`No' on Derby for `Red' sits fine with Orseno

Trainer says extra rest a plus

likes his horse's chances to top `Pegasus'

125th Preakness

May 16, 2000|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Their hearts said, "Let's go to the Kentucky Derby," but their minds contradicted them.

When the members of the Stronach Stable team talked over Red Bullet's future itinerary after he finished second to Fusaichi Pegasus in the Wood Memorial, the consensus was to skip Churchill Downs and try the Preakness.

"The extra rest is definitely a positive," trainer Joe Orseno said yesterday after Red Bullet galloped two miles over the Pimlico track with exercise rider Keith Ricks aboard.

"He filled out a little bit and it helped him mentally and physically. Five weeks instead of three between races has to be good." Orseno is expressing no regrets about skipping the confrontation with Fusaichi Pegasus in the Derby. The result was what he expected. He doesn't have second thoughts.

"I sat and watched and I was glad for Neil Drysdale [the winner's trainer]. Even now, I don't feel I should have gone, that I could have won. My horse benefited from not going through that. It was an easy decision."

But the 125th Preakness Saturday is another matter. Red Bullet is likely to be the bettors' second choice and considered the entry with the best shot to upset an odds-on favorite being touted as the latest super horse.

Orseno believes he will have more horse through the stretch this time.

"In the Wood, we got a little closer than we wanted him and because of that, he didn't really finish the way he can," said the trainer.

"He'd been exploding in the lane, but this time we were out of horse. In the last eighth, he was struggling. But he had some determination and nobody got by him."

Red Bullet couldn't catch Fusaichi Pegasus, but he held off Aptitude (second in the Derby) by 1 1/2 lengths on sheer grit.

The most lightly raced Preakness entry, the chestnut son of Unbridled has been out only four times. He also beat Aptitude in the Grade III Gotham Stakes by a half-length.

With Alex Solis committed to ride Aptitude in the Belmont Stakes, Orseno has contracted with Jerry Bailey to handle Red Bullet in the Preakness.

"It's not fair to the horse if we have to try to find a new rider after the Preakness," said the trainer. "I need a rider if I do decide to run in the Belmont."

Orseno has been here since last Thursday and has already made an impact with Golden Missile, an impressive winner of the $750,000 Pimlico Special. He has no problem with his treatment by track management and personnel.

"They've been wonderful," he said. "We get anything we need and there's plenty of security, although I brought my own night watchman. It's nice they can put all the good horses in one barn."

What about Drysdale quartering Fusaichi Pegasus on the backside rather than in Stall 40 of the stakes barn, traditionally reserved for the Derby champion? "Everybody has his methods," said Orseno.

Red Bullet worked a sharp five furlongs Saturday in his final serious workout and will gallop again tomorrow. Orseno likes the way he has taken to the track and the surroundings.

"This is a very talented horse, very athletic," he said. "Things come easy to him. He does them without effort. I think he can handle the [tight] turns here, but I think we have to be up close behind the speed. He's pretty much push button; you can put him where he wants to be.

"The pace is probably going to be quick again [as it was the Derby], with Hal's Hope in there, so we might try and slow him down a little. We'll have to see how the track's playing in the earlier races Saturday. My horse has a pretty good turn afoot, an equal if not better [late] kick than the rest."

Orseno is hoping for a comfortable outside post, so Red Bullet can settle in without being pressured.

The Stronach interests have been plagued by bad Preakness luck. In 1997, Touch Gold buckled coming out of the gate and grabbed a quarter. He was checked at the half-mile pole, then roared through the stretch to finish fourth, beaten by less than two lengths by Silver Charm.

A year later, Black Cash was trapped along the rail , finally broke clear and finished fifth. Orseno was in Canada Sunday to watch Black Cash score in the Woodbine Stakes, then returned to Maryland.

Will Red Bullet be the breakthrough?

Orseno isn't convinced that Fusaichi Pegasus is invulnerable. "I'm pleased to have another shot at him, this time our way and not under the gun," he said.

"I was always taught you might duck a tough field, but you don't duck one horse. Anything can happen with one. Secretariat got beat. These are racehorses, not machines.

"I respect him, but I won't say he's unbeatable. We can't say he's an iron horse. Not yet. We have to try him. I have to get my horse into this race at his best. If we run our race, I believe we can win."

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