Oh, yes, this is going to be fun.
The Kentucky Derby favorite -- the most formidable favorite in years -- has been putting on quite a show during morning training hours at Churchill Downs. Fusaichi Pegasus, dominant winner of the Wood Memorial Stakes, has proved that you'd better not take your eyes off him, or you might miss his latest trick.
Before and after the Wood, if you'll recall, Fusaichi Pegasus ground his hooves into the dirt and refused to budge. He looked around like a tourist. This caused racing officials at Aqueduct to delay the start of the race and then delay the winner's-circle celebration afterward.
This week at Churchill Downs, site of next Saturday's Kentucky Derby, Fusaichi Pegasus has trotted onto the track in the mornings and then bucked wildly, stopped suddenly, and then bucked again. On Thursday, he reared up, lost his balance, threw his rider, collapsed onto the track and then jumped back to his feet.
Now, this is a $4 million colt we're talking about. His trainer, Englishman Neil Drysdale, quickly caught the startled, but uninjured, horse -- seemingly surprised at his own antics -- and led him back to the barn. Based in Southern California, Drysdale remained calm.
"So far, he hasn't put on a real show," Drysdale said. "When he's in California, he can really do some tricks. We may be coming up to them this week."
The question for bettors is whether the huge, boisterous crowd on Derby day will upset Fusaichi Pegasus to the point of compromising his performance.
"I think 130,000 people may get his attention," Drysdale said. "He's fascinated by people."
Purchased for $4 million as a yearling, Fusaichi Pegasus is merely curious, not nervous or high-strung, Drysdale said. The trainer, one of the sports' most respected, said he doesn't believe the Mr. Prospector colt's deportment will hinder him on race day.
We'll see in one week. The 126th Kentucky Derby, a distant concept in January when the 3-year-olds began their season, is nearly upon us. Then, two weeks after the Derby, May 20 in Baltimore, many of the same horses and a few new challengers will gather again at Pimlico for the Preakness.
It looks as if 20 horses, the maximum, will start in the Derby. Give or take one or two (depending on their owners' whims), 25 are being considered.
If more than 20 are entered for Wednesday's post-position draw, the field will be selected based on earnings in graded stakes. That is, except in the case of Unshaded, winner of the Lexington Stakes.
Unshaded was not nominated to the Triple Crown series. Even if his owner pays the $150,000 supplemental fee, Unshaded would take his place in line behind all the nominated horses, even those with no graded-stakes earnings.
Here are the 25 possible entrants with trainer and graded-stakes purses in parentheses:
High Yield (D. Wayne Lukas, $1,137,916), Captain Steve (Bob Baffert, $932,656), The Deputy (Jenine Sahadi, $714,380), Anees (Alex Hassinger, $670,400), Fusaichi Pegasus (Neil Drysdale, $600,000).
Hal's Hope (Harold J. Rose, $550,000), More Than Ready (Todd Pletcher, $518,100), Globalize (Jerry Hollendorfer, $504,480), Graeme Hall (Pletcher, $397,318), War Chant (Drysdale, $320,000).
Unshaded (Carl Nafzger, $221,588), Trippi (Pletcher, $210,000), Snuck In (Steve Asmussen, $174,400), Aptitude (Bobby Frankel, $122,500), Settlement (Mark Hennig, $101,500).
Exchange Rate (Lukas, $96,260), Deputy Warlock (Ken McPeek, $77,500), Wheelaway (John Kimmel, $75,000), Commendable (Lukas, $59,870), Impeachment (Pletcher, $50,000).
Harlan Traveler (Ray Lawrence Jr., $46,740), True Confidence (Lukas, $40,000), China Visit (Saeed bin Suroor, $0), Curule (bin Suroor, $0), Ronton (Vladimir Cerin, $0).
NOTE: For fans of the "dual qualifier" concept of choosing Derby winners, here are the dual qualifiers from the above list: Anees, Captain Steve, Exchange Rate, High Yield and More Than Ready.
A "dual qualifier" is a horse whose dosage index is 4.0 or below and who also was ranked within 10 pounds of the highweight on the previous year's Experimental Free Handicap.
Dosage is a formula for predicting stamina in horses. The lower the number, the farther the horse supposedly can run. The Experimental Free Handicap ranks the past year's 2-year-olds.