Updated on 09/17/2011 10:38AM

Funny Cide unforgettable from Day 1


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Funny Cide, the first New York-bred to win the Kentucky Derby and in position to become the first gelding to win the Triple Crown in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, was born with the knack for catching people by surprise.

He arrived 10 days earlier than his anticipated foaling date, around 3:30 a.m. on April 20, 2000, at Joe and Anne McMahon's farm, McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds in Saratoga Springs.

With a premature birth there is always a chance that the mare and the foal will suffer from complications, but that didn't happen to Funny Cide and his dam, Belle's Good Cide.

Within 12 hours of being born, Funny Cide was given plasma intravenously, a standard procedure with early foals. The plasma insures that the foal receives the necessary antibodies that ward off infections. The antibodies are usually present in the mother's first milk but could be missing when an early birth occurs.

"He was very normal and strong," said Joe McMahon, who delivered Funny Cide with his wife, Anne, and night watchman Don Holden. "A weak foal is slow to nurse, but he stood within a half-hour and was nursing. That was quick. Sometimes foals need a lot of attempts to find the nipple. You would be surprised how they don't get it. I believe the quicker they get up and nurse, the better the horse will be.

"He was very aggressive with [Belle's Good Cide]," McMahon added. "He butt her with his head and wouldn't be allowed to be shooed away. Sometimes the mare was like, 'You're bothering me kid,' but he kept right on going and would intimidate her back."

Holden also remembered Funny Cide as an assertive foal, according to Anne McMahon. Holden worked for the McMahons for 10 years but is on medical leave for treatment of lung cancer.

"Don said Funny Cide would bob too hard under the mare's udder for milk, and she nipped him in the butt because he was too rough," Anne said. "He kicked her back."

About 80 babies were foaled at the McMahons' farm in 2000. With such a large number of foals, not every one has the chance to make an impression. But Funny Cide got Anne's attention, not only because of his shiny chestnut coat but also because he was a fast learner.

"I called him Baby Belle, and we hardly ever give horse's nicknames because it's very confusing," she said. "I remember him being an easy horse to bring in and out [of the paddocks]. Once in a while, you get one who is not cooperative. He was a pleasant individual who accepted things very well. I said, 'Oh, he's an easy one.'

I thought he was exceptionally smart."

Dr. Anina LaCour, the McMahons' veterinarian, had a slightly different recollection because Funny Cide caused a fuss when he received his vaccination shots after three months.

"So many foals are not particularly bad with that procedure, so you remember when they are," LaCour said. "He was putting his head down and throwing out his feet. He tried to throw himself [on the ground]."

Five months after he was born, Funny Cide left the McMahons and returned to WinStar Farm in Versailles, Ky., where he had been conceived in 1999 and which is the home of his sire, Distorted Humor. Funny Cide eventually returned to the McMahons in August of his yearling year, a couple of weeks before he was sold for $22,000 at Fasig-Tipton's preferred sale in Saratoga Springs.

Under an agreement between the McMahons and WinStar, eight WinStar mares in foal to Distorted Humor were shipped to the McMahons in February of 2000, including Belle's Good Cide. The mares delivered their foals at the McMahon farm, which qualified the babies as New York-breds.

Go Rockin' Robin, another New York-bred from Distorted Humor's first crop, won the Grade 2 Peter Pan at Belmont Park May 24. He was bred in partnership by WinStar and the McMahons, but Funny Cide was bred by Ken Trout and Bill Casner, who own WinStar.

"It's one of these deals that really went right," Joe McMahon said of the partnership with WinStar.

The McMahons have gained quite a bit of attention since Funny Cide won the Derby and the Preakness Stakes. On a recent Sunday morning, cars passing their property slowed down to take a look at the barn where Funny Cide was born. The green and white barn, which has 23 stalls, is adorned with several hand-painted signs, including "1st Home of Funny Cide" and "Two Down, One To Go."

The proximity of the foaling barn to the McMahons' 200-year-old brick house is handy since the McMahons are always present when a foal is born.

"We're not that big that we don't foal all our own," Joe McMahon said.

But the McMahon operation is large by any standard and is one of the most influential stallion concerns in the state. This year, more than 400 mares were bred to the farm's eight stallions and about 125 mares reside on land owned or leased by the McMahons. By May 25, 88 foals had been born at the farm this year, with another five on the way.

The stallion roster includes Judge T C, who leads New York sires in progeny earnings this year, and Radio Star, a half-brother to Dynaformer. The other McMahon stallions are Personal Flag, Regal Classic, Wheelaway, Millions, Halory Hunter, and Let Goodtimes Roll. Personal Flag is the sire of Say Florida Sandy, who is the New York-bred career leader in earnings.

In addition to the 100-acre property where Funny Cide was born and where the stallions live, the McMahons own a 160-acre farm, Meadowview, about three miles away. They also lease two other nearby farms, Birch Wood and Northway. Between office help and the crew that works with the horses and maintains the properties, the McMahons employ a staff of about 25 people.

The main farm is about five miles from the gates of Saratoga Race Course.

The McMahons, who celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary on Friday, have built their operation slowly. Anne, 53, grew up in Rhode Island. Joe, 55, is from Mechanicville, south of Saratoga Springs. They met when she was a freshman at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs.

They have five children, all of whom are involved with the farm. The eldest, Mike, 32, owns a bloodstock agency in Lexington, Ky., and works closely with his parents. John, 31, and his wife, Kate, oversee the operation at Meadowview Farm. The McMahons' other children - Jane, 26; Kate, 24; and Tara, 22 - work in various capacities, including prepping the yearlings for the sales.

The entire McMahon clan will be at Belmont Park on Saturday to cheer for Funny Cide. Win or lose, he has already put the them on the map.

"New York needed a hero," Joe McMahon said, "and it's a great time for a home-spun horse like this."