- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2000

LOUISVILLE, Ky. Fusaichi Pegasus wasn't even out of the Kentucky Derby winner's circle when the big question arose: Can he win the Triple Crown?

Trainer Neil Drysdale guffawed at such speculation. Yesterday, Drysdale wouldn't even commit to entering Fusaichi Pegasus in the 125th Preakness Stakes on May 20 at Pimlico Race Course, so considering his chances of a Triple Crown sweep at the Belmont seemed silly.

But Fusaichi Pegasus created a strong buzz in racing on Saturday with his remarkable performance. The horse ended a 20-year losing streak by Derby favorites and posted the seventh fastest time ever despite entering the first turn in 15th place. If Drysdale wasn't willing to talk about his horse's chances of ending the 22-year Triple Crown drought, then others would.

"Oh, wow. He looked like a serious Triple Crown contender," said trainer Bob Baffert, who twice had horses win the first two jewels of the Triple Crown only to have his hopes dashed at the Belmont.

Said Jenine Shahadi, trainer of The Deputy: "I think [fans] are as close as you're going to get to seeing one."

Added Fusaichi Pegasus jockey Kent Desormeaux: "He's able to set the pick, spin and move like Shaquille O'Neal and still weigh 1,200 pounds… . With luck and health, he's a horse that's capable of it."

The past three Derby winners went on to win the Preakness, but none captured the Belmont or was embraced as a super horse. Charismatic (1999) was a former claimer who simply made two big moves in an otherwise weak career. Real Quiet (1998) was considered the best of a weak generation and unworthy to become racing's 12th Triple Crown champion. Silver Charm (1997) later proved to be a standout older horse but entered the Triple Crown practically unknown.

Fusaichi Pegasus' victory turned the one-time rogue of the track into racing's latest royalty. Only a loss by a neck in the final strides of his 2-year-old debut prevented Fusaichi Pegasus from entering the Derby undefeated. Despite that, the temperamental colt, whose prerace antics enhance his rough reputation, has become the newest star of a sport that lacks even an older dominant horse.

Indeed, "Superman" already is scaring the contenders off the track. A Pimlico news release listed 17 possible Preakness entrants, but only a handful of Derby runners may come. No non-Derby starter has won the Preakness since Deputed Testamony in 1983, so the seven potential newcomers can be dismissed.

Impeachment (third in the Derby), More Than Ready (fourth), Wheelaway (fifth), Exchange Rate (12th) and High Yield (15th) may come to the Preakness. There also are Triple Crown newcomers Red Bullet, Snuck In, Tim's Crossing, Bear Outlet, True Confidence, Sun Cat and Performing Magic.

The Derby field of 19 is scattering. Runner-up Aptitude will skip the Preakness and run in the Belmont. Strodes Creek (1994) is the only Derby runner-up to skip the Preakness since 1987, but Aptitude's chances may be better in the Belmont. The 1 and 1/2-mile race better suits the late-runner than the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, where Fusaichi Pegasus' speed and Desormeaux's knowledge of a track he dominated for five years will make Fusaichi Pegasus a heavy favorite to become the fourth straight Derby-Preakness winner. Pimlico oddsmaker Clem Florio said Fusiachi Pegasus may be the 4-5 morning-line favorite.

Captain Steve (eighth) suffered a hoof injury in the Derby stretch after briefly leading at "Heartbreak Lane." Trainers often are reluctant to enter horses in the classics after a setback.

"I won't run against Fusaichi Pegasus unless I think I have a chance to beat him," Baffert said.

The Derby's second choice, The Deputy, will return to California for grass racing. Sahadi was disheartened after her colt finished 14th.

"[Jockey] Chris McCarron said The Deputy never felt comfortable and wasn't into it," she said.

Hal's Hope (16th) also is doubtful. He cut his left foreleg leaving the starting gate. The colt set the third-fastest Derby pace (1:09 4/5) over the opening three-quarter mile before faltering because of the pain. He would have been formidable on Pimlico's tight turns.

"At a shorter distance, he might be able to go all the way," said trainer Harold Rose, who only begrudgingly said the Preakness was possible.

China Visit (sixth) will return to England, while stablemate Curule (seventh) will enter the Belmont. Drysdale was uncommitted on War Chant (ninth), but few trainers would try to beat themselves with an entrymate. Deputy Warlock (10th) is out. Trainer Todd Pletcher said Graeme Hall (19th) wouldn't enter after suffering a throat injury in the Derby but was uncommitted on Trippi (11th). Anees (13th), Commendable (17th) and Ronton (18th) aren't expected.

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