Though only five lifetime starts had left Pegasus short on seasoning, no one who knew Drysdale and his talent for conditioning horses ever doubted his ability to prepare this colt for the rigors of the Derby. As a native of Surrey, England, Drysdale had learned the King's English; as a student at the University of Barcelona he had learned Spanish; and as a prot�g� of the late Charles Whittingham, one of America's foremost horse whisperers, he had become fluent in equine, a subtle tongue of complex yeas and neighs. The 52-year-old Drysdale had never started a horse in the Derby, though in 1992 he scratched likely second favorite A.P. Indy on the day of the race because of a bruise to the horse's left front hoof. Still, Drysdale had won $52.5 million in purses and trained five champions, including A.P. Indy, who went on to win the Belmont, the Breeders' Cup Classic and Horse of the Year honors. Despite his unorthodox Derby training schedule—rather than drill the colt with speedy workouts, he lightly walked and jogged him more often than any trainer in memory—Drysdale's unflinching confidence inspired the sense that he knew exactly what he was doing.
He did. He had learned to read Fusaichi Pegasus like a book in braille, through a highly developed sense of touch, and by Derby Day he had the colt right where he wanted him. Pegasus was a perfect gentleman in the paddock and post parade. When the gates sprung open, Desormeaux rode him with as much artistry as Drysdale had used in training him. Defying the perils of traffic on the rail, Desormeaux, who won the 1998 Derby aboard Real Quiet, saved much ground, wheeled Pegasus out on the turn for home, then roused him only when he had dead aim.
Pegasus snatched the lead at the eighth pole from More Than Ready, and through those last 220 yards, under a hand ride, he bounded away to win by 1� lengths, with Aptitude in futile pursuit. The winner's time of 2:01 was the sixth fastest in the 126 years the Derby has been run. "Unfortunately, we hooked a monster today," said Solis.
As Desormeaux rode his glistening, mud-flecked steed past the cheering crowds, a jubilant Sekiguchi—sporting a walking stick and a $4 million grin—came to the winner's circle flanked by four geishas, their faces powdered white, wearing bright kimonos. Pegasus had answered the big question in his own colorful terms. In fact, he is very good. "This pretty boy can run," Desormeaux said.
But it was jockey Corey Nakatani, who finished 13th on Anees, who drew the winner in the boldest colors: "There's the Triple Crown winner."