The Week in Review: Fusaichi Pegasus, Horse of Many Firsts

Fusaichi Pegasus | Horsephotos


There were a lot of “firsts” associated with Fusaichi Pegasus, the 2000 GI Kentucky Derby winner who was euthanized at Ashford Stud May 23 due to old-age infirmities that had accumulated over his 26 years.

As the first Derby winner of the 2000s decade, this high-spirited, headstrong son of Mr. Prospector had commanded a $4-million price tag at Keeneland July, then the highest price paid for a yearling at that sale in 13 years. And to this day, that auction price remains as the highest ever paid for any starter in, let alone winner of, the Derby.

At 2.3-1 odds, Fusaichi Pegasus was the first favorite to win the Derby since Spectacular Bid in 1979. At the dawn of the 21st Century, recall that the Derby was mired in a deep drought of well-backed losers. At the time, its streak of losing favorites (since 1979) was almost as long as the span back to the sport's last Triple Crown champ (in 1978).

Although it wasn't evident at the time, beyond the numbers, the Derby victory by Fusaichi Pegasus would become a benchmark in the globalization of the sport.

Fusao Sekiguchi, who owned about 80 horses in Japan, became the first horse owner from that country to campaign a Kentucky Derby winner. Japanese connections have yet to win a second Derby, but horses based in Japan now have a points-based qualifying path to get into the Derby each year, and Japanese-campaigned horses have steadily been making their presence felt in other elite American races like the Breeders' Cup.

“FuPeg” got pounded to 3-10 favoritism for the GI Preakness S., but was upset by Red Bullet on a wet track, finishing 3 3/4 lengths behind in second. He was pointed for the GI Belmont S., but a minor foot injury kept him from starting. In an era when top contenders were still more or less expected to dance every dance in the Triple Crown series, his defection in 2000 meant that it was the first time since 1970 that neither the winner of the Derby nor the Preakness contested the Belmont.

Sekiguchi sold Fusaichi Pegasus to Coolmore Stud in June 2000 in a deal that was widely reported (but never officially confirmed) to be in the neighborhood of $60-70 million. At the time, that was the highest price ever paid for a racehorse.

The sale called for Sekiguchi to control FuPeg's racing for the rest of that sophomore season. Under the care of trainer Neil Drysdale, the colt won the then-GII Jerome H. at Belmont Park on Sept. 23, missed the GI Jockey Club Gold Cup with another foot ailment, and finished sixth as the beaten 6-5 favorite in the GI Breeders' Cup Classic to close out his career.

Fusaichi Pegasus went on to sire six champions worldwide, and his Grade I winners included Roman Ruler, Champ Pegasus, Haradasun (Aus) and Bandini. Southern Hemisphere stints at Haras Don Alberto and Haras Philipson yielded champion older horse Bronzo (Chi). Fusaichi Pegasus was pensioned in 2020 and had been living in retirement at Ashford.

Now nearly a full generation (human, not horse) has passed since that 2000 Derby. The official chart of the race reads like a Who's Who of A-list jockeys and trainers.

In fact, the 1-2-3-4 jockeys from that 2000 Derby (Kent Desormeaux, Alex Solis, Craig Perret, John Velazquez) are now all inductees in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. So too are the top four trainers (Drysdale, Bobby Frankel, and Todd Pletcher, who ran third and fourth). Fellow Hall-of-Famers Jerry Bailey, Chris McCarron, Pat Day, D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert rounded out an impressive list of also-rans in FuPeg's Derby.

Pletcher's Understatement…

That 2000 Derby was the first for Pletcher. He saddled Impeachment (third), More Than Ready (fourth), Trippi (11th) and Graeme Hall (eased to last). Then 32, he said post-race with a positive vibe, “We showed we belonged here.”

Now fast-forward 23 years. Two Derby wins and four scores later in the Belmont S., Pletcher looks loaded for this year's edition of the third leg of the Triple Crown, with 'TDN Rising Stars' Forte (Violence) and Tapit Trice (Tapit) vying for favoritism.

Forte, the 2-year-old champ, is two breezes back after being scratched as the morning-line favorite for the Derby with a bruised right front foot on the morning of the race. He'll attempt 12 furlongs off a 10-week break.

According to DRF's Formulator, Pletcher has won at a 21% clip (45-for-217) with all starters who were off between nine and 11 weeks over the last five years. Within that group, his strike rate dips to 1-for-12 (8%) in just Grade I races with the same layoff parameters.

Tapit Trice may end up attracting more pari-mutuel attention, simply by the virtue that his running style begs for 1 1/2 miles over a vast, expansive oval like Belmont's.

Although seventh in the Derby after yet another characteristically slow break and some backstretch momentum loss, that poor result masks a decent middle move that is also emblematic of Tapit Trice's way of going.

It takes this burly gray quite a while to fully uncoil, and in both the Derby and in his previous win, in the GI Blue Grass S., he launched his bid from six furlongs out, which is something no other contender on the Triple Crown trail has been able to do with any degree of success this season.

Pletcher also said that GII Louisiana Derby winner Kingsbarns (Uncle Mo), 14th in the Derby, will bypass the Belmont after demonstrating signs of colic Friday morning. The colt did not need surgery and is recovering after treatment with fluids.

Derby winner and Preakness third Mage (Good Magic) is being freshened for a run at the GI Runhappy Travers S. in August. Derby runner-up Two Phil's (Hard Spun) will reportedly take aim at the June 24 GIII Ohio Derby.

Wire-to-wire Preakness victor National Treasure (Quality Road) is listed as probable for the Belmont, as are deep-closing Derby third Angel of Empire (Classic Empire), Hit Show (Candy Ride {Arg}), Il Miracolo (Gun Runner), Raise Cain (Violence) and Red Route One (Gun Runner).

Belmont “possibles” include Arabian Lion (Justify), Arcangelo (Arrogate), Prove Worthy (Curlin) and Reincarnate (Good Magic).

Meanwhile, on the Left Coast…

Santa Anita's top colts all had to opt out of this year's Derby because of illness. Two of them are back on the work tab and being considered for the $100,000 Affirmed S. at 1 1/16 miles June 4, according to that track's notes team.

Geaux Rocket Ride, (Candy Ride {Arg}), who was scratched from the GI Santa Anita Derby Apr. 8 with an elevated temperature, worked seven furlongs in 1:26.40 (1/1) Friday for trainer Richard Mandella in preparation for the Affirmed.

In just two lifetime starts, Geaux Rocket Ride has paired 92 and 96 Beyer Speed Figures. He was narrowly favored in the betting for the GII San Felipe S. in just his second lifetime try and first around two turns. A speed-centric threat, he gamely forced the issue on the front end of a high-tempo pace, yet still managed to finish determinedly in the final furlong to hold second when faced with a fresh challenge from a more experienced winner.

The late-developing Skinner (Curlin), who was third in the Santa Anita Derby for trainer John Shirreffs, shipped to Louisville and was entered in the Kentucky Derby. Then he, too, missed a start with a fever.

Skinner has returned with three works at Santa Anita since then, including five eighths in 1:02.20 (33/44) on Sunday, with the Affirmed as his next possible target.

Practical Move (Practical Joke), who beat both Geaux Rocket Ride and Skinner at Santa Anita, has yet to post a published workout since a fever caused him to be scratched from the Derby two days before the race.

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