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Favorite finally triumphs at Kentucky Derby

Posted: Sunday, May 07, 2000

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Fusaichi Pegasus kicked up his heels before the Kentucky Derby in what looked like a victory dance.

Maybe he knew what was coming.

The playful colt, who sometimes gets too exuberant, acted like a perfect gentleman Saturday in doing what good horses like Easy Goer, Arazi and Holy Bull couldn't do-- win the Derby as the betting favorite.

The last horse to do that was Spectacular Bid in 1979.

Fusaichi Pegasus came on strong in the stretch, taking the lead approaching the eighth pole and finishing 1 1-2 lengths ahead of Aptitude.

And he did it while on his best behavior.

This is the colt who caused a brief delay at the starting gate at the Wood Memorial, who reared and threw his exercise rider and who has been known to stop and just look around.

But he was all business on this 82-degree day and before 153,204 cheering fans - the second largest Derby crowd in history.

So gentlemanly was the colt, purchased for $4 million as a yearling, that jockey Kent Desormeaux said he broke like a pony.

''He had some challenging moments,'' Desormeaux said. ''But when I needed him to move forward, I had a ton of horse. When I encouraged him to improve his stride, he took off like a rocket and this race was over.''

Fusaichi Pegasus was the highest priced winner by far in the Derby and his victory came a year after the race was won by Charismatic, who once ran with a $62,500 claiming tag. The previous high price for a winner was Winning Colors in 1998. The filly went for $500,000.

''You never know where a Derby winner is coming from,'' trainer Neil Drysdale said before the race. ''Some cost $15,000, some cost $15 million.''

For instance, Seattle Slew, the 1977 Triple Crown winner was bought for $17,500 while Real Quiet, who carried Desormeaux to victory in 1998, was a $17,000 yearling.

Fusaichi Pegasus, on the rail until he hit the stretch, was back in the pack down the backstretch. He started moving on the turn and made his winning move around five horses in the stretch. He then took the lead from Wheelaway shortly after that colt moved in and bumped Captain Steve.

''I was a little worried,'' Drysdale said, referring to the wall of horses in front of his colt at the top of the lane. ''But then the racing gods smiled on us and things opened up.''

He was pleased with how his horse won the race.

''I noticed watching the race three times that Kent was riding him with one hand,'' the trainer said. ''He was very relaxed. He does seem to be improving.''

Drysdale was asked if Fusaichi Pegasus would go to the Preakness, the second race in the Triple Crown, in search of a sixth straight victory. The cautious trainer said: ''You know how I am. We'll have to see how he comes out of this race.''

Wherever the colt races, it likely will be in the United States.

''Fusaichi Pegasus is a treasure of the United States and I hope to keep him in the United States,'' owner Fasao Sekiguchi of Japan said through an interpreter.

''I am just in awe,'' he said of the victory, adding that he would have bid $5 million for the colt.

Sekiguchi came up with the horse's first name by combining his own first name with ''ichi,'' which in Japanese means No. 1. Pegasus was the name of the winged horse of mythology. The first name is pronounced Foo-sah-EE-chee.

The time of 2:01 was tied for the sixth fastest in the 126 Derbies.

The winner earned $888,400 and paid $6.60, $5.60 and $4 after finishing a length-and-a-half in front of Aptitude, who paid $9.80 and $5.80. Impeachment, who was four lengths behind Aptitude and a half-length in front of More Than Ready, paid $4 as part of a four-horse entry due to common ownership.

''I couldn't have asked for a better trip,'' said Alex Solis, who rode Aptitude for the first time. ''Unfortunately, the horse that won was just fantastic.''

The Deputy, the second favorite, trained by Jenine Sahadi, finished 14th.

''I'm very disappointed, not for myself,'' said Sahadi, trying to become the first female trainer to win the Derby. ''I feel bad for the horse. We'll pack up, go home and regroup again.''

Almost as jubilant as the winning connections was Marlon St. Julien, who finished seventh on Curule, owned by the Godolphin Racing Stable of Sheik Mohammed Mahkthom and Hamdan al-Makhtoum of Dubai.

''I thought I had something to prove,'' said the 28-year-old St. Julien, the first black jockey to ride in the Derby since 1921. The last black rider to win was Jimmy Winkfield in 1902.

''I beat several of the favorites,'' St. Julien said. ''What else could you want? When they played 'My Old Kentucky Home' my hair stood up on my chest. I can't explain the feeling. I'm on some kind of high.''

Completing the order of finish was Wheelaway, China Visit, Curule, Captain Steve, War Chant, Deputy Warlock, Trippi, Exchange Rate, Anees, The Deputy, High Yield, Hal's Hope, Commendable, Ronton and Graeme Hall.

It was a disappointing day also for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, seeking his second straight Derby victory and fourth in the last six year. Lukas saddled three horses then watched Exchange Rate finish fourth, High Yield 15th and Commendable 17th.

Another Derby jinx was extended when Anees, the 2-year-old champion and Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner finished 13th. Spectacular Bid was the last 2-year-old champion, and no winner of the BC Juvenile, which was first run in 1984, has ever won the Derby.

After being bumped, Captain Steve finished eighth. He is trained by Bob Baffert, who won the Derby in 1997 with Silver Charm and a year later with Real Quiet.

Fusaichi Pegasus became the first Derby winner to have raced only once as a 2-year-old. The others were Leonatus (1883), Tim Tam (1958) and Lucky Debonair (1965). Those three horses ran long before there were bonuses in thoroughbred racing.

Speaking of bonuses, Fusaichi Pegasus earned an extra $250,000 paid to any colt who wins the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and the Derby.

He was the first Wood Memorial-Derby winner since Pleasant Colony in 1981.

The crowd moved into second place ahead of the 151,051 who watched Charismatic win last year. The record Derby crowd of 163,264 attended the centennial running in 1974.



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