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The Funny Thing About Funny Cide

Whether or not Funny Cide wins Saturday's Belmont Stakes -- and becomes horse racing's first Triple Crown winner in 25 years -- he's already made history. Funny Cide is the first gelding to win both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

The Triple Crown races "are the advertisements for the breeders," says Kevin Conley, author of Stud: Adventures in Breeding. Most horses who compete successfully in horse racing's premiere events are soon put out to stud in multi-million dollar syndication deals that dwarf the prize money won at the racing events themselves, Conley tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer. Storm Cat, the world's richest stallion, will earn more than $20 million in stud fees this year alone.

So with that kind of money at stake in breeding, horse owners usually turn to gelding -- castrating male horses -- only as a last resort.

"Usually a horse is gelded because in his youth he is unmanageable," Conley explains. "He has too much testosterone. It makes him closer to a wild creature than any domesticated horse should be."

Gelding makes him more pliable. "It saves your investment," Conley says.

But Funny Cide was not gelded because he was too wild. One of his testicles failed to descend, making it extremely uncomfortable for him to run. So he was gelded before sale as a two-year-old in order to save his racing career.

Though gelding eliminates a horse's stud career, some horse trainers think it provides a tactical advantage in races, Conley says. The lack of testosterone changes the horse's musculature, making it a lighter, swifter runner. Conley estimates that about 25 percent of winners at most horse races are geldings.

Conley says gelding a horse can also improve the animal's chances of winning the hearts and minds of horse racing fans. Stallions are usually put out to stud after their third year or so, effectively ending their racing careers. But geldings, he notes, often keep on racing past the age of 7, giving them time to amass impressive racing records. In the past, famous geldings such as Exterminator, John Henry, Kelso and Forego all became crowd favorites. Conley hopes the same fate befalls Funny Cide.

"It would be great to see a horse, if he wins, stick around and become a darling of the public, someone we can identify with," Conley says.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As NPR's senior national correspondent, Linda Wertheimer travels the country and the globe for NPR News, bringing her unique insights and wealth of experience to bear on the day's top news stories.