BALTIMORE - Shot down by a Red Bullet were the Triple Crown hopes, the soaring superlatives and the winged one, Fusaichi Pegasus.
Red Bullet advanced between horses with less than a quarter-mile remaining in Saturday's 125th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico, while Fusaichi Pegasus rallied on the outside. For that moment, the scene was set for a dramatic, telling eyeball-to-eyeball battle to the finish, but then the moment dissolved.
As Red Bullet surged to the lead in mid-stretch, Fusaichi Pegasus struggled, perhaps with the racing surface, which was officially "good" but actually rather dull, and certainly with his rival, who was running with determination. Red Bullet drew away in the final furlong to win by 3 3/4 lengths over Fusaichi Pegasus, who just two weeks ago had overwhelmed his rivals in the Kentucky Derby.
Touted as a potential Triple Crown winner and compared to some of the great horses of recent years, Fusaichi Pegasus was the 1-5 favorite in the Preakness. But down the Pimlico stretch, he was no match for Red Bullet, who was making only the fifth start of his career.
Under jockey Jerry Bailey, Red Bullet completed the 1 3/16 miles in 1:56.04, a rather modest clocking and, in fact, the slowest winning time in six years. Red Bullet was the 6-1 second choice in the wagering. Impeachment closed strongly from last to finish third.
"We've all seen horses come out of the Kentucky Derby looking invincible, but it's very hard to win two or three of these," Bailey said, referring to the Triple Crown series, which concludes in three weeks with the Belmont Stakes in New York.
After Red Bullet finished second in the Wood Memorial on April 15, the colt's owner, Frank Stronach, and trainer, Joe Orseno, decided to skip the Kentucky Derby and focus on the Preakness, thus shunning the famed blanket of roses for a more modest bouquet of black-eyed Susans. Orseno said Red Bullet's effort in the Wood, in which he finished 4 1/4 lengths behind Fusaichi Pegasus, wasn't indicative of the colt's talents. Red Bullet raced too close to a fast pace in the Wood and moved prematurely, Orseno said. And after the race, Red Bullet was weighed and found to have lost 16 pounds.
Over the next five weeks, the colt recovered the 16 pounds and 10 more. And so Orseno insisted to all who would listen that Red Bullet was going to deliver a powerful performance Saturday.
"A lot of people said we were running for second, but I didn't believe that," Orseno said. "When we came to the track this morning, I was very confident that we had our horse right where we wanted him and we had done all we could do for him."
As expected, Hugh Hefner shot immediately to the lead and was pressed by High Yield and Hal's Hope. The surface, which overnight rains had left "sloppy" early in the day, had been upgraded to "good." Still, the fractions were not particularly fast. Hugh Hefner took the field of eight through the opening half-mile in :46.60.
Hugh Hefner and High Yield alternated on the lead, going through six furlongs in 1:11.21. At that point, Fusaichi Pegasus and Red Bullet were running together, in fifth and sixth. In the second turn, while jockey Kent Desormeaux sent the Kentucky Derby winner around horses, Bailey waited for an opening.
"I knew at some point in the race I wanted to get the jump on the favorite," Bailey said, explaining that he waited behind Snuck In and then sent Red Bullet through an opening.
"I was able to wriggle my way through, and he [Fusaichi Pegasus] had to go around . . . but Red Bullet was just the best horse today."
With the victory, the fourth of his brief career, Red Bullet earned $650,000, giving him $963,800 in his career. The son of Unbridled didn't even race as a 2-year-old, but was given time to develop.
Neil Drysdale, the trainer of Fusaichi Pegasus, said the Derby winner, if all is fine, would leave for New York on Monday and would probably make his next start in the Belmont Stakes. Orseno and Stronach were not definite about the Preakness winner's next start.
"If the horse is up to it, we'll probably come back in three weeks," Orseno said, referring to the Belmont. "But I can't say it's definite."
Among those expected for the Belmont are Aptitude, the Derby runner-up; Wheelaway, the fifth-place finisher in the Derby; and Tahkodha Hills, winner of the Lone Star Derby.