`Pegasus' no Derby myth

Colt wins by 1 1/2 in 6th fastest finish in 126-year history

Preakness is next step

Desormeaux guides victory from 14 back

May 07, 2000|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

LOUISVILLE, KY. — When Fusao Sekiguchi saw the strapping colt as a yearling, he felt the vibes. He sensed his destiny.

Yesterday, the colt Fusaichi Pegasus fulfilled that destiny - at least the first leg of it - by winning the Kentucky Derby with a powerful performance indicative of greatness. He captured the country's most famous race by 1 1/2 lengths in the sixth fastest time in its 126-year history.

The 153,204 fans at Churchill Downs and the millions more watching on international TV witnessed the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 perhaps worthy of the Triple Crown.

Fusaichi Pegasus (pronounced foo-sah-EE-chee) will take the next step toward becoming the 12th Triple Crown winner May 20 in the Preakness at Pimlico. The final leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, will take place three weeks after that.

Sekiguchi, a 64-year-old Japanese venture capitalist, bought Fusaichi Pegasus for $4 million at the 1998 Keeneland July yearling sale. He said the colt's fate was to win - "not only the Derby, but I believe that to win is what he is destined to do."

Wearing sunglasses, a dark mustache and his hair in a ponytail, Sekiguchi recalled his thoughts when he spotted the colt, a son of Mr. Prospector and the Danzig mare Angel Fever. Sekiguchi spoke through an interpreter.

"When I laid eyes on this colt, I knew he was going to be the Derby winner," he said. "I was going to pay $5 million or whatever it cost to acquire him."

Sekiguchi named the bay colt by combining his first name with "ichi," Japanese for No.1. Fusaichi Pegasus fulfilled that fate, too, dominating a 19-horse Derby field thought to be one of the deepest in years.

Starting from post 15 as the 2-1 favorite, Fusaichi Pegasus broke sluggishly as Hal's Hope and Trippi locked up in a sizzling duel for the early lead. As they sped off toward a quarter mile in 22.47seconds and a half mile in 45.99, Fusaichi Pegasus loped along comfortably behind. He had only four horses beaten as he entered the first turn.

But down the backstretch, the colt and jockey Kent Desormeaux settled along the rail and began picking off horses one by one. They remained inside until midway around the final turn, where Desormeaux steered him outside and through the remaining pack.

They turned for home behind five horses, and they were flying. Nothing could stop them now, but one of the horses in front helped anyway. Wheelaway veered to the inside and slammed into Captain Steve, clearing a path for the winner as effectively as a burly tackle.

Like a fullback with a halfback's speed, Fusaichi Pegasus churned down the stretch with remarkable power. Desormeaux never raised his whip. The colt pulled away with ease, completing the 1 1/4 miles in 2 minutes, 1.12 seconds.

That tied Grindstone (1996) for the sixth-fastest Derby. Secretariat set the record in 1973: 1 minute, 59 2/5 seconds.

Desormeaux, who won the Derby two years ago with Real Quiet, was exuberant after the race. Asked whether Fusaichi Pegasus was capable of winning the Triple Crown, the jockey said: "With luck and health involved, he's a horse who could do that."

Desormeaux described his trip this way: "He left the gate like a pony. I might have gotten myself far back, but he just reeled them in very, very easily.

"The only question was turning for home, whether he could do what he did going a mile. When I encouraged him to improve his stride, he just took off like a rocket, and I knew at that point this race was over."

Aptitude and Impeachment rallied from far back to finish second and third, respectively.

Fusaichi Pegasus became the first favorite to win the Derby since Spectacular Bid in 1979. He also completed a marvelous week for his trainer, Neil Drysdale, whose induction into racing's Hall of Fame was announced here Tuesday.

"It's been a humbling week, very rewarding and humbling," said Drysdale, a 52-year-old native of England. "The horses put you here. Without horses there isn't a sport.

"These horses put out huge efforts for you. That keeps you humble."

Although Drysdale is one of the most respected trainers in the country, this was his first Derby. He nearly made it in 1992 with A.P. Indy. But the colt, who later won the Belmont and Breeders' Cup Classic, suffered a bruised hoof, and Drysdale scratched him the morning of the race.

With Fusaichi Pegasus, he handles a horse he described as "intriguing" to train. Playful, curious and by all accounts about as intelligent as a horse can be, Fusaichi Pegasus bucks and leaps and stares at things as if he were a philosopher wearing a bronco suit.

His only rambunctious display before the Derby was on his walk from the barn to the paddock. Flies nipped at his back, so Drysdale threw on a thin blanket as protection.

Fusaichi Pegasus did not like that blanket one bit. He stopped and kicked back with his hind legs. Then he kicked back again. Drysdale whipped off that blanket like a magician snapping a tablecloth from under the silverware.

Drysdale said the hubbub before the race about Fusaichi Pegasus' behavior was overblown. Desormeaux agreed, saying the colt has become more professional and mature with each race.

After losing his debut in December by a neck, Fusaichi Pegasus has won five straight.

"He's a marvelous horse," Desormeaux said. "Fusao stepped up and brought a pretty horse. And this pretty boy can run."

Top 3 finishers

Fusaichi Pegasus $6.60 $5.60 $4.00

Aptitude $9.80 $5.80

Impeachment $4.00

Time: 2:01.12 over 1 1/4 miles Exacta: 12-5 paid $66

Trifecta: 12-5-1 paid $435

Superfecta: 12-5-1-9 paid $1,635.40

Rest of field: More Than Ready, Wheelaway, China Visit, Curule, Captain Steve, War Chant, Deputy Warlock, Trippi, Exchange Rate, Anees, The Deputy, High Yield, Hal's Hope, Commendable, Ronton, Graeme Hall.

Triple Crown schedulePreakness: May 20, Pimlico Race Course, 1 3/16 miles.

Belmont Stakes: June 10, Belmont Park, 1 1/2 miles

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