Stuck in second gear, Pegasus stalls in bid to take flight

Favorite `just didn't have it, disappointed Desormeaux says

May 21, 2000|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Fusaichi Pegasus, the fleet-footed, broad-shouldered thoroughbred who was favored to win the 125th Preakness yesterday and perhaps go on to capture the Triple Crown next month, was found lacking on Pimlico Race Course's wet, sticky surface.

When it came time to go for the lead, jockey Kent Desormeaux asked his colt to step on it."But he just didn't have it today," Desormeaux said of the Kentucky Derby winner. "Red Bullet and I were right together all the way down the backside. We pushed the button at the same time, but Red Bullet had a bigger button. He just ran wild, and I couldn't match stride."

It took all of Fusaichi Pegasus' heart just to hold on for second, almost four lengths behind.

No one knew how this race would play out, because the weather factored in. The rainy cold front, which was supposed to move out overnight, continued to hang over the track. At post time, though conditions were described as good, Pimlico's surface, with its sand, silt and clay mix, looked like a challenge.

Still, Fusaichi Pegasus, saddled before the crowd on the grass course in front of the main grandstand, looked ready. His flanks muscled up in the cloudy, evening light, and he seemed to shake his head in purposeful anticipation on his way to the starting gate.

Though some said his horse was under-conditioned, trainer Neil Drysdale said Fusaichi Pegasus was well-prepared. And though the track gave the trainer pause - "anytime there is an off track, you have to be apprehensive" - he had no real reason for concern.

Even as the race began, Drysdale was calm."He got squeezed out of the gate, but he recovered well from that," Drysdale said. "He was coming along in good position."

But Fusaichi Pegasus couldn't find solid footing, and when the race was over and Drysdale was in the elevator on his way to a post-race interview, he asked, "What do they usually run here?"

Told 1:55 by track officials, the trainer nodded."A second off," he said on observing the race time of 1:56.04. "He was just slipping and sliding. You never know how a horse is going to react to a track's surface until you run. We found out he couldn't handle this wet, sticky track. That's the way I saw it. That's the way Kent saw it. I think on a fast track, it would have been different."

It had been a big moment for Drysdale. He trained A.P. Indy to a win in the Belmont Stakes in 1992. But he had never had one of his horses in position to go for a Triple Crown, and nearly everyone said this horse, Fusaichi Pegasus, who had lost only the first of six starts before yesterday, was a wonder horse.

But Drysdale was stoic as ever after his horse finished second. He said he had been training horses all his life and "this is not the first odds-on horse of mine that has lost." He said he might have put "stickers" (horseshoes with cleats) on Fusaichi Pegasus, "but they only seem to help a certain kind of horse on a certain kind of track and you don't know if that kind of track is there."

He said he felt no need to second-guess Desormeaux's ride or his own game plan, which was to keep his horse to the outside, give a little ground and stay out of trouble until ready to make his move."Red Bullet, I do think he's a good horse, and that's as much as I can comment," Drysdale said. "He ran fine. Fusaichi Pegasus takes very long strides and was impacted by the track surface. He was courageous to finish second. I'm disappointed for the horse, that he came up with a track he couldn't handle."

And to be a Triple Crown winner, a horse has to prove its ability on all surfaces on any track, doesn't it?

Drysdale, who closely guards his emotions, looked a little shocked.

And then he laughed.

What could he say? His horse was found lacking in the Preakness.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.