HENDERSON — Mint juleps might be the drink of choice at the Kentucky Derby, but one former winner is now marketing his own beverage, substituting apples for mint and leaving out the bourbon.
Funny Cide, the 2003 Derby and Preakness winner, posed for so many pictures Saturday in the paddock at Ellis Park, you'd almost think he was launching a new marketing campaign. Turns out, he was.
The gelding's appearance at the track's opening day coincided with the official rollout of Funny Cider, which is being produced by Evans Orchards, located in Georgetown, Ky., near the champion's new home at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Funny Cide's owner, Jack Knowlton, said he got the idea when the orchard served hot cider in December at a horse park event commemorating the Derby winner's arrival.
"We're just taking the game to a little different level than most people," Knowlton said. "We enjoyed his success, so we're going to share it and just have some fun."
Funny Cide, the last gelding to win the Derby before Mine That Bird accomplished the feat this year, hadn't made a road trip since arriving at the horse park. It also marked the first time a Derby winner had been on the grounds at Ellis Park since Black Gold in 1927.
The horse park plans to serve the non-alcoholic drink at concession stands, but Saturday marked the first sales. It was sold to Ellis patrons in both a commemorative cup and plastic bottle featuring a picture of the horse galloping past the finish line with Churchill's Twin Spires in the background.
All profits from the cider sales will go to the horse park's Hall of Champions. Based on the popularity of the horse, Evans Orchard manager Jenny Evans figures there will be plenty of takers.
"He has a great following," she said. "It's insane."
As the other horses prepared to race, Funny Cide walked along a gate, allowing himself to be petted by fans as his handlers kept popping peppermints in his mouth.
Cheri Smith of Evansville, Ind., was among the fans who tracked him for several minutes, clicking off shots from a camera phone.
"I'm here just to see a horse of that caliber," Smith said. "I've never been to a Derby, but I just wanted to see how he looks compared to the other horses."
The verdict: "Pretty much the same, I guess."