Funny Cide barreled down the stretch for a runaway victory and sweet redemption for his jockey in the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, setting the stage for a Triple Crown try at Belmont Park in three weeks.
It was the second remarkable win in a row for the New York-bred chestnut gelding, journeyman trainer Barclay Tagg and an ownership group of high school pals who kicked in US$5,000 apiece to start Sackatoga Stable.
The win, however, may have meant the most to jockey Jose Santos. It came just five days after he was cleared by Churchill Downs stewards investigating a photograph and a news report that raised the question of whether he carried something other than his whip when he rode Funny Cide to victory in the Kentucky Derby.
Instead of two days, Santos had to wait less than two minutes for the verdict this time. Funny Cide pulled away from the field turning for home and steadily increased his margin through the stretch before the cheering crowd of 100,268 at Pimlico Race Course.
His powerful finish was something to behold: He won by 9 3/4 lengths -- 1/4 length shy of Survivor's 10-length victory in the first Preakness, in 1873.
The win moved Funny Cide to the brink of racing immortality -- on June 7 he will attempt to become the 12th Triple Crown champion and first since Affirmed in 1978.
Funny Cide will be the fifth horse in the last seven years with a Triple chance, and ninth since Affirmed swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont a quarter century ago.
A gelding has never won the Triple Crown.
At the finish, Santos stood in the stirrups, put his fingers to his lips, blew a kiss and then held up two fingers -- as if he wanted to make sure all the world could see there was nothing in his hand.
The 9-5 favorite in the field of 10 3-year-olds, Funny Cide covered the 1.9km Preakness in 1:55.61, well off the record of 1:53.4 last accomplished by Louis Quatorze in 1996.
Midway Road, a 20-1 shot, was second, with Scrimshaw third and Peace Rules fourth. Senor Swinger was fifth, followed by New York Hero, Foufa's Warrior, Cherokee's Boy, Ten Cents a Shine and Kissin Saint.
Funny Cide won for the fifth time in seven starts and earned US$650,000 for Sackatoga, boosting his career money totals to US$1,889,385. Tagg, a self-described eternal pessimist, bought Funny Cide for US$75,000 late last year.
The winner returned US$5.80, US$4.60 and US$3.40. Midway Road, with Robby Albarado aboard, returned US$15.40 and US$9 and Scrimshaw paid US$4 to show.
It was Funny Cide's show all the way. The horse, who had beaten only New York-bred competition prior to his Derby victory, was brushed at the start by New York Hero.
But he settled in quickly to follow the duel that developed between Scrimshaw and Peace Rules. Funny Cide was third along the backstretch, with Santos just waiting for the right time to make his move.
He did it just before the turn for home.
Funny Cide had pulled even with Peace Rules and then -- whoa! -- the gelding found another gear and left the others reeling in his wake.
"This is a wonderful horse. New York, here we come!" Santos said.
In winning his first Preakness, Santos took a jab at the post-Derby controversy.
"The only machine I had today was the red horse I was riding," Santos said.
Added Tagg: "Jose is a world-class rider and a world-class human being. Those photographers and people in Miami are nuts."