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Horse Racing: A cut above? Derby champion raises questions

Sunday, May 11, 2003

By Pohla Smith, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

The question I've been asked most often since I returned from watching Funny Cide win the Kentucky Derby is, "What's a gelding?"

The second-most asked question is, "Why would they do that?"

As for the first question -- a gelding is a male horse that has been sexually neutered by castration.

As for the second, equine veterinarian Pete Sheerin said, "There are numerous reasons it's done."

It can make horses better racers or make them less dangerous. It may also be done because the horse's bloodlines and/or talents do not warrant allowing him to breed.

"The horse in the Derby apparently was exhibiting stallion behavior, testosterone was causing him to be less focused on his training and more focused on trying to breed mares and the like," said Sheerin, of Rood and Riddle equine veterinary clinic in Lexington, Ky. The clinic is widely used to care for the top thoroughbred racehorses in the nation.

"With gelding, he'd be more focused on training and be a better racehorse, and you'd have to say it works."

At the post-victory news conference, Funny Cide's trainer, Barclay Tagg, also noted that the horse had been born a ridgling, meaning he had one undescended testicle. That also is frequently a cause for castration.

"If it hasn't descended by the time the horse is about 1 1/2 years old, it typically won't come down. It can [cause discomfort]," Sheerin said. "It's in the abdomen ... the potential could be something that would slow him down as far as racing performance."

Below the talent level of the kind of horses that run in Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup races are many geldings. That's where the question of stallion suitability often comes into play.

"There are not many horses of stallion quality that should continue to breed, to propagate the species," Sheerin said.

Though much has been made of the fact that Funny Cide was bred in New York state, which is not known for producing top racehorses or stallions, his pedigree is not obscure.

His father is Distorted Humor, a stakes-winner who earned more than $750,000. His paternal grandsire was the top racehorse Forty Niner, winner of more than $2.7 million. And one of his paternal great-grandfathers was longtime top sire Mr. Prospector.

Triple Crown champion Seattle Slew is three generations back on the maternal side of the family.

Sheerin noted that there also are practical reasons for gelding horses.

"When you have a stallion, he needs more space, he needs his own paddock [fenced field]," Sheerin said. "You can't put him with mares, and putting stallions and geldings together they tend to fight a lot. Geldings typically are fine together, not stallions.

"In the wild, there's a harem stallion surrounded by mares, and then there's a bachelor band, and those males tend not to fight much. But with domesticated horses, [when] you put them together, you have to figure out who's the dominant one."

Along with being bad students, candidates for gelding can be ornery and mean. In those cases, Sheerin said, "it's not worth somebody getting hurt."

The fact that Funny Cide is a gelding could be good news for race fans eager for a hero who sticks around and races instead of retiring to stud. It's been a long time since they've had a Forego or a John Henry to cheer for.

Fogelsonger's 400th

Last year, Ryan Fogelsonger watched the Preakness Stakes from the Pimlico infield. This year, he will ride in it aboard Cherokee's Boy.

The reigning Eclipse Champion apprentice, Fogelsonger, 21, will remember May 2003 as a huge month for several other reasons.

On May 7, Fogelsonger, currently the second-leading rider in the country, won his 400th race.

On May 24, he will lose his apprentice allowance and become a journeyman.

Racetracks for sale

The New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority is hiring an investment banking firm to appraise the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park.

After the appraisal is finished, the authority will solicit offers to buy or lease the tracks.

A number of potential buyers/leasers are reportedly interested, according to Harness Tracks of America's daily newsletter. Among them: Magna Entertainment Corp., owner of The Meadows; Churchill Downs; and harness horse owners Mal Burroughs, Bill Perretti and Lou Guida.

Pohla Smith can be reached at psmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1228.

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