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Horse Racing
William Nack
November 13, 2000
Big-time BustsHigh-priced favorites finished up the track at the Breeders' Cup
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November 13, 2000

Horse Racing

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Big-time Busts
High-priced favorites finished up the track at the Breeders' Cup

No moment in last Saturday's Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs had been anticipated more eagerly than the last 24 seconds of the richest race run in North America, the $4.8 million Breeders' Cup Classic at 1� miles.

This was the final rush through the straight, and most of those in the crowd of 76,043 had imagined they'd see Fusaichi Pegasus, the brilliant winner of the May 6 Kentucky Derby, unleash his devastating kick, blow by the leaders and not only announce himself as the 2000 Horse of the Year but also prove worthy of his staggering price tag as a breeding stallion. Last June, after he had lost the Preakness Stakes in the mud of Pimlico, Fupeg was sold as a stud horse for $60 million, making him by far the most valuable animal in history. (The highest previous breeding price had been the $40 million paid for Shareef Dancer in 1983.) His smashing three-quarter-length victory in the Sept. 23 Jerome Handicap at Belmont Park had persuaded Churchill horseplayers to make him the prohibitive 6-5 favorite.

As pacesetters Albert the Great and Tiznow, a huge bay horse, came hurtling head-to-head off the last turn, leading eighth-placed Pegasus by 6� lengths, a roar went up when jockey Kent Desormeaux, on Fupeg, set him down in a drive. When Giant's Causeway loomed up to join Tiznow, and Albert faded, Fupeg seemed stuck on a treadmill, moving but going nowhere, while Tiznow held off Giant's Causeway deep in the stretch and beat him to the wire by a neck. "What a fighter!" said Tiznow's rider, Chris McCarron. Fupeg never got close enough to throw a punch, finishing sixth, beaten by nearly eight lengths.

Fupeg's defeat in the Classic was, symbolically, the perfect ending to an afternoon on which many big-ticket horses lost, a few ignominiously, while several of the blue-collars—Tiznow did not break his maiden until May 31 and is California-bred, to boot-did much of the memorable running. Indeed, not only did Fupeg get thumped, but the other pricey fur coat in the Classic, Lemon Drop Kid, also did not look like a stallion worth $30 million, the price a Kentucky syndicate recently paid for him. According to the syndication deal, Lemon Drop Kid's owner, Jeanne Vance, would have received an additional $10 million had he won the Classic. Alas, he came up as hollow as a gourd in the final furlong and finished fifth, beaten by a very costly 5� lengths.

The other high-priced failure this year was a 2-year-old colt, A P Valentine, who had been purchased as a yearling for $475,000 by a partnership led by Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino. After the colt's 1�-length victory in the Oct 14 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park, the same Irish-British outfit that had anted up $60 million for Fupeg, Coolmore Stud, bought the breeding rights to A P Valentine for $15 million, a sum that would escalate if the colt won certain unidentified events in the future. Trainer Nick Zito had been saying all week that this might be the best colt he had ever trained—he conditioned two Kentucky Derby winners, Strike the Gold and Go for Gin—and that he expected to win the Juvenile. Instead, Macho Uno won by a nose, barely lasting to beat the onrushing Point Given. Zito, his face ashen, watched Valentine struggle home last. "I don't believe this," he said.

All in all, the three horses had recently fetched a combined $105 million, and none of them hit the board. Neither did the supposed lock of the day, the Brazilian-bred mare Riboletta—the winner of her last six, all stakes races—in the Distaff. She had been mentioned as a possible Horse of the Year in the event that the Kid and Fupeg failed. But she struggled home seventh, beaten by nearly nine lengths, while the winner, Spain, paid a whopping $113.80. In the second Cup race, for Juvenile Fillies, Caressing won and paid $96. Only two favorites, Kona Gold in the Sprint and War Chant in the Mile, won all day.

"That's what this game is all about," said Joe Orseno, who trained two Cup winners, turf filly Perfect Sting and Macho Uno, both ridden by Jerry Bailey. "Any horse at this level can win. It's good for racing when long shots win."

So, out of this welter of beaten favorites and high-priced busts, who emerges as America's Horse of the Year in 2000? That's easier to divine than picking winners at the Breeders' Cup: no one.

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