07/15/2007 11:00PM

Funny Cide calls it a career

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Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Jose Santos urges Funny Cide to the wire in his 12-1 upset of the 2003 Kentucky Derby.

Funny Cide started his career as a winner and ended it the same way.

The charismatic 7-year-old chestnut gelding who won the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness has been retired.

Word of the retirement circulated Friday night and was confirmed Saturday by Jack Knowlton, managing partner for the Sackatoga Stable.

"It's a bittersweet moment, for me personally, and our whole gang," Knowlton said. "We all know the day comes when they are not going to run any longer.

"With everything he's given us, done for us, the perfect ending was winning a stake on his home turf in upstate New York."

Funny Cide's final race was a three-length victory in the $100,000 Wadsworth Stakes at Finger Lakes on July 4.

The Wadsworth was the last chapter in a remarkable saga that began with a 14 3/4-length victory in his debut at Belmont Park on Sept. 8, 2002.

In between, Funny Cide earned $3,529,412, the most by a New York-bred. He won 11 starts with 6 seconds and 8 thirds, and became a folk hero with his assault on the 2003 Triple Crown.

The gelding became a wildly popular figure after winning the Kentucky Derby by nearly two lengths at 12-1, becoming the first New York-bred ever to win the race and the first gelding since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929. He followed the Derby with a romping 9o3/4-length victory in the Preakness, but came up five lengths short in a torrential downpour in the Belmont to the disappointment of more than 100,000 fans hoping to see the hometown hero complete the Triple Crown.

He was a blue-collar horse with just-folks owners. Sackatoga Stable was a syndicate of high school friends who often traveled to the races in a school bus.

And it was quite a ride. Trained by Barclay Tagg and his assistant Robin Smullen, Funny Cide also captured the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup and Grade 3 Excelsior Handicap. He is a son of Distorted Humor out of Belle's Good Cide, by Slewacide.

With the passage of time, Funny Cide struggled in major races. His final graded victory came last year in the Grade 3 Dominion Day Stakes at Woodbine.

Earlier in the year, Knowlton and Tagg discussed a Dominion Day defense over Woodbine's newly installed Polytrack. With that possibility in mind, they ran Funny Cide on the Polytrack at Keeneland in April to see how he handled the surface. A seventh-place finish suggested they look elsewhere.

"We had discussions with the management of Finger Lakes, who thought it would really be a good thing for them and the sport," Knowlton said. "When he didn't take to the Polytrack, it didn't make sense to send him back up to Woodbine."

Before an enthusiastic crowd of 12,000, Funny Cide made his first Finger Lakes appearance and, for one afternoon, the magic was back.

"We took about 100 people to the track that day," Knowlton said. "It was a fabulous sendoff. In many ways, it was a mini-Belmont when we had over 100,000 people in the rain to see Funny Cide. It was kind of the same feeling. It was a smaller venue but the same level of anticipation."

It was also an ideal time to say goodbye.

"What else could he prove?" Knowlton said. "We came to the realization that he is not going to run in the big races. He's obviously not the horse he was at 3 and 4. We get to retire him on a high and don't have to make an announcement after losing a race at Belmont or Aqueduct."

Funny Cide won't be heading anywhere. He will remain with Tagg and Smullen as part of the stable. After he winds down, Funny Cide will help lead horses to the track for training.

"He'll get the same care and treatment that he's had for five years," Knowlton said. "They're interested in having him remain part of their lives, and he'll remain part of our lives. We'll get to see him at Saratoga. I go down to Florida in the winter and I'll see him there. It's a real good retirement plan."

The New York Racing Association will have a retirement sendoff ceremony for Funny Cide at Saratoga on Friday, Aug. 10.

"We plan to honor our local hero," said John Lee, NYRA's director of communications and media relations.