The Monday Special – March 30

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It’s no secret the world has turned upside down the past month. But for those who remember a gutsy gelding accompanied to the track by a former jockey and a literal bus full of owners, this year comfortingly also feels like a blast from the past.

In 2003 the country was still reeling from the September 11, 2001 terror attacks and everything that came after it. For a blessed five weeks that spring, Sackatoga Stable’s New York-bred Funny Cide gave racing fans a chance to forget about those woes as he raced toward immortality as one of the “little guys.”

That year’s Triple Crown didn’t have the fairytale ending most hoped for with Empire Maker and Ten Most Wanted spoiling the party by finishing ahead of Funny Cide in the Belmont Stakes.

The fun continued through the years after that heartbreak, however, as the red gelding continued to perform well before bidding adieu to racing at the ripe age of 7. His fitting retirement came after a win in New York on Independence Day.

Eager to keep him in the barn, Barclay Tagg tried to give his dual classic winner a job as a pony on the track. When that didn’t work out Funny Cide became an ambassador for the sport at the Kentucky Horse Park, where he continues to awe thousands of fans every year.

Though Funny is now enjoying retirement and things always change, they strangely always seem to stay the same.

While Funny Cide approaches his 20th birthday next month, Tagg and Sackatoga Stable are prepping for another run at the rescheduled Kentucky Derby. They won’t sneak in with an undetected 12-1 shot this time after Tiz The Law put on a spectacular show to become the Kentucky Derby favorite Saturday in the Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.

Tiz The Law went to a clear lead in the division when stalking the pace in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby before romping clear down the stretch to win by 4 1/4 lengths. Connections thoughts would immediately be on the Kentucky Derby in five weeks in a normal year but with the COVID-19 virus delaying the race there are plenty of options ahead for the Constitution colt before he goes for the roses.

“He is something special. It would be a lot of fun going to Kentucky in five weeks, but that’s not happening, obviously,” said Sackatoga Stable’s Jack Knowlton. “Now we get to run some more races. Maybe the Wood (Memorial) will come back in play. Maybe we can do a Travers-Derby double. Right now it’s a blank slate. Nobody knows what’s going to happen where or when with all that’s going on in the country.” (Read more about Tiz The Law and Knowlton’s outlook for 2020 in our pre-Florida Derby Q&A)

Things have changed since Knowlton and his high school friends decided to travel to the Triple Crown races in a yellow school bus back in 2003. The Sackatoga Stable ownership behind Tiz The Law looks much different than it did in Funny Cide’s days, and they face the new challenge of keeping the Kentucky Derby favorite fresh for the next five months before heading to Churchill Downs.

But even with those changes, for many there is plenty of comfort in reliving the days of Funny Cide and seeing Tagg steer the ship on another talented New York-bred’s campaign.

Trainer of the Week: The final week of Gulfstream’s Championship Meet was a big one for Hall of Fame nominee Christophe Clement, who notched win No. 2,000 Friday. Coming into the week with 1,998 victories, a cross-state double of Parish Poet winning her U.S. debut at Tampa Bay Downs a few hours before Gufo won an allowance allowed Clement to hit the mark after having an agonizing pair of seconds Wednesday.

Not one for sitting on a good thing for a few days, Clement was back at it the next day when again racking up three wins at two tracks.

Clement’s Saturday kicked off by Traipising improving to 2-for-2 in a Gulfstream Park allowance for owner-breeder Stone Farm.

Three races later, Grade 1 winner Decorated Invader added to the list when winning his seasonal debut in the Cutler Bay Stakes after a rough start. Decorated Invader raced 15 1/4 lengths behind the leader at the first call in the turf stakes before rallying into the final furlong to win by 1 1/4 lengths.

Clement’s third win came at Tampa when the 3-year-old Malibu Moon filly Malibeauty won a 6-furlong maiden in her debut.

The winner of five races since Wednesday with four other on-the-board finishes, Clement finished the weekend when Apogee became another debut winner for the barn with a 1 1/2-length victory Sunday at Tampa.

Sire Of The Week: Siring three of the nine runners in any stakes race is notable, but it goes to another level when those three runners are from your first crop and in a Grade 1.

That’s exactly what WinStar Farm’s second-crop sire Constitution did in Saturday’s Florida Derby, even looking for a time like he’d get at least two of them in the top three. One of the leading freshman sires last year, Constitution sired Florida Derby winner Tiz The Law along with fourth-place finisher Gouverneur Morris and fifth-place Independence Hall.

Maiden Of The Week: Dr Post, off since finishing fourth behind eventual Grade 2 winner Green Light Go in his July 4 debut, returned with a victory Sunday at Gulfstream for trainer Todd Pletcher and owner St. Elias Stable.

The son of Quality Road stalked the leaders through much of the 7-furlong race under an educational ride from John Velazquez, who asked him to do just enough to win over stablemate Nocturnal by 1 1/4 lengths. Third-place finisher Sir Khan finished 5 lengths back.

Horse To Watch: If you’re looking for a horse who has made a nice leap from 3 to 4, Remarkable Soul is your girl.

A maiden winner in her second career start, the Medaglia d’Oro filly struggled to find the board in her next three outings and was off from last June until February. Owner-breeder Irvin Cowan transferred Remarkable Soul to Ralph Nicks during that time off and she returned in early February with a third 41-1. She won in her second start of 2020 Sunday, winning a 1-mile optional by 12 3/4 lengths.

Remarkable Soul is one of two winners from two to race out of Precious Soul, who is a half-sister to three-time Grade 1 winner Society Selection. Remarkable Soul most likely has a ways to go until she’s stakes quality but she seems to be improving with every run and may prove to be a useful runner to keep an eye on this year.

Quote of the Week: “It looked like to me that nobody went. They kind of gave her away, and shame on them.”

Trainer Ken McPeek after Swiss Skydiver got away to an uncontested lead and never looked back in the Grade 2 Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream Park Oaks for her first stakes victory.