In the 2003 Kentucky Derby, many were surprised and shocked when 12-1 long shot, Funny Cide defeated the heavily favored Empire Maker. No gelding had won the Derby since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929. Many were angered one week later whan a photo seemed to show jockey Jose Santos holding a foreign object along with his whip. To try to get to the bottom of this, I spoke to Manny Macklin, an industry insider, and publisher of the tipsheet, Mad Manny's Pony Picks.
"That was a buzzer. You can bet the farm on that." said Macklin, "For those who don't know, a buzzer is a simple device that can be put together with a battery and a little bit of wire. It shocks the horse, and makes him run like hell, or occasionally makes him rear up and throw the rider."
I asked him why any jockey would risk getting caught, and have his career ended, and Macklin explained, "The money. Horse Racing is the sport of kings, and kings don't care about playing fair, just winning. There are very rich and powerful men wagering on these races, and they have their ways of making sure that they don't lose. The bigger the stakes, the more likely it is that it will be as fixed as rasslin'. Besides, a buzzer is a small thing, very easy to get rid of. They can almost never prove one was being used."
Macklin presented me with an exclusive photo that he had shown to no one else. It clearly shows the horse's reaction when zapped with the buzzer.
"There it is, plain as day. That pony just got one heller of a jolt, and that put him over the top. From the looks of it, Santos was using a really potent one. It could've blown his balls off if he wasn't already a gelding! The real untold story here is that this sort of thing happens all the time. The bigger the stakes, the more likely there will be skullduggery."
We will be watching for more like this in the upcoming Preakness Stakes and Belmont, the second and third jewels in the Triple Crown.