An apt choice for Belmont favorite: Aptitude

3-year-old has fallen only to Red Bullet, `Pegasus' on dirt

How the expert sees it

June 10, 2000|By Steve Davidowitz | Steve Davidowitz,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Before making a few $2 wagers in today's Belmont Stakes, here's my two cents about what happened in the Preakness.

Fusaichi Pegasus certainly did not run his best race. He never reached top gear while appearing to spin his wheels on the wet Pimlico racing surface. This was quite unlike the smooth-moving "Fusaichi," who handily defeated Red Bullet over a slippery Aqueduct racing surface in the Wood Memorial on April 15. Nor did "Fusaichi" resemble the powerful horse who convincingly won the Kentucky Derby.

When a horse of such quality does not run anything near his best, usually a physical reason is involved, not pure circumstances. Indeed, a wet track, or a difficult trip or a little bumping and shoving rarely derails the top-notch horse from putting out his best unless he is physically below par. To underscore this point, trainer Neil Drysdale finally admitted last week that Fusaichi Pegasus "lost quite a bit of weight in the Preakness and was more tired than I thought he was the first day after the race."

This suggests that "Fusaichi" paid a bigger price than anyone expected when he put together a series of fine performances that culminated in his eye-catching Derby victory.

Red Bullet certainly is a good horse who was shrewdly prepped for his ambush at Pimlico. But owner Frank Stronach's faint-hearted decision to bypass the Belmont (before "Fusaichi" was withdrawn due to a minor leg injury) hardly was an endorsement of his colt's chances to hold a lasting advantage.

Likewise, Red Bullet's talented trainer, Joe Orseno, looked strange chastising Drysdale for "making excuses," after Drysdale blamed the wet track for the Derby winner's subpar Preakness. Didn't we all hear Orseno blame Red Bullet's defeat in the Wood Memorial on jockey Alex Solis' "poorly judged ride?"

As for Belmont Stakes' handicapping, the two fine horses who finished in front of stretch-running Aptitude in the Wood - Fusaichi Pegasus and Red Bullet - are not in today's 1 1/2 -mile event. This leaves a strong recommendation for Aptitude to take the finale to a Triple Crown that started out with so much promise and fizzled so suddenly. Aptitude may lack a victory in stakes company, but he did close strongly in the Derby, and the only horses to have defeated him on dirt tracks are Fusaichi Pegasus and Red Bullet.

Moreover, it's in the genes. Aptitude is a long-striding son of 1992 Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy out of Dokki, a half sister to Coastal, winner of the 1979 Belmont over Spectacular Bid.

I'm betting Aptitude will win the 2000 Belmont from mid-pack. Exactas with Aptitude over Wheelaway, who has trained smartly since flashing a good move in the Kentucky Derby, and with the extreme long shot Appearing Now, who beat Postponed in the Wood and ran well against a hard-hitting older rival in his latest over the track. My trifectas will include Unshaded and Postponed, one-two finishers in the recent Peter Pan stakes, plus Arabian-based long shot Curule, who trained forwardly since a modest seventh-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Superfectas will include late running Impeachment, third in the Derby and Preakness, as well as pace-pressing Globalize, the top money earner in the field.

Still, in my judgment, a healthy Fusaichi Pegasus eventually will have these horses for breakfast, and that includes Red Bullet.

Steve Davidowitz is a freelance writer and handicapper.

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