Work in Sports
With Pegasus gone, field is wide open
Posted: Monday June 05, 2000 03:48 PM
By Mark Beech, Sports Illustrated
ELMONT, N.Y.-- The last time both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners missed the Belmont was in 1970. Until now, that is. Derby champ Fusaichi Pegasus is injured; Preakness winner Red Bullet needs more rest. Their absence on Saturday may be disappointing for fans -- or those concerned with on-track attendance and overnight ratings -- but rest assured that their defections have Bobby Frankle, who trains Derby runner-up Aptitude, grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
Aptitude figures to go off as the prohibitive favorite on Saturday against a field of new shooters and Triple Crown also-rans. Frankel held his colt out of the Preakness to prepare specifically for the Belmont, and now the way has been cleared for the handsome bay to lay his own claim to the title of the year's best three-year-old.
On paper, Aptitude appears to be ready for a breakout performance. Though his only win this year came all the way back on New Year's Day, he has improved every time he stepped on a track. In his next three starts after the victory, the only horses he finished behind were Fusaichi Pegasus (in the Wood Memorial and the Derby) and Red Bullet (in the Gotham and the Wood). In the Derby, Aptitude earned a Beyer Speed Figure -- which is a measure of how fast a horse runs -- of 106, second only to Pegasus' 108, and the fastest of any posted by his potential rivals in the Belmont.
Aptitude also has perhaps the most impressive bloodlines of any three-year-old this year. He was born to run the classic distance of 1 1/4 miles or more. He was sired by 1992 Belmont and Breeders' Cup Classic champion A.P. Indy, a stallion renowned for his ability to produce runners with stamina. Aptitude is also a grandson of both Seattle Slew, who won the 1977 Triple Crown, and Northern Dancer, who won the Derby and Preakness in 1964. The colt is, in the words of the Daily Racing Form, "bred to run all day."
In spite of all that, Aptitude isn't scaring anybody away. The field for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont is expected to reach the maximum of 14 horses, all looking for a piece of the race's $1 million purse. Among the contenders, Impeachment brings with him the most impressive credentials. The late-closing colt finished third in both the Derby and the Preakness, after bringing up the rear in both races through the first half-mile. The best of the new shooters might be Postponed, who won the Peter Pan on May 27. Postponed is owned by Jeanne Vance and trained by Scotty Schulhofer, the same connections who guided Lemon Drop Kid to victory in last year's Belmont.
And so, it has come to this. Five weeks ago, the Belmont figured to be the race where Fusaichi Pegasus would end 22 years of Triple Crown frustration. Three weeks ago, it was to be the rubber match between the year's two best three-year-olds. Now, all that's left is a race devoid of any drama and all-stars. All but one, that is.
Mark Beech is a Sports Illustrated