2000: Fusaichi Pegasus

Sunday, May 7, 2000
WINGED VICTORY
DESORMEAUX RIDES TO 2ND DERBY WIN IN 3 YEARS
FAVORITE FUSAICHI PEGASUS FLIES PAST FIELD IN STRETCH
By Billy Reed, Herald-Leader Columnist and Maryjean Wall, Herald-Leader Racing Writer
“This pretty boy can run.”
Jockey Kent Desormeaux couldn’t wait to proclaim this to the world after Fusaichi Pegasus took the 126th Kentucky Derby on a flight that soared as high as his owner’s imagination.
The $4 million colt had delivered the goods. He was the real deal, trouncing 18 other 3-year-olds to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Aptitude, followed by Impeachment.
Fusaichi Pegasus paid $6.60 as the favorite in the seventh-fastest time in the history of the race — 2:01.12 — before the second biggest Derby crowd in history, 153,204.
Only Secretariat, Northern Dancer, Spend a Buck, Decidedly, Proud Clarion and Grindstone have run the storied race faster. Now, his owner, Fusao Sekiguchi, does not seem one bit extravagant for having paid top dollar for him at Keeneland two years ago.
Sekiguchi might have seemed somewhat quirky at Keeneland at that auction, saying he was inspired by this colt; that he wanted no other in the sale. He’d told how he believes that racing brings “romance to the man, dreams to the man.” He’d said he would have paid $5 million for this colt if he’d had to.
Now, as the Derby winner and thus the only colt eligible this year to try for the Triple Crown, Fusaichi Pegasus is looking like a bargain.
Sekiguchi won a winner’s purse of $1,038,400 in the Kentucky Derby worth a record $1,338,400. He also got the major part of a $250,000 bonus for winning both the Derby and the Wood Memorial in New York three weeks ago. He has earned more than $1.9 million in a short career that holds all the romance of great promise and has seen him lose but once, in his first start.
And there was more at stake when he glided past the finish pole at Churchill Downs, alone and unchallenged.
He’d broken the jinx of the Derby favorite, as the first betting choice to win the race since Spectacular Bid in 1979. His was the smallest win payoff since Spectacular Bid’s $3.20.
He is now the most expensive Derby winner ever sold at auction, outstripping Winning Colors, who had that distinction at $575,000. He is the most expensive Derby participant; the previous highest, Houston, $2.9 million, ran eighth in 1989.
What more could Desormeaux say, after the colt’s amazing trip around the track?
Well, plenty more.
“This guy, he’s a beast,” said Desormeaux, who won the Kentucky Derby once before, on Real Quiet in 1998.
“He’s just so powerful,” the jockey said, “yet he maintains his grace.”
Desormeaux thought about the prowess of Fusaichi Pegasus: a colt who is strong and sturdy, wide like a heavyweight and big for a colt his age at 1,100 pounds. He “fills the eye,” as horsemen like to say. He leaves room for no other in the eyes of his admirers.
“You would think he would lumber around the track,” Desormeaux marveled, saying, “Boom, boom, boom, like an elephant.”
But he does not. “He maintains his elegance,” Desormeaux said, an observation that escaped no one.
The comparisons will come easier now with the horse of Greek mythology for whom this son of Mr. Prospector is named. His name is pronounced foo-saw-EE-chee. He is “Fusa,” in a shortened version of his owner’s first name, “ichi,” to indicate premier or No. 1, and Pegasus, for the horse of gods who flew on wings.
It almost seemed the gods had deemed the outcome of this Derby for his trainer, too. Neil Drysdale had only Tuesday been announced as the latest trainer inductee to thoroughbred racing’s Hall of Fame. This same good fortune had fallen last year to trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who was announced a Hall of Fame inductee on Tuesday, then became a Kentucky Derby winner with Charismatic on Saturday.
The story of the winning race for Fusaichi Pegasus actually began long before the Derby, with Drysdale’s patient handling. The colt is renowned for his eccentric behavior. The Derby crowd watched him every step yesterday before the race and after, looking for another erratic outburst.
Fusaichi Pegasus gave them none of this. He was a horse on a mission, a mission that unfolded in a flawless performance executed to perfection all the way around the track.
The winning move came when he turned for home, as Desormeaux took him off the rail to the outside where he unleashed his powerful run to the finish.
The setup for the winning move came right from the start, where he had the No. 15 stall, the first in the auxiliary starting gate. That came through luck, after Globalize scratched and all the horses moved in by one stall.
Fusaichi Pegasus’ starting spot went from No. 16 to 15. Drysdale said he thought the extra bit of space created in the area between adjoining gates gave him some helpful room. He thought the horse to his outside, Exchange Rate, might have come over on him slightly at the start.
“He was able to utilize the space on his left,” Drysdale said.
He said the only instructions he’d given Desormeaux were not to cut across the track too fast. Desormeaux said later that he’d had a marvelous trip. But he was much farther back — 15th in the first quarter-mile — than Fusaichi Pegasus had ever raced.
“The deepest concern I had was this guy left the gate like a pony,” Desormeaux said. “I might have got myself far back.”
Hal’s Hope, as expected, had gone out front to make the pace. The undefeated Trippi was pressing him, only a head off the lead, with More Than Ready stalking them.
The Deputy, who was second betting choice, was farther back in ninth place in the shuffle to the first turn. He raced just behind High Yield, who was eighth and who was running just behind Captain Steve.
Fusaichi Pegasus was racing comfortably despite his laggard start. Desormeaux said he would have been worried “if I had been pushing.
“But I wasn’t pushing on him. … He was so comfortable. I wasn’t out of touch. I just tried to bide my time and not worry.”
Desormeaux took Fusaichi Pegasus to the rail and kept him there. In the run down the backstretch he moved up the rail while Hal’s Hope continued to lead. The real battle was getting closer in his sights, though Drysdale said he’d momentarily lost sight of him on the big-screen television where he watched the race. Desormeaux took the risk that the path might close in front of him along the rail, but he also knew this was the quickest way to make up the lost ground.
“Every time I moved (closer) the horse to the front of me peeled out,” Desormeaux said. He kept gaining, gaining, until Desormeaux found the opening to move him to the outside turning for home.
“We had some challenging moments at the three-eighths pole,” the jockey said, “when I had a wall of horses in front of me. The thing is, though, when I needed him to move forward, I had tons of horse.”
In the last quarter-mile he passed five more horses: Wheelaway, More Than Ready, Hal’s Hope, Trippi and Captain Steve.
Aptitude was also coming to the finish fast, after moving with Fusaichi Pegasus around the track. He came up the stretch outside of the winner; on the rail Impeachment was gaining ground to finish third.
There was some trouble in the stretch, although Fusaichi Pegasus escaped it. Wheelaway came over on Captain Steve. The latter came out of the race with some skin torn from his heels behind, according to his assistant trainer, April Mayberry.
And while Fusaichi Pegasus overcame all from far back, the trainer of the lead horse, Hal’s Hope, lamented the quick pace that had made the race so fast.
“You just can’t go that fast,” said Harold Rose, after Hal’s Hope faded to 16th.
You can’t go that fast, unless you are Fusaichi Pegasus, the horse who flies on wings.

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