04/26/2002 11:00PM

Bad step benefits Pyrus

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JAMAICA, N.Y. - Pyrus briefly lost the lead but came on again to win the $112,100 Fort Marcy Handicap at Aqueduct on Saturday when the 9-5 favorite, Sharp Performance, was pulled up in deep stretch with a leg injury.

Sharp Performance, who was making his first start of the season, was removed from the turf course by horse ambulance with possible suspensory injuries to both his forelegs. Dr. Neil Cleary, the track veterinarian, said there didn't appear to be any fractures and that the suspensory injury was more serious in the right foreleg. Cleary also said Sharp Performance bled.

John Velazquez, Sharp Performance's rider, was taken off his mount in the final race by the track physician because of a possible pulled muscle, a result of pulling up Sharp Performance when he took a bad step in deep stretch.

"He was just moving weird," Velazquez said. "I tried to pull him up, and I think I pulled a muscle in my rib cage."

Aqueduct's turf course was listed as yielding after a few days of rain, which knocked out grass racing on Thursday and Friday.

Pyrus, a Kentucky shipper trained by Elliott Walden, set the pace in the 1 1/16-mile Fort Marcy, and was headed momentarily by Sharp Performance, who had a perfect stalking trip on the outside, inside the sixteenth pole. Pyrus, under Edgar Prado, shot back on the inside when Sharp Performance bobbled and was pulled up.

Pyrus was a neck winner over the late-closing Proud Man. It was another length back to Capsized in third. Dr. Kashnikow, the second choice, had some trouble in the stretch and finished fourth in the eight-horse field.

Pyrus ($10.60) covered the distance in 1:44.53 after fractions of 24.13 seconds, 49.04, and 1:13.75.

Peter Bradley III and Jubilee Stable own Pyrus, a 4-year-old son of Mr. Prospector.

Ryan Van Tilburg, Walden's assistant, saddled the Fort Marcy winner.

"This was his best effort today," Van Tilburg said. "I knew he would be tough when I saw the fractions."