BALTIMORE (AP) â€” Fusaichi Pegasus was so impressive in winning the Kentucky Derby that just four of his 18 challengers will try again in the Preakness on Saturday.
Impeachment, Captain Steve, High Yield and Hal's Hope are back for another shot at this year's version of racing's superhorse, who ran off to an impressive 1 1/2 -length victory in the Derby on May 6.
Red Bullet, beaten 4 1/2 lengths by Fusaichi Pegasus in the Wood Memorial on April 15, gets a second chance to overtake the strapping $4 million bay colt. And two other non-Derby starters, Snuck In and Hugh Hefner, also are set to enter tonight when post positions are drawn.
And that's it.
If eight 3-year-olds go in the $1 million Preakness, the field will be the smallest since Snow Chief won in 1986 against six challengers. On two other occasions since, in 1989 and 1991, there were eight-horse fields.
So why is everyone shying away?
``When you win the Derby by more than a head or a neck, you're going to get people that drop out,'' said D. Wayne Lukas, whose Charismatic won the '99 Derby by a neck, and then held off 12 challengers to take the Preakness. ``The other people will spend the next 10 days running up and down trying to upset him.
``There seems to be an underlying challenge for somebody to come up with the angle on how the Derby winner can be beat.''
Red Bullet, trained by Joe Orseno, comes in with a new take: the fresh-horse angle.
``I watched the Wood and know he (Red Bullet) wasn't finishing,'' Orseno said. ``If he runs his race and the other horse runs by me in the stretch, I'll admit it. Until then, I'm sorry, I still have to be convinced.''
So does Lukas.
He says his High Yield didn't run a lick in finishing 15th in the Derby, but with four wins, four seconds and three thirds in 13 career starts, he expects the colt to be a factor. And with Fusaichi Pegasus coming off two tough races â€” the Wood and Derby â€” Lukas says anything can happen.
``These are not wind-up toys,'' he said. ``This isn't NASCAR where we can put on a new carburetor, tune 'em, tighten the screws, test drive 'em and say `Here we go.' This is an animal, flesh, blood ... and a lot of things can happen.''
Orseno makes it clear he wasn't avoiding Fusaichi Pegasus in the Derby, but just watching out for his lightly raced colt's well-being. He's ready for the Preakness.
``I think my horse is better then he was in the Wood,'' Orseno said, ``and if he can put in a quicker turn of foot I think we can get to the wire before him.''
Lukas figures the fatigue factor may catch up to Fusaichi Pegasus.
``That horse is going into his third consecutive tough race. Now he's going to try to put three â€” possibly four â€” tough races together,'' he said. ``If he does, well, we'll anoint him and that will be that. But he's got to do that. It's not an easy task. I've tried it every way conceivable.''
Impeachment, third in the Derby behind Aptitude, was declared Preakness-bound on Tuesday by trainer Todd Pletcher. After working a half-mile in 48 seconds at Belmont Park, Pletcher said the colt will be vanned to Pimlico on Thursday.
Captain Steve, trained by Bob Baffert, and Hal's Hope, owned and trained by 88-year-old Harold Rose, will give it another go after finishing eighth and 16th, respectively, in the Derby.
Fusaichi Pegasus arrives today at Pimlico from Churchill Downs. On Tuesday, the colt walked under tack and trainer Neil Drysdale said, ``He's bright and alert. He's well within himself.''
Among the Derby runners skipping the Preakness are Aptitude and Wheelaway (fifth), both of whom are preparing for the Belmont Stakes on June 10 and possibly another shot at Fusaichi Pegasus.
More Than Ready, fourth in the Derby, is being pointed to the Met Mile at Belmont on May 29.