Worth the wait, well-placed `Bullet' is right on target

Decision to miss Derby, Bailey's ride are keys to victory in rematch

Analysis

May 21, 2000|By KENT BAKER | KENT BAKER,SUN STAFF

The "Bullet" fired and shot down the latest candidate for the label "superhorse."

For five weeks, Red Bullet was pointed toward the rematch with Fusaichi Pegasus, who had beaten him by 4 1/4 lengths in the Wood Memorial on April 15 at Aqueduct.

Red Bullet's ownership reluctantly passed on the temptation to compete in the Kentucky Derby, thereby avoiding all the shipping, the commotion and the cavalry charge in the race itself that can drain a horse with the Preakness only two weeks away.

The colt had already been sapped by the Wood, losing 16 pounds and indicating that running him in the tough assignment of the Derby was probably not a good idea.

He was brought to Pimlico 10 days before the race with Golden Missile -- who won the Pimlico Special the previous Saturday -- and acclimated well to the surroundings, worked well over the track and generally appeared content. He regained the weight and added more, undergoing a growth spurt.

But the most important factor in his ability to knock Fusaichi Pegasus off the perch was probably the jockey change from Alex Solis to Jerry Bailey. Bailey is generally considered the best in the business, and Solis was committed to Aptitude for the Belmont Stakes, so Red Bullet's connections wanted to maintain continuity should they decide to compete in the third jewel.

Bailey had been aboard Red Bullet in his second victory, at Gulfstream Park, so he was familiar with the horse. He was the perfect rider for the strategy that was to unfold.

"My intention at some point was to try and get the jump on him [Fusaichi Pegasus]," Bailey said. "After a half mile, I got in front of him and he took back, so I assumed he was going around. Red Bullet then just exploded around the turn and kept the other horse behind him."

It was the perfect trip for the situation, and trainer Joe Orseno had specifically schooled Red Bullet to rate after a Wood in which he and Solis became engaged in a speed duel and had nothing left for Fusaichi's late charge.

Orseno schooled him with only one sprint workout and several long gallops before the race.

"When we came to the track this morning, I was very confident that we had our horse right where we wanted him," the trainer said.

All those preparations played out in the race. Fusaichi Pegasus was squeezed back at the start between Captain Steve and Hal's Hope but was not overly affected and was in stride quickly. The incident obviously didn't cost him the race.

As expected, Hugh Hefner (from the rail), High Yield (in the middle) and Hal's Hope (on the extreme outside) vied to set the pace on a track rated good. Most jockeys said the going was a bit sticky, and Fusaichi Pegasus' trainer, Neil Drysdale, said the Derby winner did not handle the surface.

While Hugh Hefner and High Yield set honest fractions for six furlongs, Bailey kept a watchful eye on Fusaichi Pegasus, waiting for his move. On the final turn, Bailey beat Kent Desormeaux and the favorite to the punch, grabbed the lead and then pulled away.

The late-running Impeachment was in true form, dropping back to last before mounting his typical late charge and nearly passing Fusaichi Pegasus. He was beaten only a head for second.

Speed certainly did not prevail on a track that was at least honest and seemed to favor horses running at least two spots away from the rail all day. Hugh Hefner, High Yield and Hal's Hope were the last three finishers.

Neither Captain Steve nor Snuck In really got involved in the race and wound up in midpack.

Before the race, several analysts played down Red Bullet's chances, pointing to his light racing record. He never ran as a 2-year-old, and this was only his fifth lifetime start. They wondered about the distance and his sharpness after the layoff. They cited his convincing defeat by Fusaichi Pegasus.

None of that mattered. He was trained adroitly and ridden perfectly, and the plan was executed as drawn. Red Bullet proved yesterday that he is for real.

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