Originally created 05/07/00

Winner's name a mouthful

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Paul Patton, the governor of Kentucky, had the million-dollar moment within the winner's circle Saturday and butchered it.

"Fu-chi-chi Pegasus," was Patton's less-than-commanding effort.

Jim McKay, the venerable ABC voice of the Kentucky Derby, repeated it on his tippy toes, sounding out each syllable with a cautious tone, as if he did not want to upset the Japanese billionaire and his rather large contingent with improper diction.

OK, people, here we go: Fu-SIGH-e-chee Pegasus, your overwhelming Kentucky Derby champion.

Read it, study it, learn it.

Because the next five weeks, as this super horse travels from Kentucky to Baltimore to New York in a Triple Crown campaign run, the name should be on the lips and betting slips of an entire industry.

Fusaichi Pegasus, Fu-Peg for short for those who get tongue fatigue quickly, comes at a time when horsemen have desperately sought a savior. With television ratings sagging and attendance at tracks throughout America dipping, (the 153,204 at Churchill Downs not withstanding), along comes this extraordinary 3-year-old bay colt who is bred for brilliance, trained for triumphs, raced for the records.

You could hear the sport's most loyal followers high atop Churchill Downs, those who pray to the Twin Spires between post parades, calling out Fusaichi's name as if he were the final preserver to be tossed toward the drowning.

Those who understand this game more than I do believe deeply in Fusaichi, the prevailing thought being that if he could survive Saturday, the polishers of the Triple Crown might actually need to be awakened from hibernation.

It's been 22 years, when Affirmed withstood Alydar for three races in 1978, since we have seen a king worthy of the throne. Oh, many have tried to join the 11-horse club. From Aiken-trained Pleasant Colony in 1981 to Summer Squall son Charismatic a year ago, there have been 44 near-misses for Triple Crown induction.

What's hurt this sport more than anything is parity. We love our dominant, front-running favorites, the horse that can win with ease while lugging a rather heavy bandwagon behind it.

The owner, eccentric Fusao Sekiguchi, believes it's Fusaichi Pegasus's fate to win -- "not only the Derby, but to win is what he is destined to do."

Interesting note for the omen watchers: Pegasus's time at 2:01.12 would have won 13 of the previous 14 Derbies. Only five colts have traveled the 1 1/4 -mile quicker, and two of those -- Secretariat and Northern Dancer -- are Crown Club inductees.

To win the Kentucky Derby is nothing but a survival. Nineteen horses started Saturday, about 12 with legitimate claims to wearing a bed of roses at race end. A race so deep can cause immense traffic trouble, frustrating better horses with boxouts only Charles Oakley would approve of.

There's the enormous crowd, with the pungent smell of whiskey and wallets wafting amid the four-figure hats and sunburned backs. How a thoroughbred reacts to all that pre-race schmaltz beats some before the bugler sounds.

There's the less-than-advantageous auxiliary gate from where he started, making his trip all the longer. There's that favorite jinx, as the bettors sent the god's horse out at nothing more than a 2-1 choice.

So for Fusaichi Pegasus to blot out the chaos, relax after a poor start, steer clear of the dreamers and Dick Trickles along the final turn, then charge like the light brigade toward the finish line with apparent ease can convert the deepest of skeptics.

For sure this will be the toughest field he'll have to defeat. The injured casualties skipping the Derby were not considered that daunting a threat to overcome. The Preakness, a shorter distance, disabled Aptitude and Impeachment, Saturday's closers. The Belmont may be the challenge, but as Fusaichi Pegasus showed throughout the day, he's maturing with every start.

Better get another order for those pronunciation guides. Better wake up those Crown polishers.


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