Fusaichi Pegasus, who had everyone stumbling over his name after a victory in the Kentucky Derby, is on the verge of retirement.
But like any big-timer close to the end, the 3-year-old thoroughbred needs a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic to cap a short, but spectacular career.
Fusaichi Pegasus will face older horses for the first time in Saturday’s race, worth a record $4.77 million purse. At stake is the Horse of the Year crown and the 3-year-old championship.
“When he was purchased, the two races we wanted to win with him were the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Classic,” trainer Neil Drysdale said. “He’s won the Derby, and he is a fresh horse for the Classic. He is right where he is supposed to be.”
Multi-Million Dollar Retirement
The horse with the Japanese connections was made the 8-5 early favorite today to win the Classic at Churchill Downs, although he has raced only once because of minor hoof problems since being upset in the Preakness on May 20.
It will be the last race for Fusaichi Pegasus, who will be retired to breeding under a deal valued at $60 million-$70 million.
Drysdale said he is pleased with how Fusaichi Pegasus is coming up to the race, “But, on paper, this looks like a severe test. I’m always nervous about everything. If you have been around long enough, you know the improbable can happen. I don’t take anything for granted.”
Fusaichi Pegasus won the one-mile Jerome Handicap on Sept. 23 at Belmont Park, his sixth victory in seven starts this year.
Five of Fusaichi Pegasus’ rivals in the 14-horse field also are 3-year-olds — Albert the Great, Captain Steve, Tiznow, England-based Giant’s Causeway and Ireland-based Pine Dance. Two other contenders are 1999 Classic winner Cat Thief and Lemon Drop Kid.
Lemon Drop Kid might have wrapped up Horse of the Year honors with a victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on Oct. 14, which would have given him five consecutive wins, including three straight in Grade I races. But he was bumped at the gate by Behrens.
Entries From Overseas Could Fare Well
The 1¼-mile Classic is one of eight Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday’s card, worth a total purse of $15.2 million.
While Giant’s Causeway, a winner of five Group I stakes in England this year and making his dirt-track debut, is a 5-1 co-second choice with Albert the Great, Tiznow and Lemon Drop Kid, foreign invaders are favored in two other races.
Petrushka, winner of her last three starts in Ireland and England, is the 5-2 early choice to beat 13 rivals in the 1 3/8-mile Filly & Mare Turf. Her chief rival could be Perfect Sting, winner of the Diana Handicap at Saratoga.
The 5-2 early pick in the 1½-mile Turf is Montjeu, winner of 11 of 15 career starts in England, Ireland, France and Japan, but a loser of his last two. Among 12 rivals are Kalanisi, second in the Juddmonte International and winner of the Dubai Champion in England in his last two starts, and Manndar, winner of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs and the Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park.
Another race with possible Horse of the Year implications is the 1 1/8-mile Distaff.
Riboletta, a supplemental entry for $400,000, is the odds-on favorite to win her seventh straight stakes victory. Also in the field of nine fillies and mares is Beautiful Pleasure, winner of the Distaff last year when she was champion older filly or mare.
“She is responding like she did at Gulfstream [in last year’s Breeders’ Cup],” trainer John Ward said of Beautiful Pleasure. “She is getting better and more intense, and doing everything that you are supposed to do going into this type of race.”
Kentucky Derby Preview in Juvenile
The 1 1-16-mile Juvenile offers a preview of next year’s Kentucky Derby, with a strong field of 14 colts.
Flame Thrower, trained by Bob Baffert and unbeaten in four starts including three stakes, is the 3-1 early choice, although he drew the No. 12 post. Three other leading contenders are A P Valentine, winner of the Champagne at Belmont Park; Street Cry, beaten a head and a neck in two starts against Flame Thrower; and Baffert-trained Arabian Light, winner of the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland.
The 1 1-16-mile Juvenile Fillies drew 13 starters, with Raging Fever, unbeaten in five starts including four stakes, the 7-2 early favorite. Three of her rivals are Notable Career, winner of the Oak Leaf at Santa Anita; Cindy’s Hero, winner of the Del Mar Debutante; and Freefourracing, who won the Indian Summer at Keeneland after four starts in England.
Top contenders in the 14-horse field for the six-furlong Sprint appear to be Kona Gold and Caller One, each the winner of three straight stakes.
The third race on the grass is the 14-horse Mile. Leading contenders are War Chant, winner of Santa Anita’s Oak Tree Breeders’ Cup Mile, his only start on turf; Ladies Din, winner of the Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar; King Cugat, winner of the Arlington Classic; Indian Lodge, winner of her last start in France; and Dansili, second to Indian Lodge in his last start.
A total of 106 horses will run in the eight races.