Baffert Knows 'Pegasus' Greatness

Friday, May 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BALTIMORE (AP) — Trainer Bob Baffert, never more than a length away from wisecrack, knows how Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus can lose the Preakness: Load him in the gate backward.

``These other horses are going to have to run the race of their lives,'' said Baffert, who won the Derby and Preakness with Silver Charm (1997) and Real Quiet (1998). ``This Derby winner is an extraordinary horse.''

But with eight starters in the Preakness compared with 19 in the Derby, he added, ``You take a shot.''

Baffert will saddle Captain Steve, eighth in the Derby and winless in four starts this year. The field of eight 3-year-old colts at Pimlico on Saturday is smallest since Hansel beat seven rivals in the 1991 Preakness.

Fusaichi Pegasus' impressive performance as the first winning Kentucky Derby favorite since Spectacular Bid in 1979 has made him the early 3-5 favorite. He is the first odds-on Preakness choice since the Bid won at odds of 1-2.

``I'm always apprehensive about a race, but that's just me,'' Neil Drysdale, Fusaichi Pegasus' trainer, said Friday. ``It is a good field.''

Fusaichi Pegasus is not stabled in the barn holding the other seven starters, prompting suggestions Drysdale is hiding something.

``It's quiet,'' Drysdale said of his decision to keep the colt, whom he calls playful and full of himself, away from the stakes barn.

``He's doing the right thing,'' Baffert said. ``His obligation is to his horse, himself and his owner. If he leads him out there, believe me that horse is ready to run.''

Ed Nahem, owner of Hugh Hefner, named for Nahem's friend of Playboy fame, thinks his colt has a chance for second money of $200,000. First money is $650,000

Some other Preakness trainers, however, don't want to hear they are running for second money.

``I've always been told, `Don't duck one horse,''' said Joe Orseno, trainer of Red Bullet, the 9-2 second favorite. Red Bullet finished second, 4 1/4 lengths behind Fusaichi Pegasus, in the Wood Memorial on April 15, then skipped the Derby.

``You can't say he is not beatable,'' Orseno said. ``These are racehorses, not machines. I don't want to take anything away from him. I just feel I want to try him again.''

Fusaichi Pegasus has won five straight races since finishing second Dec. 11 in his only 2-year-old start.

There has not been a Preakness winner who did not start in the Derby since Deputed Testamony in 1983. Hugh Hefner and Snuck In also did not start in the Derby two weeks ago.

``There's nothing to say about Fusaichi Pegasus,'' said Steve Asmussen, trainer of Snuck In, runner-up in the Arkansas Derby on April 15 in only his second start of the year. ``He won the Kentucky Derby. It was the most impressive Derby I've seen in several years.''

Asmussen, whose colt will be ridden by brother Cash, a top jockey in Europe, then added: ``You don't duck one horse.''

The other Derby starters in the 1 3-16-mile Preakness are Impeachment (third), High Yield (15th) and Hal's Hope (16th).

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who has won the Preakness five times, is puzzled by High Yield's Derby performance give his previous three starts: first in the Fountain of Youth, second in the Florida Derby and first in the Blue Grass.

``He might not run a winning race Saturday, but he'll have something to say about it,'' Lukas said.

Lukas thinks Red Bullet has the best chance of scoring an upset.

``Joe is in a good position,'' Lukas said. ``He has a good quality horse. He had a nice break.''

Deputed Testamony had won a race just a week before he won the Preakness in 1983. Neither Red Bullet nor Snuck In has raced in five weeks.

Drysdale said two of his concerns are the drop in distance from the Derby to the Preakness and the fact that the two races are only two weeks apart. The three weeks between the Wood Memorial and the Derby is the shortest time between races for the colt, who was bought as a yearling for $4 million by Fusao Sekiguchi of Japan.

Orseno said he and owner Frank Stronach decided within a half hour after the Wood Memorial, in which Red Bullet slowed in the stretch, to skip the Derby.

``We decided if we're going to try to beat him in the Derby, let's do it the right way and not run back in three weeks,'' Orseno said.

Snuck In, who won four of seven starts as a 2-year-old, probably would have started in the Kentucky Derby if he had won the Arkansas Derby, said Asmussen, who gives the impression he doesn't mind missing the Derby.

``The responsibility I have or I feel is not to the race, but to the horse,'' he said. ``I feel it (the Preakness) is something he can physically handle.''

Oh, yes, Baffert had another idea about how Captain Steve might win.

``Give him a head start,'' he said.