If you listen to history, history whispers that 11 have prevailed - only 11.
Fusaichi Pegasus will not join the all-star roster of Sir Barton, Gallant Fox, Omaha, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault, Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed.Those 11 swept the three races that make up the Triple Crown. Fusaichi Pegasus, the "next great horse," failed yesterday in the second, the 125th Preakness before 98,304 damp and chilly fans at Pimlico Race Course.
After winning the Kentucky Derby as if he might be the next Secretariat, Fusaichi Pegasus struggled to finish second in the Preakness as the heaviest favorite since Spectacular Bid in 1979.
The lightly raced Red Bullet, making only his fifth start, outran the Derby winner and left him spinning wheels in the Pimlico mud. A strikingly handsome son of Unbridled, Red Bullet drew off to a 3 3/4 - length victory over the 1-5 Fusaichi Pegasus.
Anointed by the overzealous as a Triple Crown shoo-in, Fusaichi Pegasus didn't make it two-thirds of the way there. But after the Derby, he looked nearly unbeatable. That was his fifth authoritative victory in a row.
"We've all seen over the years horses coming off the Derby who looked like they were invincible," said Jerry Bailey, Red Bullet's jockey. "And two weeks later, at 5:45, we see they're not invincible."
Neil Drysdale, the trainer of Fusaichi Pegasus, said his colt did not like the rain-soaked track. By the 5:28 p.m. post time, the sandy surface felt like peanut butter, sticky and greasy.
The horse's jockey, Kent Desormeaux, agreed.
"He's a big, heavy horse," the rider said. "When the track gets greasy, he's so heavy going around those turns he's slipping and sliding. I think that certainly could have made the difference."
Joe Orseno, trainer of Red Bullet, didn't buy it.
"We all had to run in it," said the Belmont Park-based Orseno. "I knew that my horse was going to run big. I said all week that if we win the Preakness, I want it to be a nice day and a fast track. I just didn't want to hear the excuses from everybody else."
Red Bullet paid $14.40 to win as the 6-1 second choice. His time for the 1 3/16 miles was a pedestrian 1 minute, 56.04 seconds. But his victory was spectacular.
The springing of the starting gate caught Red Bullet flat-footed, and as he entered the first turn he had only two horses beat: Captain Steve and Impeachment. But more important, Bailey, his jockey, had Fusaichi Pegasus in his sights just ahead.
As the speedy trio of Hugh Hefner, High Yield and Hal's Hope sizzled in the lead, Red Bullet and Fusaichi Pegasus raced nearly side-by-side down the backstretch.
Bailey picked up the story from there:
"It had been my intention going into the race at some point, if I had enough horse, to try and get a jump on the favorite. I was able to go up next to him at the half-mile pole and take a spot in front of him on the inside. He took back, and I assumed he was going around, which is kind of what I wanted to happen."
Around the far turn, as Hal's Hope began faltering, Bailey steered Red Bullet inside, and Desormeaux maintained his wide position with Fusaichi Pegasus. After the pair had passed Hal's Hope, they found themselves side-by-side again.
Bailey continued: "Red Bullet really showed what he was made of today. He exploded on the turn, and as he was striding out he just left the other horse behind. I'm surprised he [Fusaichi Pegasus] didn't stay up with us at least until the middle of the stretch."
From Desormeaux's vantage point aboard the favorite, the story was even simpler: "We both pushed the button, and Red Bullet's button was a little bigger. He was just awesome today."
Desormeaux, the former Maryland riding star who nearly won the Triple Crown with Real Quiet in 1998, said he was obviously disappointed by dropping out of the Triple Crown chase so soon.
"You hope to win the Triple Crown, and not getting past the second stage is disappointing," Desormeaux said. "But that's what makes it the Triple Crown. It's tough.
"One thing's for sure, I develop a bigger and bigger respect for those that have won the Triple Crown, because you have to be a freak to do it. This horse [Fusaichi Pegasus] is clearly a champion, but he just couldn't pull it off today."
This was the second meeting between Red Bullet and Fusaichi Pegasus. In the Wood Memorial Stakes on April 15 at Aqueduct, Fusaichi Pegasus dominated the first clash with a resounding 4 1/2 - length victory.
Now, their head-to-head record stands at 1-1. For their careers, Red Bullet has won four and lost one. Fusaichi Pegasus has won five and lost two.
Asked which is the better horse, Bailey, Red Bullet's jockey, said: "Red Bullet's only gotten beat once. The other horse has gotten beat twice. Advantage, Red Bullet."
The two may meet again in the Belmont Stakes in three weeks at Belmont Park.
Red Bullet's owner, Frank Stronach, was asked whether he felt any remorse at ending what would have been the fourth Triple Crown pursuit in a row (Silver Charm 1997, Real Quiet 1998, Charismatic 1999).
"It would be great if we had a Tripl Crown winner," he said. "But this is a sport. This is competition. You cna't just give it to somebody on a plate."