LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- In the weeklong buildup to the 126th Kentucky Derby, they called Fusaichi Pegasus every name in the book.
Rogue. Power Keg. Lightning Bolt. Petulant. Monster.
They saved the best name for last Saturday: Kentucky Derby champion.
Japanese entrepreneur Fusao Sekiguchi paid $4 million for the yearling two years ago at the Keeneland summer sale. Then, from his perch along Millionaire's Row, he watched his valuable investment explode at the top of Churchill Downs' stretch, drive by a fading Captain Steve and outclass a deep 19-horse field to win by 1' lengths over Aptitude.
Next stop: the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore in two weeks. The next questions Fusaichi Pegasus will have to endure are whether he's primed to become thoroughbred racing's 12th Triple Crown winner.
Named for the winged horse of the gods, Fusaichi Pegasus devoured a fast track in 2:01.1, tied for the sixth fastest Kentucky Derby in the race's 126 years. The morning line favorite at 9-5, the 153,204 in attendance Saturday sent Fusaichi Pegasus off as the 2.30-1 favorite.
The bay colt of Mr. Prospector out of Angel Fever became the first odds-on choice to win since Spectacular Bid did in 1979.
"He's a pretty boy, and this pretty boy can run," said jockey Kent Desormeaux, who hand rode Fusaichi Pegasus the final furlong to win his second Derby in three years. Desormeaux drove Real Quiet to victory in 1998.
Dogwood Stable's Impeachment improved 10 spots in the final two furlongs to finish third, the best finish for the Aiken-based syndicate since Summer Squall's second in 1990.
"There was no catching that Pegasus today," Dogwood president Cot Campbell said. "He looked wonderful; he looked perfect. This horse beat a deep field. I think he could be the one."
Said Impeachment jockey Craig Perret: "He's got no speed, so I just sat there and waited. I'm proud of him and the way he closed because not too many horses were closing ground today."
More Than Ready hung around the leaders all race for fourth. Field bet Wheelaway ended fifth, followed by China Visit, Curule, Captain Steve, War Chant and Deputy Warlock.
Trippi, Dogwood Stable's second horse, displayed excellent early speed but faded at the mile pole to finish 11th. Exchange Rate, Anees, second favorite The Deputy, High Yield, Hal's Hope, Commendable, Ronton and Graeme Hall closed the order.
Fusaichi Pegasus refused to load in his last start, a convincing win at the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. And when he bucked his exercise rider during the morning training and refused to move while grazing, several trainers questioned his temperament and feared he might disrupt the race's start.
Those fears chilled early Saturday as he walked from the paddock professionally, showed no fear about the enormous crowd's size or noises, and loaded into gate 15 without effort.
Then the trouble came.
"The deepest concern I had was this guy left the gate like a pony," Desormeaux said. "We settled into the rail without any hurry, but we were a little behind where we wanted to be."
He was behind 11 horses at the 3/4 -pole, in fact. But Desormeaux angled him seven wide, as Fusaichi Pegasus shifted into an extra gear with a mile remaining.
"He just reeled them in very, very easy," Desormeaux said.
Fusaichi Pegasus is winning trainer Neil Drysdale's first Derby entry in a career honored by the Thoroughbred Hall of Fame last Tuesday. The colt won for the fifth straight time in six career starts, bringing in $1,188,400.
"Three times Kent was riding him with one hand, meaning the horse was just very relaxed," Drysdale said. "The racing gods smiled on us, and the rail opened, and he moved up."
Aptitude tried to match Fusaichi Pegasus's late run, only to end up second best.
"The horse that won was a superhorse," Aptitude jockey Alex Solis said, who is now winless in 11 starts and second for the third time in four years (Captain Bodgit in '97, Victory Gallop in '98). "It'll be hard to stop him."
Reach Rick Dorsey at (706) 823-3219 .0]email@example.com.
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