Friday, August 10, 2007

Ain’t it funny

Search, but you won’t a dry eye amid the spectators at the Saratoga Race Course Friday afternoon. With Bette Midler’s shrill voice booming through the grandstand, Funny Cide, the underdog gelding that captured America’s fancy for two long and overly drawn-out months in 2003, will take one last lap around the track before retiring in a ceremony steeped with dime-store nostalgia.

Funny Cide is perhaps least known for being the horse that came close to becoming an esteemed Triple Crown winner. But he didn’t. The horse was also heavily promoted by the New York Racing Association in his rematch with arch-rival Empire Maker during the 134th Travers Stakes that year. But he was a scratch. He was also supposed to win something at the track located less than 10 miles away from the stable where he was born. But he never even placed in one.

In fact, if there were ever such a thing as a “one hit wonder” award of racing, it would probably go to Funny Cide. Some would argue the horse’s come-from-behind persona made him sort of a modern-day Seabiscuit, an underdog horse that also captivated the nation. Yet unlike Seabiscuit, chestnut gelding really didn’t win much of anything after his famed shot at the crown, much less in the Spa City.

Instead, Funny Cide became emblematic of the marketing crazies that infect every soulful moment of this American life. Funny Cide’s image made its way onto everything from T-shirts to light beer to his own soundtrack; his merchandising wing even spawned a short-lived shop on Caroline Street, solely devoted to proliferating the volumes of extant Funny Cide memorabilia.

There are some remarkable elements to the Funny Cide story –now available in children’s book and 288-page paperback. But the overexposure this horse received only served to cheapen his message to a point most people got sick of listening to it. Enter Friday’s mighty retirement party at the race course, where Funny Cide will be presented with a “granola Rolex,” finally proving there are no depths too how low for the track’s increasingly corny marketing gags.

Fans also received a complementary “Funny Cide Retirement” poster, featuring a caricature of the horse lounging in a chair, while sporting a summer cocktail and puffing on a cigar. That’s going to be a hot item for junior’s wall. Get ready for the crunch, e-Bay.

If NYRA’s public relations folk were a bit more on the ball, they could have gotten Crackers the dancing horse to teach the Electric Slide during Midler’s rendition of “ Wind Beneath My Wings,” the song that will play during Funny Cide’s last lap. Better yet, they could have pitted Crackers against Funny Cide in one last race for the granola Rolex. Who knows, it might have been a close match. After all, Crackers does have an unblemished record in Saratoga.

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