Updated on 09/17/2011 12:52PM

A Derby winner returns, which is nice


PHILADELPHIA - Funny Cide is now officially the first Kentucky Derby winner this century to embark on what appears to be a genuine 4-year-old campaign. In fact, Funny Cide could become the first Derby winner to make an impact as a 4-year-old since Real Quiet in 1998.

Charismatic (1999 Derby winner) never raced after being injured in the Belmont Stakes. Fusaichi Pegasus (2000) and War Emblem (2002) were done after dreadful performances in the Breeders' Cup Classic of their 3-year-old seasons. Among the four Derby winners from 2000-2003, Only Monarchos (2001) made a start as a 4-year-old, and it was hardly a campaign. He was a distant third at 1-2 in an optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 19, 2002, and was promptly retired.

Now, we all know why Funny Cide is racing. He is a gelding, of no value in the breeding industry. Still, it is nice to have him around.

The Derby is our most important race, but lately we can only guess how good most of our Derby winners truly were. With Funny Cide, we will find out.

Some thought Real Quiet was a fluke because he had only two wins before nearly sweeping the Triple Crown series. (And why exactly was his rider, Kent Desormeaux, looking back in the stretch at Belmont Park?)

His five-race 1999 season proved otherwise. He won the Pimlico Special and Hollywood Gold Cup. He was a close second in the New Orleans Handicap and the Texas Mile. He was third in the Massachusetts Handicap. He won more than $1.1 million.

Some are still wondering if Funny Cide was a fluke because he had not won a race in 2003 before winning the Derby and Preakness. After tiring in the muck at Belmont in the Belmont Stakes, Funny Cide's form deteriorated dramatically.

Clearly, if Funny Cide's trainer, Barclay Tagg, could rewrite history, Funny Cide never would have gone to Monmouth Park for the Haskell or Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup.

Funny Cide got a 102 Beyer for beating four no-hopers in an optional claimer Saturday at Gulfstream. But forget the figure. We know this horse can go 110-109-114, as he did in the Wood Memorial, Derby, and Preakness.

What was most impressive about Funny Cide was how smooth he looked in the race and how aggressive he was in the gallop-out after the finish. This was a horse that looked like he wanted more - more distance, more competition.

He will, of course, get both. Barring injury, Funny Cide will have a more extensive campaign than Real Quiet had five years ago. And I expect him to have similar or even more success.

Fluke horses simply do not win the Derby and Preakness. Maybe one of those races, but not both.

By the way, Real Quiet got a 102 Beyer in his first start as a 4-year-old, on March 7, 1998. So there is precedent for Funny Cide's Beyer. By June 27 at Hollywood Park, Real Quiet ran his Beyer up to a 115.

Funny Cide's main obstacle may not be his ability. That is absolutely there. It may be Congaree and Medaglia d'Oro, high-quality older horses who are still running at top form.

Forget the Breeders' Cup when Funny Cide finished a zip code behind the big boys. It will be much closer next time. How close? We will see soon enough.