NEW YORK (AP) â€” After the Kentucky Derby, Fusaichi Pegasus was being touted as the next Secretariat.
After 18-1 long shot Commendable took the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, the 3-year-old championship is up for grabs.
With a three-way split of the Triple Crown races for the first time since 1996, it will take the rest of the year to sort out what seemed to be a very clearcut division.
``It's not an easy decision and I think we're going to have to get into the second season,'' said D. Wayne Lukas, Commendable's trainer. ``All I can say is we're one of them.''
With overpowering victories in the Wood Memorial and Derby, Fusaichi Pegasus appeared poised to become the 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed in 1978.
Why not? In each of the past three years, a colt has garnered the Derby and the Preakness to stand on the brink of accomplishing that feat, only to falter in the Belmont Stakes. Fusaichi Pegasus, it appeared, had the ability to accomplish what Silver Charm, Real Quiet and Charismatic could not.
But Fusaichi Pegasus never got past the Preakness, finishing second to Red Bullet. Then, the connections of the latter elected to skip the 1 1/2 -mile final leg of the Triple Crown. And on top of that, Fusaichi Pegasus injured his hoof, turning the Belmont into a wide-open affair. Eleven horses went postward in the race, 11 horses who had but five stakes wins among them.
All it took for Lukas to figure out how to win his fourth Belmont was a legal pad and a pen.
``I listed the horses and wrote down their strengths and weaknesses,'' Lukas said, ``and then made observations like, `can Hugh Hefner set all the fractions on the pace? Yes.' Can he finish a mile-and-a-half? No.'''
So he told Commendable's jockey Pat Day to stalk Hugh Hefner. ``He'll clear you, then go to the outside of him and he'll fall apart at the mile pole.''
What about the closers, like Impeachment and Aptitude?
``I said, `Can Impeachment make a half-mile run and beat you? No,''' Lukas said.
Aptitude, the 9-5 favorite?
``I thought he'd probably leave himself too much to do,'' he said.
And so on and so forth.
When Commendable beat Aptitude by 1 1/2 lengths in 95-degree heat and in front of a Belmont crowd of 67,810, it not only gave Lukas his 13th win in a Triple Crown race, it also gave owners Bob and Beverly Lewis their first Belmont win after two heartbreaking losses.
In 1997, the Lewises' Silver Charm lost his Triple Crown bid by three-quarters of a length to Touch Gold in the Belmont; last year, Derby and Preakness winner Charismatic injured his foot in the stretch and was third in the Belmont.
``The elusive Belmont is finally ours,'' Bob Lewis said.
Now it's on to the rest of the season.
Trainer Neil Drysdale remained uncertain when Fusaichi Pegasus will run next. He plans to discuss the colt's future with owner Fusao Sekiguchi and come up with a game plan. Currently, the Derby winner is in California.
Joe Orseno, Red Bullet's trainer, is pointing his colt toward the Dwyer on July 9 at Belmont, followed by the Haskell on Aug. 6 at Monmouth Park and the Travers on Aug. 26 at Saratoga. Red Bullet has won four of five starts, his only loss coming to Fusaichi Pegasus in the Wood.
Commendable, who has two wins in eight starts â€” a maiden win 10 months ago and the Belmont â€” could start next in the Haskell. Another Lukas colt, High Yield, is set to return in the Swaps. High Yield won the Fountain of Youth and the Blue Grass, but fared poorly in the Derby (15th) and Preakness (seventh).
Aptitude, who trainer Bobby Frankel said was given a poor ride by jockey Alex Solis, returns to California for a rest, and could end up in the Travers in August.
When the summer ends, there's still the Woodward, the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Breeders' Cup.
``When we get into the fall championship series,'' Lukas said, ``I think you will find that the 3-year-olds are very good and will more than hold their own against handicap horses.''
Unshaded was third in the Belmont, followed by Wheelaway, Impeachment, Appearing Now, Postponed, Hugh Hefner, Tahkodha Hills, Globalize and Curule.
Meanwhile, Lukas already is looking at his 3-year-old crew for 2001.
``Every time I look up, I've got another,'' Lukas said. ``I have seven of them now, and the first string is getting crowded. This is our best year so far. This is our best jump start.''