Frozen Moment: Pegasus takes flight
By Marc Connolly
ABC Sports Online
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- There had to be a stun gun involved. Surely one horse couldn't make three or four of the most finely-tuned specimens on the Earth look so slow down the stretch of the most prestigious horse racing event in the world. That's just not the way it usually happens.
Frozen solid on the Churchill Downs track or not, the mighty Fusaichi Pegasus made his opponents look like imposters while striding furiously down the frontstretch to win the 126th running of the Kentucky Derby on a glorious Saturday afternoon.
"This pretty boy can run," said jockey Kent Desormeaux, who stood in the winner's circle before with Real Quiet in 1998. "I've been around a long time and he's the best horse I've been with at this stage of the game."
On his 10th mount at the Derby, Desormeaux deserves some credit as well, because the race wasn't exactly a foregone conclusion. In fact, Fusaichi Pegasus didn't show what he's fully made of until the final turn after stalking the field from the inside rail for the majority of the race.
As the horses approached the final turn, Desormeaux experienced an instant of concern due to the traffic in front of the freakish bay colt. Ironically, trainer Neil Drysdale's other entry, War Chant, was to his inside keeping him locked in.
Seconds later, something magical would happen. Something that, to a jockey, can only be compared to something like the moment when the rain gives way to sunshine for a Little Leaguer or when a stockbroker's longshot IPO gains sudden momentum during a Bear market.
The pack of colts subsided, leaving a clear path for the 2-1 shot to make his move to glory to become the first favorite to win since Spectacular Bid in 1979.
"The racing Gods smiled on us," said Drysdale. "He's a very talented horse. He's got natural speed."
That's an understatement. There's speed, and then there's explosion. That's exactly what Fusaichi Pegasus did when he bounced to the outside of Wheelaway at the beginning of the stretch run.
"I got him in the clear and I kissed at him and asked him to run and he accelerated," said Desormeaux, explaining what signal the horse received when daylight opened.
Kissed, huh? Well, his Triple Crown hopeful acted as though he was a 16-year-old boy who'd been kissed by Ashley Judd.
"He just took off like a rocket and the race was over," said Desormeaux, who only hand-patted his colt on the top of the neck to urge him to a 2:01.12 finish -- tied for sixth best in history. "I had tons of horse. Neil had him trained right to the minute today."
A hard-changing Aptitude gave an inspired performance to finish 1 ½ lengths behind for second place, but jockey Alex Solis admitted that a miracle would have had to have taken place to catch the winner.
"The winner was in front of me all the way and I was trying to reach him," said Solis, who finished in second for the third time and placed for the fifth time in the Derby. "But he was running so easy. He obviously is a very special horse."
The Todd Pletcher-trained More Than Ready was also one of the colts left with chunks of dust the size of Japan in his eyes.
"I thought I was going to win it. Then the winner went by me and I knew I couldn't catch him," said jockey John Velazquez on his fourth-place finish.
Said 64-year-old owner Fusao Sekiguchi, who raised many an eyebrow when he purchased the son of Mr. Prospector for $4 million in 1998, through an interpreter, "As soon as he turned the fourth turn, I knew he would burst out. I knew he would win.
"When I laid eyes on the colt, I knew he was a Derby winner. I would have paid $5 million to acquire him."
Fusaichi Pegasus, who became the first Derby winner to not win as a two-year-old since 1965, was surprisingly calm as he made his way to the track around 5 p.m. ET. Pegged as a wild child for his eccentric habits when given an audience, the Howard Stern of race horses looked more like Beaver Cleaver. He even stopped twice on the way to the paddock to relieve himself. That's relaxed.
It's almost as if he was telling something to his competitors and what he thought of them. Yet, no matter how large the bull's eye that continues to grow becomes, there may not be a mammal alive that can chase down this seven-figure behemoth in the open track. We'll find out in two short weeks on May 20 in the Preakness Stakes at the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
He will undoubtedly be highly favored to become the fourth horse in a row to win the first two jewels of the Triple Crown. Who knows, maybe we'll finally get to see the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed electrified the sports world in 1978. Why not, says Desormeaux, who is getting along with his horse so well he claimed, "I think we've become one.
"With a little luck and good health, he's a horse that can do it."
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