05/07/2003 11:00PM

Funny Cide's sire gets not only speed


LEXINGTON, Ky. - So, how does a sprinter sire the winner of the Kentucky Derby? If you believe some of the commentary about the bloodlines of the horses in the Derby, a gelding like Funny Cide had no chance whatsoever because he descends from the Mr. Prospector line through champion 2-year-old Forty Niner, and his sire was best at less than a mile.

Considering only the facts, the Mr. Prospectors do have speed (like practically all top horses), Forty Niner was a champion at 2, and Funny Cide's sire, Distorted Humor, was probably best at seven furlongs. And Funny Cide still won the Derby.

If anything, this indicates we shouldn't believe everything we read. Now, for the rest of the story.

Although Forty Niner narrowly missed winning the Kentucky Derby in 1988, closing well to be second, beaten a neck by Winning Colors, the champion son of Mr. Prospector is the grandsire of both the winner and third-place finisher in this year's Derby. Upset winner Funny Cide is by Forty Niner's son Distorted Humor, who stands at the WinStar Farm of Ken Troutt and Bill Casner, and Derby third finisher Peace Rules is by Jules.

Both Distorted Humor and Jules are graded stakes winners by Forty Niner from good families, and they had a license to make a mark as stallions. Distorted Humor, in fact, was last year's leading freshman sire in North America, and his 2-year-olds were led by Awesome Humor, who won the Grade 1 Spinaway.

Now Distorted Humor has a classic winner from his initial crop, and the stallion's fortunes have generated great interest among breeders.

Unbridled is the most recent stallion to have sired a Kentucky Derby winner in his first crop - the 1996 Derby winner, Grindstone, from Spinaway winner Buzz My Bell - and Unbridled himself also had won the Derby.

But unlike Distorted Humor, Unbridled was immediately accepted as a sire of stock likely to prosper at the classic distances, and among this year's 3-year-old crop, he sired both Empire Maker, who ran second in the Derby, and Santa Catarina, who ran second in the Kentucky Oaks.

An immense horse, Unbridled showed strong ability from seven to 10 furlongs. Distorted Humor was at his best from six to eight furlongs, and he was not generally expected to be a classic sire. A small- to medium-sized horse who is strong, compact, and nicely balanced, Distorted Humor shows the influence of his sire Forty Niner and grandsire Danzig. He is muscular and fast.

Doug Cauthen, vice president of WinStar, said, however, that Distorted Humor's offspring "have a lot more scope than you'd have expected. He throws more length than he shows in himself, and all his runners seem to have a wiry, rangy athleticism. They are gritty and try hard."

On his best days, Distorted Humor ran some exceptional times and very impressive speed figures, but those did not always coincide with the biggest races. From three years of campaigning, at age 3 through 5, Distorted Humor improved each year. He scored his first graded victory at 4 in the Grade 3 Salvator Mile, which was the longest race he won, and at 5, the stocky chestnut won a pair of Grade 2 races, the Commonwealth Breeders' Cup at Keeneland and the Churchill Downs Handicap, as well as another Grade 3. Distorted Humor also ran a grand race in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile. While third to Sir Bear and Affirmed Success in that race, Distorted Humor outran Coronado's Quest, Crafty Friend, Stormin Fever, and Pyramid Peak.

Retired to stud for a fee of $12,500, Distorted Humor was one of several good sons of Forty Niner who attracted attention in the central Kentucky breeding community. Following the success of leading freshman sire End Sweep, who set a record for number of juvenile winners, sons of Forty Niner became hot properties with commercial breeders. In general, they produced offspring that were muscular and showed signs of developing early, which usually helps breeders gain an early return on their investments.

WinStar had taken a small group of mares in foal to New York, hoping to "distribute the horses around the country," Cauthen said, and to participate in the lucrative statebred program available to New York breeders.

Cauthen noted that "Funny Cide was a nice yearling with a lot of leg, although a little long in the pasterns, and honestly, I thought he was a good $40,000 to $50,000 yearling. But part of our plan was to get them out into the markets. So we sold him."

They did so even though the price was only $22,000 at Fasig-Tipton's sale of New York-breds at Saratoga.

Despite selling Funny Cide for less than expected, WinStar is going to reap the benefits. Following his freshman season, the stud fee for Distorted Humor rose to $20,000 and it "is probably going to go up," Cauthen said. "We'll have to see how the year develops, how the economy does, how the sales are, and then set the stud fee at a realistic level, taking all that into consideration. Since we generate revenue from stud fees, we are happy to see it go up, but it will be a palatable increase to breeders."

Breeders showed their confidence in Distorted Humor's initial racers by sending 125 mares to him this year, with 110 already covered.

"He's had a full book since October or November last year, although if a quality mare foaled late, we could possibly find a way to add her," Cauthen said.