Updated on 09/17/2011 10:28AM

In Saratoga, Funny Cide horse of hour


Not surprisingly, the phones have been ringing nonstop at the offices of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., the city where this year's Kentucky Derby winner, Funny Cide, was born.

Last Saturday at Churchill Downs, Funny Cide became the first New York-bred to win the Kentucky Derby in the race's 129-year history. The Distorted Humor gelding was born at Joe and Anne McMahon's McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds on Fitch Road, about a mile from Saratoga Race Course.

The staff at the NYTB has fielded all sorts of calls. There have been media inquiries about the McMahons and Funny Cide and the horse's owners, Sackatoga Stable, which includes six friends who met in high school in Sackets Harbor, a western New York town on the banks of Lake Ontario. Jack Knowlton, the managing partner of Sackatoga Stable, lives in Saratoga Springs.

"This is a very big story up here," said Dennis Brida, the NYTB's executive director.

A cheering crowd, including staffers from the NYTB and the New York State Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund as well as New York State Sen. Nancy Hoffman, greeted some of Funny Cide's owners and the McMahons at the Albany airport when they arrived home from Kentucky on Monday afternoon. Local television crews and newspaper reporters also were on the scene.

There are several events planned this week in Saratoga Springs and surrounding areas to honor Funny Cide's connections, including a resolution issued by the New York State Senate in Albany on Monday.

Funny Cide's Derby win is a tremendous boost to New York's breeding and racing program. In recent years, the program has enjoyed a high profile, thanks to several New York-breds who have competed successfully in graded stakes company. The achievements of Gander, Say Florida Sandy, Carson Hollow, and Critical Eye have been terrific advertisements for the state's breeding and racing program.

But a win by a New York-bred in the Kentucky Derby, arguably the most famous race in the world, is another story entirely.

Brida said Funny Cide's victory under jockey Jose Santos spoke volumes for the New York program. When Santos was interviewed by NBC reporter Donna Barton seconds after crossing the finish line, the rider shouted, "Get with the program, New York-breds" in reference to the slogan used for New York's breeding and racing program in television and print advertisements.

"That was just fantastic," Brida said. "I wanted to hug Jose. You couldn't have paid a million dollars for that."

Besides being born in Saratoga Springs, Funny Cide also went through the sales ring there as a yearling where he was bought for $22,000 by Tony Everard at Fasig-Tipton's preferred auction of New York-breds in August 2001. Barclay Tagg, Funny Cide's trainer, bought him as a 2-year-old from Everard for $75,000 on behalf of Sackatoga Stable.

On June 8, the day after the Belmont Stakes, the NYTB will make Funny Cide's owners, Tagg, and Santos honorary members of the NYTB at a board meeting at Belmont Park.

"What they and Funny Cide did put us in the limelight," Brida said. "The win proved that a New York-bred can do anything in the racing world. It always seems there is some New York-bred winning a big race, but right now we are on the top of the world. The New York program has grown to new heights."

o Funny Cide's $800,200 Derby earnings boosted his career bankroll to $1,239,385, which ranks him ninth on the list of the all-time leading New York-bred money earners. Eighth on the list is Victory Speech ($1,289,020), who finished 10th in the 1996 Kentucky Derby.

Don't forget about Spite the Devil

In all the Derby hoopla, it would be unfair to overlook another New York-bred 3-year-old, Spite the Devil, who won Aqueduct's Grade 3 Withers 67 minutes before the Derby.

Who would have thought that last year's Bertram F. Bongard and Sleepy Hollow, restricted stakes at Belmont Park, would be key races on Derby Day? Funny Cide and Spite the Devil finished one-two in both the Bongard and Sleepy Hollow.

For now, a rematch between Funny Cide and Spite the Devil will have to wait, as the Derby winner is headed to Saturday's Preakness at Pimlico and Spite the Devil will be considered for the Grade 2 Peter Pan at Belmont Park on May 24.

Spite the Devil, a son of Devil His Due and the Cryptoclearance mare Samantha D, is trained by Allen Jerkens and owned and bred by his wife, Elisabeth. The $150,000 Withers was Spite the Devil's first stakes win.