New power of Pegasus flies in the face of logic

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The Independent Online

There were sparrows playing on the floor outside barn No41 here at Churchill Downs yesterday, hanging baskets of blooms on the exterior, stock still in the crisp morning air.

There were sparrows playing on the floor outside barn No41 here at Churchill Downs yesterday, hanging baskets of blooms on the exterior, stock still in the crisp morning air.

Neil Drysdale, the trainer at these premises, was nearby, leaning on a red Oldsmobile Alero and conducting a press conference of some tension.

It would be easy to ascribe Drysdale's unease to the horse which was resting hidden just yards from the rows of notebooks, microphones and television cameras. For in Fusaichi Pegasus, he trains the most expensive horse in the world. It may seem odd when you see his admittedly handsome bay frame stretched before you, but this piece of horseflesh is now allegedly worth $70m.

Fusaichi Pegasus is an expensive blend of pedigree, looks and performance in this spring becoming the first winning favourite of the Kentucky Derby since Spectacular Bid in 1979. His bills (and earnings) are now split between his original owner, Fusao Sekiguchi, Japan's Shadai Farm, and, following a deal secured in June, Coolmore Stud. He will stand at Coolmore's Ashford Stud branch in Kentucky on retirement, and, absurd as it sounds, if he wins the Breeders' Cup Classic here on Saturday, he might well go there as a bargain.

The colt is fully recovered from a foot injury and again providing workouts on the Churchill Downs dirt which slacken the jaw. Fusaichi Pegasus is not a normal horse and he does not undertake normal preparation. This week, as before the Kentucky Derby, there has been the usual jumble: trots, gallops and little more than fast walks making up his work. It all made sense when the horse exploded down the stretch here on Sunday, blowing aside his workmate, Bodyguard. "He worked perfect," Steve Haskin, of The Blood-Horse, said. "I didn't think it was possible, but he looked better then he did before the Derby. Bigger, stronger, fitter."

That was not a lone view. "He's as good or better than he's ever felt before," Andy Durnin, the colt's exercise rider, said. "I can't explain it, but there's hardly anybody who has ever felt anything like it before. I've been on a lot of horses in 18 years, but I've never had a feeling like that before."

Drysdale, as we have come to expect, was a little less frothy. "The work went as planned," he said. "He went well." The 53-year-old British-born trainer, who still returns home to his native Haselmere in Surrey from California to visit his mother, is not terrified of training a potential superhorse. But he is agonised by the thought of talking about it. That was why he conducted his catch-all, one-off press conference yesterday, to free himself from attention during the rest of the build-up. "Now," he said, as the meeting began to break up, "is my suffering over?"

Yet even the circumspect Drysdale can be prompted to discuss that, while Fusaichi Pegasus may be an ambitious name for a racehorse, it is not, in this case, particularly hyperbolic. "He does have a lot of charisma," the trainer said. "I think he's a remarkable horse and I think he ran a remarkable race that day [in the Derby]. He's very athletic."

Neither, it seems, is the big horse quite the cantankerous beast painted in certain areas. "He's quite rambunctious in the mornings and he likes to do things at his speed," Drysdale added. "He likes to be in charge of proceedings. We have to go along a little bit with what he wants to do. A lot of the bucking and playing is just him having a bit of malarkey. But around the stable he's very quiet and very well behaved. He's an intelligent horse."

It has been difficult to apply a similar description to one of the earlier British arrivals at Churchill Downs for Breeders' Cup XVII. Michael Stoute's Kalanisi, a runner in the Turf, has been behaving quite unusually since he touched down last week. Each morning he emerges from his barn and kicks out a small hole in the ground with his hoof. Then he gets down and rolls in the dirt he has excavated.

After three days of quiet canters, Kalanisi also went a little potty out on the track on Sunday. The Champion Stakes winner baulked repeatedly when asked to start his work, unhinged by a different environment and the presence of other horses jogging towards him. When Kalanisi was persuaded to break sweat, he propped and dumped his veteran work rider, Wally Lowsby, who still managed to hang on to the reins.

"He has never been so confused before," Stoute said. "He can be a little bit of a character at home approaching canters and there were a lot of distractions out there."

The bulk of the European contingent arrived yesterday morning: Indian Lodge, Fruits Of Love, Distant Music and Bertolini from England, Goldamix, Kingsalsa, Dansili, Noverre and, finally ending any thoughts of immediate retirement, Montjeu from France.

By last night they were in quarantine and tests taken on them had been flown by private jet to a government laboratory at Aimes, Iowa. By midday we will know if their blood is clean enough to run. By Saturday evening we will know if it is good enough to win.