`Pegasus' shifts gears

Drysdale keeps Derby winner out of media spotlight

125th Preakness

May 18, 2000|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Although the sun shone out of a blue sky upon Pimlico, the greatly anticipated arrival yesterday of the Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus might as well have occurred in the middle of the night.

Despite elaborate planning by track officials for a public welcome, the horse's trainer Neil Drysdale orchestrated a last-minute maneuver that bypassed waiting cameras and allowed the Derby winner to walk off his van directly into his barn.

Hardly anyone could see the horse as he walked down the ramp into Barn 7 on the eastern side of Pimlico. Drysdale chose that barn instead of the stakes barn on the western side because, he said, "it'll be a lot quieter."

Fusaichi Pegasus is the first Kentucky Derby winner since Northern Dancer in 1964 to run in the Preakness and not reside in the stakes barn.

Situated behind Pimlico's grandstand, the stakes barn is the center of activity for horsemen, the media and tour groups during Preakness week, which culminates Saturday with the running of the 125th Preakness. But it is nothing compared to the chaos of Churchill Downs in the days leading to the Kentucky Derby.

Fusaichi Pegasus seemed to thrive in that atmosphere. A curious and playful colt, he watched people and grazed mornings in front of hordes of photographers. He also seemed to relish a large round pen outside his barn, where Drysdale allowed him to roll and buck like a mischievous child.

The section of Pimlico where Fusaichi Pegasus will be stabled the rest of the week has no grass and no rolling pen. Asked if barricades would be erected to keep back visitors and the media, Drysdale said: "Not that I know of."

But Drysdale, a 52-year-old Englishman recently elected to racing's Hall of Fame, could still order that. As he showed yesterday, he is in charge of his horse's movements and accommodations, not Pimlico officials who prefer the more congenial, open atmosphere that usually greets Derby winners.

On Tuesday, track workers paved the area where they had plotted Fusaichi Pegasus' arrival. They set up a temporary fence and parking area. The large contingent of reporters and camera crews, perhaps as many as 100, waited in designated spots that afforded views of the horse's arrival but also provided him safety and security.

As the large van carrying the Derby winner and other horses arrived yesterday at 2:03 p.m. - they had flown from Louisville to Baltimore - Drysdale took one look at the setup and balked. He instructed the van driver to bypass the greeting party and pull as close to Barn 7 as he could.

The van nearly brushed the side of the barn. Its front bumper tapped a TV camera. A ramp was lowered, and the horses filed out into the barn. Fusaichi Pegasus went first - or so said those few who could see.

Joe De Francis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club, stood by helplessly as his management's plan for Fusaichi Pegasus' arrival was ignored by Drysdale.

Asked about the abrupt change, De Francis said: "I don't know. You have to talk to Neil."

Drysdale was busy chasing back photographers trying to see the horse through the open barn windows.

"OK," Drysdale said, waving his arms. "I want everybody to move, please."

Then he met with reporters.

Drysdale said he did not want Fusaichi Pegasus walking off the van where Pimlico officials had designated because he didn't want the colt stepping onto asphalt. He said he also didn't want the horse following the designated path to Barn 7, which would have taken him alongside the racetrack.

Drysdale said he was pleased that his horse could walk off the van undisturbed and walk quietly under the shedrow. Nobody could see that either, though, because Barn 7 contains an outside wall blocking views inside."That speaks for itself," Drysdale said of the peaceful arrival.

"That speaks volumes. ... It's for the horse. He has to rest."

Drysdale said that Fusaichi Pegasus had traveled well. He said he would gallop each morning at Pimlico until the Preakness, although he declined to say at what time.

"He's in good shape," Drysdale said.

Two other Preakness horses accompanied Fusaichi Pegasus on the flight from Kentucky: Captain Steve and Snuck In. Bob Baffert, trainer of Captain Steve, also trained Silver Charm and Real Quiet when, in 1997 and 1998, respectively, they ran in the Preakness (and won) after winning the Kentucky Derby.

In each case Baffert stabled his horses in the stakes barn. He said he didn't even consider stabling anywhere else.

Asked what he thought of Drysdale's plan for Fusaichi Pegasus, Baffert said: "Neil's got his own agenda. I'm not going to get into that."

Race facts

What: Preakness Stakes; second leg of horse racing's Triple Crown

Where: Pimlico Race Course

When: Saturday

Post time: 5:27 p.m.

Gates open: 8:30 a.m.

Distance: 1 3/16 miles

Purse: $1million

TV: Chs. 2, 7 (coverage begins at 4:30 p.m.)

Kentucky Derby winner: Fusaichi Pegasus

Information: 410-542-9400

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