Updated on 09/17/2011 10:26AM

Tagg's belief rewarded


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A self-described pessimist by nature, trainer Barclay Tagg was moved to do something Saturday he says he rarely does - bet.

"I bet $200 on him,' Tagg said Sunday morning, some 14 hours after he had saddled Funny Cide to become the first New York-bred to win the Kentucky Derby. "I just felt good about it. I must have if I bet that much because I'm cheap. I probably haven't made five bets in 30 years.'

Tagg had a good feeling about Funny Cide even before he purchased the gelding for $75,000 early in 2002 from Tony Everard of Another Episode Farm in Ocala, Fla.

Tagg and his assistant, Robin Smullen, had seen the horse three times before eventually buying him. Everard, who pinhooks horses, had purchased the horse for $22,000 out of Saratoga's Fasig-Tipton sale in August 2001. Everard gelded Funny Cide almost immediately because the son of Distorted Humor had an undescended testicle that Everard felt would inhibit his development.

"We didn't have these kind of aspirations for him,' Tagg, who bought the horse for a syndicate called Sackatoga Stable, said two days before the Derby. "When you saw him you'd say, 'I'd like to have him in my stable.'

"He was pretty correct, had some size and scope to him, and he looked like he could run a distance," Tagg continued. "He had a lovely, big hind end.'

Tagg liked the horse even more after jockey Jose Santos breezed him for the first time last summer. "Jose got off him the first time and said this is the best 2-year-old I've ever been on in my life,' Tagg recalled. "Coming from a world-class rider, you put some credence in it.'

Funny Cide won his first three starts, all against New York-bred competition. And though he went winless in three open-company stakes races this year, he improved with each start. His half-length loss to Empire Maker in the Wood Memorial forced Tagg to try the Derby. Funny Cide's three weeks of training between races prompted Tagg to bet.

"I had a lot of faith in this horse, but I didn't want to go around talking about it too much,' Tagg said.

By staying in New York until three days before the Derby, Tagg didn't have too many people asking him questions.

Tagg, 65, began training Thoroughbreds in 1971 after graduating from Penn State University in 1961 with a degree in animal husbandry and after struggling to make it as a steeplechase rider. Based in Maryland for the first two decades of his career, Tagg developed a reputation as a turf trainer, conditioning siblings Royal Mountain Inn and Miss Josh to Grade 1 victories. Tagg's other stakes winners include Grab the Green, La Turka, and Tampico.

"I had ordinary horses in Maryland that when I put them on the turf a couple of them became extraordinary,' Tagg said.

Though the Derby was never on Tagg's "things to do' list, he is most appreciative of the victory.

"It makes me feel the last 30 years was worth all that grind,' Tagg said Sunday. "`This is the biggest thing there is in racing, so how can you not like it? I just want to follow in Carl Nafzger's footsteps and win the Breeders' Cup [Classic] in the same year.'

It took Tagg only a few hours to enjoy the laurels of being a Derby-winning trainer. When officials from Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness, asked him Sunday morning if there was anything they could do for him, Tagg, who wasn't booked to fly home to New York until Monday, jokingly said, "Yeah, find me a seat on a plane.'

Tagg and Smullen were flown home on a private jet and were back at Belmont's Barn 6 just hours after Funny Cide arrived.

Monday, officials from the New York Racing Association visited Tagg to congratulate him and see how they could assist in regard to handling the media. Tagg did a few interviews and took Funny Cide out for a trio of photographers.

Tagg has mapped out a training schedule that calls for Funny Cide to work out on either Monday or Tuesday of next week. He still has not decided when he will ship Funny Cide to Maryland, but is strongly considering waiting until the morning of the race.

Only this time, he won't be able to sneak up on anybody. And, if Tagg goes to the windows, he won't get 12-1.