ELMONT, N.Y. - The rubber match between Fusaichi Pegasus, winner of the Kentucky Derby, and Red Bullet, winner of the Preakness, was scratched yesterday when the owner of Red Bullet withdrew his colt from consideration for the Belmont Stakes.
The horse's owner, Frank Stronach, decided that the Belmont would be too punishing for Red Bullet three weeks after he outran Fusaichi Pegasus in the Preakness. They will almost certainly meet later, but it will not be in New York on June 10.
"We don't want to squeeze the lemon dry," said Joe Orseno, who trains Red Bullet. "We already won the Preakness with a horse that didn't race as a 2-year-old, and we think it's best to give him more time between his races right now. We want to race him as a 4-year-old and, if you run a mile-and-a-half race that knocks you out for three months, it's pointless."
Red Bullet will be prepared instead for the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in New Jersey on Aug. 6 and the $1 million Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 26.
The horse has raced only five times, with four first-place finishes and one second. He did not race at 2 because Orseno considered him to be too clumsy and too slow at grasping the strictures of racing.
This year, he ran second to Fusaichi Pegasus in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in April. He skipped the Derby in May and came back to win the Preakness as a fresh horse just when people were acclaiming Fusaichi Pegasus as a superstar.
"We talked it over," Orseno said, "and I give Mr. Stronach a lot of credit. Skipping the Derby was hard, and the Belmont is a million-dollar race. Our goal is to win the 3-year-old championship with him, and we fully understand that if Fusaichi Pegasus wins the Belmont Stakes we'll be behind him in the running for the Eclipse Award.
"It comes down to knowing your horse. Neil Drysdale knows his horse, and he sometimes gets a little flak for the things he does. But we know our horse, too, and this is the right thing to do."
Drysdale, the English trainer who shields Fusaichi Pegasus from public clamor and sometimes public view, has not committed his horse to the Belmont.
He flew to New York from California during the weekend and seemed satisfied with his colt, who is being stabled at Aqueduct. But he insisted "it's still too early to say." But most racing people consider Fusaichi Pegasus a certain starter in the Belmont.
The Belmont Stakes, the premier race of the year in New York, has now lost two of its main elements of drama. For the last three years, record crowds of 70,000 and more flocked to Belmont Park in the hope of seeing a sweep of the Triple Crown. But Silver Charm, Real Quiet and Charismatic all lost their crowns when they were upset in the final yards.
This year it seemed that Fusaichi Pegasus would sweep the Triple Crown, especially after he raced to a powerful victory in the Kentucky Derby. But when he lost the Preakness to Red Bullet, his chances of sweeping the Triple Crown vanished.
So, the Belmont did the next best thing, pumping up a duel between two great rivals. But now, even that intriguing prospect has vanished.
If Fusaichi Pegasus runs in the Belmont, he probably would go back to California. One scenario could have him and Red Bullet meet in the Woodward or Jockey Club Gold Cup in September or October at Belmont Park.
Another is that they wouldn't meet again until the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs..
The last time a Preakness winner didn't start in the Belmont Stakes was in 1995 when Timber Country was scratched the day before the race because of injury.