Weekend Recap: Derby Winner 'Awe Inspiring'

The latest wave of Breeders' Cup preps has hit the shore, leaving us with horses who are either one race away from the big day at Churchill Downs or going straight there off works. As of now, it looks as if there are going to be quite a few fresh horses heading to Kentucky.

The big question now is, will we have an epic showdown between Fusaichi Pegasus and Lemon Drop Kid in the Jockey Club Gold Cup or will it have to wait until the Classic? Not many thought it would ever come to this, but the $70 million Kentucky Derby winner is back, and back with a vengeance.

His comeback victory in Saturday's Jerome Handicap was nothing short of awe inspiring. You just don't see horses coming off a four-month layoff, carrying topweight in a mile handicap against top-class competition, and a "work or two shy" of being at their best, and turning in the kind of performance we witnessed on Saturday. When Kent Desormeaux unleashed the big bay passing the three-eighths pole, he charged up to the leaders so quickly, the rider had to quickly take his foot off the accelerator in an effort to slow him down. Little did he know he had just negotiated that big turn, going four or five wide the whole way, in a sensational :23 1/5 and had scorched the six furlongs in 1:08 1/5. "I thought we had gone in about 1:12 3/5," he said afterward.

That six-furlong fraction, with Fusaichi Pegasus on cruise control and his ears straight up, was only three-fifths off the track record set last year by champion sprinter Artax, who was carrying four pounds less. In the race following the Jerome, the seven-furlong Vosburgh Stakes, Trippi, one of the fastest horses in the country, was all out after six furlongs in 1:08 3/5, two-fifths slower that Fusaichi Pegasus.

Desormeaux, who spent most of his time looking back over his shoulder, finally threw three crosses on his colt inside the eighth pole after spotting El Corredor trying to make a race out of it. But, as others have found out, horses only get to about a length of the big train before hitting a brick wall.

Now, we have to ask ourselves, what would you do if you were Neil Drysdale? You just brought your horse back off five slow breezes in four months, one or two works shy of being at his best, and he runs six furlongs in 1:08 1/5 and a mile in 1:34 flat. Suddenly, you find yourself squeezing that proverbial lemon to see just how much juice you might have lost. Do you come back in three weeks against Lemon Drop Kid and Behrens, then three weeks after that? If so, how do you prevent the horse from backing up too much in the Gold Cup? Then again, you certainly don't want him running his lights out and possibly peaking too soon. Now that you know how this colt bounces back from a layoff, do you tempt fate or take the six weeks and train him up to the Classic and have him fresh and sharp again?

That's for Drysdale to decide, and no one knows Fusaichi Pegasus better than Drysdale. While we know Lemon Drop Kid looks to be definite for the Gold Cup, the same type of question arises. His race in the Woodward, as gutsy as it was, was run in slow time, with the colt's speed figures taking quite a hit, especially with the 41-1 New York-bred Gander breathing down his neck at the finish. Was he feeling any effects from a series of superior efforts over the summer, including a mile and a quarter in 1:58 4/5, followed by a career-high speed figure in the Whitney? If so, would he not be better off with a little freshening going into the Classic? Like Drysdale, Scotty Schulhofer knows everything about Lemon Drop Kid as if it were stamped on his forehead, and his decision will be based on what he sees staring out at him from the colt's stall. Schulhofer and the Kid's owner Jeanne Vance would love nothing more at this time than to add the Jockey Club Gold Cup to the colt's list of prestigious New York victories. Remember, this is his kingdom, where he reigns supreme. Outside New York, it's been a different story, and, although this is a different Lemon Drop Kid, he is 0-for-2 at Churchill Downs, finishing out of the money both times.

As for the others in the Jerome, Albert the Great, who was not supposed to be on the lead, especially through a half in :44 1/5, will run next in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and trainer Nick Zito can only hope he can get the colt to settle early again, as he did in the Travers. In the Jerome, Albert the Great ran his half and three-quarters four full seconds faster than he did in the Travers. As Zito said after the Jerome, "This is nuts."

El Corredor, who ran such a big race in his first start outside California, will drop back to six furlongs and point for the Sprint. After his race Saturday, he is definitely one to watch.

In other Classic action over the weekend, the Giant's Causeway bubble finally burst after being pricked with a pin every two or three weeks. Having run in seven group I stakes in a little less than four months, the son of Storm Cat went to the well once too often, finishing second in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, a known killer race that has taken its toll on many hot favorites. Now there's talk of running the giant back in the Champion Stakes at Newmarket, continuing his pattern of alternating mile and mile and a quarter races. If he does run in the Champion, and happens to come back and win the Classic, he certainly will go down as one of the most remarkable horses of recent years, and definitely in a class by himself among European horses.

Two disappointments in Belmont allowance races were Louisiana Derby winner Mighty, who never ran a lick in a 1 1/16-mile race on Friday, and the stakes-placed Cocky, who finished eighth at 6-5 in a seven-furlong event on Saturday.

In our upcoming late Wednesday preview, we'll go over the Classic field as it stands now, as well as the other Breeders' Cup races, and who might be the live future book longshots to keep an eye on.

Continued . . .

Most Popular Stories