Fusaichi Pegasus will head to Churchill Downs on Monday as the clear-cut favorite for the Kentucky Derby on May 6.
The $4 million colt cruised to a 4 1/4-length victory over Red Bullet at Aqueduct in the $750,000 Wood Memorial, one of three major Derby prep races around the country Saturday.
At Keeneland, High Yield outdueled More Than Ready to win the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass, with Florida Derby winner Hal's Hope last in the eight-horse field.
At Oaklawn Park, Graeme Hall, an 18-1 shot, led wire-to-wire to upset Snuck In in the $500,000 Arkansas Derby.
But the talk of the racing world three weeks from the Derby centers on Fusaichi Pegasus, trained by Neil Drysdale and ridden by Kent Desormeaux, who rode Real Quiet within a neck of winning the Triple Crown in 1998.
"This was a major, major step," Desormeaux said. "This horse showed me the capability of being able to sprint to a spot, go on cruise control, sprint to a spot later on, go back on cruise control and then really stretch out when you ask him for his life late in the race."
Before and after the race, the strong-willed bay colt dawdled while looking around, leaving Drysdale to comment: "He has mind of his own, and when he decides to do it, he does it."
What he did was stage a powerful finishing kick to overtake Red Bullet and Country Only inside the eighth-pole over a wet track rated good.
Aptitude came on for third with Country Only fourth in the field of 12 3-year-olds.
"He justified himself as the Kentucky Derby favorite," Drysdale said of Fusaichi Pegasus, who returned $3.80 as the 4-5 favorite. "I could not have asked for a better performance. Just look at him coming back he adores looking around."
The winner covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:47 4-5, the fifth fastest time in 76 runnings of the Wood.
Fusaichi Pegasus earned $450,000 for the win and can earn a $250,000 bonus if he completes the Wood-Derby double.
The last Wood winner to take the Kentucky Derby was Pleasant Colony in 1981.
In the Blue Grass, High Yield took the lead with about an eighth of a mile remaining, fell behind More Than Ready and then regained the advantage just before the sixteenth pole to win by a head.
"You can always smell the roses here from Keeneland," trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who won the Derby last year with Charismatic, said.
Wheelaway finished third, three lengths behind More Than Ready.
"The real concern was in midstretch when we were bumped twice by More Than Ready, but Pat (Day) rode him well," Lukas said.
High Yield covered the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:48 3-5 and paid $5.80 in earning $465,000 for owners Bob and Beverly Lewis, Mrs. John Magnier and Michael Tabor.
Mighty, the Louisiana Derby winner was seventh.
In the Arkansas Derby, Graeme Hall, trained by Todd Pletcher, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49, anwon by two lengths over Snuck In. Graeme Hall paid $38.40.
In the California Derby at Golden Gate Fields, Bet On Red was a narrow winner over Jekyll and Hyde. David Copperfield, the 6-5 favorite and only horse to defeat Fusaichi Pegasus, was third.
©2000 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
© 2000 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.