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They are gone now, removed through two tiny incisions, each no longer than a crayon, from a yearling colt named Funny Cide more than 19 months ago. But even in their absence they remain vital to this modern racetrack fairy tale. They have made 10 workaday owners celebrities, but their absence has prevented the group from getting wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. They are the source of a thousand jokes designed to make men clamp their legs together and squirm. They are the reason that Funny Cide can race until his body fails, a star in a sport that desperately needs one. And they are the reason that he could, with a victory in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, become the first horse in 25 years—and the first gelding ever—to win the Triple Crown.
They are Funny Cide's testicles.
This is the story of their brief life and ongoing legacy, a tale that began in Saratoga Springs on the night of Aug. 12, 2001, at a sale of select New York-bred horses. Outside a dark green sales barn along East Avenue, an unnamed, modestly bred chestnut stood with his groom. Tony Everard, a 63-year-old pinhooker (racetrack slang for somebody who buys young horses and holds on to them until they mature before reselling them at a profit) from Ocala, Fla., liked the colt and promptly paid $500 for Kentucky veterinarian Jerry Johnson to examine him. Johnson felt underneath the colt's hindquarters and told Everard, "He's a ridgeling," a horse with an undescended testicle. Ridgelings, however, are common, so with his brother Joseph putting up half the $22,000 auction price, Everard bought the colt and shipped him to Ocala, where he took a place in Barn Two at Everard's 65-acre New Episode Training Center.
Everard turned out Funny Cide in a sprawling paddock, where he played for several weeks with other yearlings in the shade of sycamores and live oaks. But there was little doubt that he would soon undergo a routine surgical procedure that removes a horse's testicles. "It was an easy call," says Everard. "My motto is, Get them to the races. With ridgelings, that one testicle will always [cause them discomfort when they run], especially when they're changing leads on the turn. They won't try hard for you."
On the evening of Oct. 26, 10 weeks after his arrival in Ocala, Funny Cide was vanned five miles from New Episode to the Ferguson & Associates Equine Clinic, where Dr. Phil Hammock placed the horse under general anesthesia before moving him to an operating table with a two-ton custom hoist. As the colt lay on his back, Hammock made one cut at the base of the inguinal ring, between the abdomen and the scrotum; pulled out the left, undescended testicle; and cut it loose with special, plierslike tools called (male squirm alert) ernasculators. The emasculators also crushed the connecting arteries and veins, which induced blood clotting and eliminated the need for sutures. Hammock made another incision in the scrotum to remove the normal testicle in a similar fashion. The procedure lasted 20 minutes, after which Funny Cide was transferred to a padded stall. He was back on his feet scarcely an hour after anesthesia was begun. "The whole thing went smooth as silk," says Hammock.
Horses are commonly castrated for three reasons: 1) to correct a medical condition, often an undescended testicle; 2) to stanch the flow of testosterone and prevent overdevelopment of a horse's chest and shoulders, thus lightening the load on his fragile front legs; 3) to remove the mating instinct from a horse whose hormone-driven behavior (think 16-year-old boy) is making him difficult to train. It is the last of those reasons that leads many horsemen to geld colts almost as a matter of routine. "Once they're gelded, they've only got one brain instead of two, and all they've got to worry about is training," says California trainer Jeff Mullins, whose gelding, Buddy Gil, won this year's Santa Anita Derby.
Within weeks of his castration Funny Cide was making huge strides as a racehorse. In November 2001 he was spotted by trainer Barclay Tagg and, four months later, was bought by Sackatoga Stable for $75,000, a neat return on Everard's investment.
The vet's scalpel, of course, cuts two ways. It's possible that Funny Cide's castration helped make him the champion that he is today. It's certain that the surgery made him worthless at stud. Everard could have instructed Hammock to leave the healthy testicle, which would have made Funny Cide a stallion worth millions after victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. "If Funny Cide were a stallion, the breeding farms would be all over him," says Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Last year War Emblem won the Derby and the Preakness before finishing eighth in the Belmont for trainer Bob Baffert and was sold for more than $17 million in the fall.
Everard, however, has no regrets. Funny Cide's breeding did not suggest great stud potential. He is from the first crop of a sire named Distorted Humor, a decent, if unspectacular, racehorse who won eight races in 23 starts, and the mare Belle's Good Cide, a $2,800 yearling who won only two of 26 career races. Everard liked some of Funny Cide's bloodlines—Distorted Humor was a grandson of the late, prepotent Mr. Prospector—but he believed that gelding him would hasten a solid career at the track. "I'm convinced he would never have been the same horse intact," Everard said last week, standing in the warm sunshine outside the barn where Funny Cide first lived. "He probably would have never won a race."
According to the Jockey Club, more than 25% of all thoroughbred starters in North America in 2002 were geldings, a figure that is surely low because many geldings are not reported. Colts are often not gelded because their owners cling to the dream that their pedigrees will produce seven-figure syndication and stud fees that can exceed $100,000 per coupling. (Stallions can mate dozens of times each breeding season.) Donnie McFadden, Buddy Gil's breeder, says that he's trying to talk one of his owners into gelding a well-bred yearling he purchased for $300,000. "The sword will eventually fall," says McFadden, "but the owner just can't give up the hope of breeding him."