Triple Crown: Funny Cide, Spectacular Bid

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on May 14, 2012

33 Years of Heartbreak: The 12 Most Excruciating Near-Misses in the U.S. Thoroughbred Triple Crown Since 1978 – Part Five of Six

4. Funny Cide (2003)

The first gelding to win the Kentucky Derby in 74 years and the only New York-bred horse to ever win, Funny Cide was given little chance to come out on top, but it was nothing personal – Kentucky’s own Empire Maker was the overwhelming favorite to win at 6-5. Funny Cide began the race as a 12-1 shot but quickly found a comfortable stalking position, running third for the bulk of the race. Making his move at the top of the final turn, Funny Cide found himself in a three-way battle with Empire Maker and Peace Rules. His two adversaries could not match Funny Cide’s burst of speed in the final furlong and he won by 1 ½ lengths. Disappointed with the outcome, Empire Maker’s handlers opted to take him out of the upcoming Preakness for a rest break. This led to a runaway effort by now-favorite Funny Cide, who destroyed the field by 9 ¾ lengths, the second largest margin of victory in Pimlico history.

The huge win by Funny Cide led to feverish anticipation by the horseracing world, many of whom had never seen such a blowout win in the Preakness before. Even some cynical experts pegged the gelding as the first truly legitimate Triple Crown contender since Affirmed, owing to the New Yorker having a home field advantage at Belmont for the final leg. But it was not to be. A fresh Empire Maker reemerged as a contender after having skipped the Preakness and New York saw rain for several days leading up to the race, muddying the track. Jockey Jose Santos was forced to change his usual technique and led Funny Cide out early, hoping to avoid the torrent of kicked-up mud and tire out the chasing field. However, Santos kept his horse too close to the rail, where the mud was deepest, and Funny Cide ran out of steam pushing through the sloppy track. Finally tiring, Funny Cide lost ground on the final stretch and finished a disappointing third behind Empire Maker and Ten Most Wanted.

3. Spectacular Bid (1979)

A monster horse from the outset, Spectacular Bid had, quite simply, a spectacular career, both before and after 1979′s Triple Crown races. Bettors recognized his amazing potential at the 1979 Kentucky Derby, putting him as the morning line favorite. A California-based champion horse named Flying Paster and the son of Secretariat, General Assembly, figured to have a fighting chance but Spectacular Bid won by nearly three lengths. Once again the favorite at the Preakness, Spectacular Bid was bounced to the outside early and stayed there. He won easily, defeating the field by 5 ½ lengths. Spectacular Bid had run the course faster than Seattle Slew and the previous year’s champion Affirmed, even after being forced to a wide and outside track. Horse racing insiders began wondering out loud if he was one of the fastest horses in history.

Many agree that Spectacular Bid would have won the Triple Crown if not for a combination of freak incidents and bad decisions. Several days before the Belmont, Bid’s hotheaded teenage jockey Ronnie Franklin was involved in a fistfight with a fellow jockey regarding a disagreement involving an earlier race in which Franklin had felt he had been cut off. Then, on the morning of the Belmont, as Spectacular Bid waited in his stall, it was discovered that he had stepped on a stray safety pin, which had lodged in his hoof. He was examined and found not to be lame or in pain, so the horse was officially entered into the race as planned. Even with knowledge of the safety pin incident, bettors attached Spectacular Bid with a phenomenal 1-5 line, making him the fourth-largest favorite in Belmont’s 102-year history. Unfortunately, young jockey Franklin, determined to one-up his fellow jockeys after his previous tussle earlier in the week, pushed his horse too hard early on. When Franklin later asked Spectacular Bid for another gear for his home stretch run, the horse was spent. Spectacular Bid finished in third place.

Franklin never again rode Spectacular Bid, having been fired shortly after the race by furious trainer Grover “Bud” Delp, and the brilliant racehorse’s hoof later became infected, requiring surgery. Spectacular Bid went on to win an amazing 26 of his 30 career races, but an encounter with a tiny safety pin and the incompetence of his immature jockey forever derailed his Triple Crown chances.

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