Racing's Holy Grail - The Epic Quest for the Kentucky Derby--Chapter 5

Editor's Note: Steve Haskin is an award-winning turf writer and senior correspondent for The Blood-Horse. During his 29 years with the Daily Racing Form, Haskin became known for his insightful coverage of the Triple Crown races. Haskin won the Red Smith Award for Kentucky Derby writing in 1997, 1999, and 2000.and received the David Woods Award for best Preakness story in 1997. In 1999, he co-authored "Baffert: Dirt Road to the Derby" with trainer Bob Baffert and wrote the books, "Dr. Fager" and "John Henry" for Eclipse Press'"Thoroughbred Legends" series. In his latest book, "Racing's Holy Grail - The Epic Quest for the Kentucky Derby," Haskin takes readers behind the scenes and into the trenches as he examines what it takes to win the world's most famous horse race. He plumbs the secrets of successful trainers, the common pitfalls that hinder so many others, and the enigmatic nature of the race itself. The following excerpt is from Chapter 5:

Chapter 5 -- The Edge

...No matter how successful you are in racing, or in anything for that matter, you never stop looking for an edge over your competitors.

One of the challenges of the Derby is that young three-year-olds are going a mile and a quarter for the first time, and attempting this arduous task in a circus-like atmosphere can rattle the calmest of nerves. Because of these unpredictable factors, the Derby is conducted on a much more level playing field than other races, and you never know what single little advantage is going to mean the difference between winning and losing.

...I've never seen a trainer look for an edge more than Neil Drysdale -- regardless of the race. One of the best examples of Drysdale's inspired thinking was his decision to van A.P. Indy to Aqueduct from Belmont Park for the colt's final work prior to the 1992 Belmont Stakes. A torrential downpour during the night had turned the Belmont track into a quagmire, and most trainers either canceled their works or went into them with great apprehension. Drysdale, however, had an inspiration. On the slight chance it hadn't rained as hard or even at all at Aqueduct, which is only about ten miles away, Drysdale hopped in his car at the crack of dawn and headed down the Belt Parkway to see what the track looked like. Sure enough, Aqueduct was bone dry. Drysdale arranged to van A.P. Indy to the Big A, and the colt turned in a big six-furlong work over a fast track. A week later, he captured the Belmont Stakes.

In 2000 Drysdale had the task of getting the immensely talented, but high-spirited and stubborn, Fusaichi Pegasus to the Derby in top shape, physically and mentally. Drysdale decided it was in the colt's best interests to train him very lightly. The days went by, and all Fusaichi did was jog and gallop. No one had seen anything like it, especially for a Derby favorite. Although Drysdale does nothing by the book, the media still kept asking him when Fusaichi Pegasus was going to work. All they got back were answers like, "Who knows, maybe I won't work him at all," or "He'll ring me up in the middle of the night and tell me when he's ready to work." Fusaichi eventually did work six days before the race, breezing six furlongs in 1:14 3/5.