By BRANT JAMES
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2001
NEW YORK -- At this time last year, Fusaichi Pegasus was racing's wonder horse, a $4-million colt owned by a Japanese businessman and trained by a Hall of Famer from England.
Fusaichi Pegasus lived up to the lofty expectations with a convincing win in the Wood Memorial that propelled him to a smashing victory in the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.
Monarchos, on the verge of star status, has a chance to duplicate Fusaichi Pegasus' feat beginning today when the Florida Derby winner takes on five 3-year-olds in the $750,000 Wood at Aqueduct.
"This is the last building block in his prep," trainer John Ward said of Monarchos, a winner in each of his three races this year. "I'd love to see him win, but I don't want to see him go over the top. I'd hate to see him in a head-to-head duel."
Neil Drysdale, Fusaichi Pegasus' trainer, had a similar outlook before last year's Wood, hoping for a win but not overly concerned about a loss as long as his colt ran a solid race. Fusaichi Pegasus won easily, beating Red Bullet by 41/2 lengths.
He won the Derby three weeks later.
Monarchos doesn't have the same credentials as the 2000 Wood winner, but a win could elevate him to the Derby favorite's role along with Point Given, winner of the Santa Anita Derby last week in his final Kentucky Derby prep.
The gray colt was purchased for $170,000 last year by Oklahoma oilman John Oxley, and Ward is a third-generation Kentucky horseman whose uncle was the conditioner of Forego.
Jorge Chavez, among New York's top riders, will be aboard Monarchos today for the fourth straight race.
The Wood is one of three Derby prep races today, along with the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. Ward's other Derby horse, Hero's Tribute, runs in the Blue Grass.
A pair of two-time Derby winning trainers -- Bob Baffert and Nick Zito -- will saddle Monarchos' chief rivals in New York.
Baffert, who also trains Point Given, trains lightly-raced Congaree, and Zito has It's So Simple. Zito also sends out A P Valentine in the Blue Grass.
Congaree, a son of Arazi, is making his stakes debut coming off two wins in three career starts; It's So Simple was sixth in the Florida Derby. Congaree, with Victor Espinoza aboard, is the second choice at 8-5, with It's So Simple, to be ridden by Aaron Gryder, at 10-1.
The Gotham is run at a mile, the Wood at 11/8 miles and the Derby 11/4 miles.
WIN OVERTURNED: A stewards' inquiry gave Two Item Limit the victory Friday in Aqueduct's $110,100 Grade III Comely Stakes for 3-year-old fillies in New York. After finishing second in the race, Two Item Limit was placed first when the stewards ruled Mandy's Gold, the front-running favorite, had impeded in the stretch. Mandy's Gold was dropped from first to second.
PERFECT STING FAVORED: Perfect Sting, a landslide winner as the top female turf runner in North America in the Eclipse Award voting, is scheduled to make her debut as a 5-year-old today in the $200,000 Black Helen Handicap at Hialeah. Nine horses were entered against the champion, and two of them, Spook Express and Gaviola, are major threats. Perfect Sting, ridden for the first time by Eibar Coa, is the highweight at 122 pounds. She will open as the favorite at 8-5.