falling just short of claiming the Triple Crown in the Belmont.
Joining him Sunday were his former connections who were simply along for the ride.
"Any Derby winner's magical, particularly when he's born in your backyard, the only New York-bred horse ever to win the Derby," said Jack Knowlton, operating manager of Sackatoga Stables, which owned the colt. "That's magical and that's the reason people still love him."
"It was kind of a great story," trainer Barclay Tagg said. "Everybody kind of got a kick out of it and it made the regular people part of it, it was fun."
A $75,000 New York-bred owned by ten childhood friends, Funny Cide certainly appealed to the sports two-dollar bettors.
Though he never won in Saratoga, his owners kept him on the track until he was seven, giving countless fans the chance to fall in love with a champion time and time again.
"It doesn't seem like it was 10 years ago, I'll tell you that," Tagg said.
"It's a great story, it's part of Americana and we're just lucky enough to be a part of it," Knowlton said.
"He's just my favorite horse of all time," Meyers said. "He's an icon of what this place kind of is to the sport in general."
Funny Cide now spends his days at the Kentucky Horse Park Hall of Champions.
On Tuesday, he'll be visiting Old Friends at Cabin Creek here in Saratoga, where fans can pay $20 to eat lunch with him. All proceeds benefit Old Friends, which houses retired thoroughbreds.