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These opposites are attracting victories

Frisky Fusaichi Pegasus and his reserved trainer are a good team.

They could not be much less alike, really. The gregarious, wild youngster and the sober, contemplating man.

Maybe that's why they have been so successful together, Fusaichi Pegasus and trainer Neil Drysdale.

Some 3-year-old would have risen to celebrity in the spring and won the 126th Kentucky Derby if the $4-million colt had not. But when Fusaichi Pegasus beat the best colts in the West at the San Felipe and in the East at the Wood Memorial, then won the Derby by 1{ lengths that seemed more like 10, he legitimized his status as one of the best 3-year-olds in decades.

With a victory today in the 125th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course, he can become the fourth straight horse to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Like Silver Charm, Real Quiet and Charismatic before him, Fusaichi Pegasus would need a Belmont Stakes title to become the 12th horse to complete the Triple Crown. Unlike those three, though, Fusaichi Pegasus will go to the seventh post in the 1

3/16-mile race today as an overwhelming 1-5 favorite.

"He's good for the sport right now," said Bob Baffert, who trains 14-1 choice Captain Steve. "I've never come in here and seen a horse that has won the Derby and gotten so much attention before the Preakness. Real Quiet got some attention. Charismatic, they thought he was lucky.

"This time there was none of that. This horse has shown he is superior in the Derby."

Fusaichi Pegasus and Drysdale appear to have taken on more of the other's personality in growing superior together. The colt still stops during gallops to gaze at airplanes and new people, but, Drysdale said, he "is becoming more professional" after six races. Still, he has his moments.

"Have you ever been to a Lipizzan show?" Drysdale asked. "He can do these cabrioles where he goes up and out with the hind legs so he has all four legs off the ground at the same time.

"Once we realized he's that athletic and he can do those things without hurting himself, we stopped worrying about it so much and let him play."

Drysdale, in contrast, is the typical Englishman: cool, reserved, private. He corrects the grammar of strangers, and warned before the Derby he would answer no "touchy-feely questions."

He still won't, but he comes closer, talking for extended periods as Fusaichi Pegasus is sequestered at Barn 7 in the backstretch behind a picket.

"Neil has always been the same," Baffert said. "Very focused. He takes his job seriously. And he has a light side, a wild side. But you're not ever going to see it."

With Fusaichi Pegasus out of the prerace limelight, on the other side of the Pimlico superstructure the challengers wait in the Stakes Barns. Drysdale's colt has raced against and beaten the field except for dark horses Hugh Hefner and Snuck In. Only four of the 19 Derby starters are entered today.

Baffert said he was convinced how good Fusaichi Pegasus was when he thundered down the stretch to beat Red Bullet by 1{ lengths in the Wood Memorial.

"That was very impressive," he said. "At the three-eighths pole it looked like he was spitting the bit out, but when it seemed they were getting away from him he was just kind of like, "Okay.' I was like, "Wow, I'm going to need a bigger boat.'

"We're always downplaying it because you still want to be optimistic about it, but at the same time you have to dream in black and white and it's a tough assignment for all of us."

Adding to the Fusaichi Pegasus advantage in the Preakness is jockey Kent Desormeaux, who began his career racing in Maryland and won five jockey titles at Pimlico. He won the Preakness in 1998 with Real Quiet.

A reduced field gives the favorite fewer places to hide, however, and Desormeaux admits he will have to beware. The kind of space along the rail that allowed him to save ground for a rousing stretch run in the Derby will likely not appear again.

"I think the riders will be a little more careful about letting him down onto the rail this time," said Todd Pletcher, trainer of 25-1 Impeachment. "I think if Jerry Bailey is outside of him on Red Bullet and somebody in front has a chance to keep him in there, they're going to keep him in there. That goes without saying. I'm not suggesting they'll be riding against him, I'm suggesting they'll be aware of him."

Desormeaux knows that.

"Him being the favorite, it will be very easy for the other riders to try and manipulate (my) path," he said. "The challenge of my ride this weekend is to assure me a path where I cannot get blocked by my fellow riders."

If Fusaichi Pegasus does win, Drysdale said his victory celebration will be as staid as it was after the Derby: next to nothing.

But somewhere, out of sight, Baffert says, there will be one.

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