Red Bullet punctures `Fu-Peg' Triple Crown bid

Fusaichi Pegasus is upset before crowd of 98,000 at Pimlico

Drizzle doesn't spoil party

May 21, 2000|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

A horse named Red Bullet shot out of the pack in the stretch to win the 125th Preakness Stakes yesterday, ending the Triple Crown hopes of Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus.

The upset didn't dampen festivities at a spruced-up Pimlico Race Course, as an estimated 98,304 people - only slightly smaller than last year's record crowd of more than 100,000 - braved drizzle and a temperature in the 60s to attend Maryland's premier racing event

"It's like a big tailgate party," said Sid Schenning of Bel Air, as he waited to bet on his first Preakness from the indoor comfort of the Grandstand.

It was no party for the disappointed trainer and jockey of Fusaichi Pegasus, which had been the odds-on favorite to cruise to the front of an eight-horse field in the 1 3/16-mile race. Instead, the quirky 3-year-old failed to take command and finished three lengths behind Red Bullet for the $1 million purse.

The colt, owned by industrialist and race track magnate Frank Stronach, had suffered his only defeat to Pegasus in the Wood Memorial and skipped the Derby. When he took revenge yesterday, Red Bullet became the first horse since Deputed Testamony in 1983 to win the Preakness without competing in the Kentucky classic.

Impeachment, owned by Dogwood Stable, finished third, repeating his position in the Derby.

Immediately after the race, noted sports artist Leroy Nieman painted the winning horse's black and red colors on the weather vane atop the Cupola.

With a Japanese-owned horse vying for the Triple Crown, the race had more of an international flavor than in years past - particularly in the press corps. There were 14 Japanese writers and photographers on hand to relay the news overseas - even if it was not what they had hoped for.

The weather didn't chill bettors' enthusiasm, as $45 million in wagers was placed on the 12 races at Pimlico yesterday, including $9.2 million from Maryland. Track officials said the handle was about the same as last year's.

The day-long extravaganza went off mostly without a hitch - a welcome respite for race organizers from the disruptions that have marred the previous two events.

The infield crowd - said to be more than 65,000 - was well-behaved by Preakness standards, with police reporting one arrest for disorderly conduct amid the inebriated revelers. There was no repeat of last year's incident, when a 22-year-old fan ran onto the track during a race and forced Pimlico to refund about $1.4 million in bets.

Nor were there any major mechanical failures akin to the power outage two years ago that plunged the Preakness into steamy darkness and frustration, prompting political pressure for an overhaul of the 130-year-old track."Pardon Our Dust" signs, a fresh coat of paint and bright yellow bunting greeted racegoers, the most obvious signs of a fervid eight-week preparation for yesterday's nationally televised event.

Fans welcomed the upgrades made at Old Hilltop, though some were forced to sacrifice choice seats in the Grandstand to make way for new fire exits mandated by city officials. "I hate to lose my good seats, but they've fixed the place up. It looks a lot nicer," said Fred Quattro of Cheverly, a 55-year-old mortgage broker.

More than 100 construction workers had labored into the night for the past several weeks to erect 11 new metal stairways and make other upgrades needed to fix fire and building code violations in the 60-year-old corrugated steel and glass Grandstand and clubhouse.

`It had to be done'

The new stairways, built for more than $1 million, also cost the track more than 600 seats, which had sold for $50 to $75 apiece. "But it had to be done," acknowledged Martin P. Azola, vice president in charge of facilities. The added exits are the first installment in an $18 million overhaul planned for the next five years.

Track crews slathered an estimated 500 gallons of fresh paint on the aging structures, raised special Preakness signs and reported for work at 3:30 a.m. yesterday to ensure a smooth race day.

The usual infield revelry was dampened only slightly by the weather, as beer-guzzling young men and women threw flying discs and footballs and grooved to loud music. Ian Konecke, 30, of New York, called it "the Mardi Gras of Baltimore."

A security force of more than 1,500 kept the partying within limits, ejecting more than 100 rowdies, mostly for fighting.

"The weather [stinks], but this is still fun," said John Milisitz, 26, who lives in Federal Hill. "It was better last year, but there's not less people this year. It can't get much more crowded than this."

Preakness bonnets, palm reading and Dixieland jazz were the order of the day next door, in the corporate tent village.

Building relationships

Gov. Parris N. Glendening played host to an estimated 2,000 guests in a sprawling Maryland tent, including 200 or so clients and potential customers of the Maryland Port Administration.

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