Green light on Derby winner

`Awesome' workout all but puts `Pegasus' on Baltimore plane

125th Preakness

May 16, 2000|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The Kentucky Derby is history. The hordes have departed Churchill Downs.

But a familiar scene transpired yesterday under the twin spires at this historic racetrack: Fusaichi Pegasus, with another buck here and another kick there, impressed onlookers with another display of controlled power.

"Spectacular" and "awesome" were two words uttered as the Derby winner jogged 1 1/2 miles, galloped a half-mile and then breezed five furlongs in a blistering 59 seconds. That was two seconds (the equivalent of 10 lengths) faster than trainer Neil Drysdale had wanted, but the mighty colt returned to his barn as if he had just strolled through the park.

"He worked very well," Drysdale said. "It was just a little quicker than we wanted."We weren't looking for speed. We were just making sure everything's in good working order."

Everything certainly seemed in good working order, and as long as it remains that way, Drysdale said, he will fly Fusaichi Pegasus to Baltimore tomorrow for his assault Saturday on the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown.

Fusaichi Pegasus captured the first leg, the Kentucky Derby, with a dynamic performance that so far has discouraged all but three of the 18 Derby also-rans (Captain Steve, Hal's Hope and High Yield) from the rematch at Pimlico.

With three fresh faces (Red Bullet, Hugh Hefner and Snuck In) ready to challenge Fusaichi Pegasus, the field for the 125th Preakness stands at seven.

Pimlico officials will accept entries tomorrow. That will be followed by the post-position draw beginning at 5 p.m. at the ESPN Zone at the Inner Harbor. The draw will be televised on ESPN.

Fusaichi Pegasus, a 3-year-old colt purchased for $4million as a yearling, will be the center of attention - as he has been since dominating the Derby. He has remained here at Churchill Downs as his cautious trainer looked under every stone before committing the colt to the Preakness. "So far, so good," Drysdale said yesterday outside Barn 41, crossing two fingers on each hand and knocking on his head (as if it were wood) for good luck.

After Fusaichi Pegasus returned from his 6:45 a.m. workout, Drysdale walked him under the shedrow and watched as the colt's groom bathed him. The steam rose from the horse's sculpted body as the sun peeked over the green barn roofs.

Drysdale said of the two Triple Crown races remaining - the Preakness and Belmont - he believes the Preakness will be the most difficult for Fusaichi Pegasus. Why?

"Probably just because it's more of a tactical race," he said. "It's a speed-oriented racetrack coming off a mile-and-a-quarter race where we wanted him to relax. This is a situation where he'll have to use his tactical speed."

Fusaichi Pegasus broke tardily in the Derby, leading only six horses after a half-mile of the 1 1/4 -mile race. He will have to start better than that in the Preakness, a slightly shorter race at 1 3/16 miles.

Drysdale said he expects a sharper break. The colt showed yesterday that he is fast. As his exercise rider, Andy Durnin, restrained him as he galloped into his workout, Fusaichi Pegasus, his neck bowed, resembled the old photos of Citation that nearly come to life because of that pent-up power.

The playful colt kicked and bucked only twice. That was because he's been galloping regularly, Durnin said. After yesterday's workout, he'll have a couple of easy days.

But then, Durnin said, "Wait until you see him when he goes back to the track. He'll just be wired. He'll probably launch me. I'll be holding on, believe me."

By then, Fusaichi Pegasus, the most highly regarded Kentucky Derby winner in years, will be at Pimlico, awaiting the Preakness and his chance at making Triple Crown history.

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