09/19/2016 10:04AM

Sparkman: The curse of expectations

Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Engaginglee (left), a daugther of Fusaichi Pegasus, wins the Grade 3 Locust Grove Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Expectations can be deadly – especially when combined with a high price tag.

When Fusaichi Pegasus went to stud in 2001, his $100,000 initial stud fee made it imperative that he sire a string of high-class horses right from the get-go. That did not happen, and when his progeny developed a reputation for having inherited their sire’s combustible temperament, buyers and breeders quickly soured on the 2000 Kentucky Derby winner.

Despite those flaws, however, Fusaichi Pegasus has not been an abject failure as a stallion. Engaginglee, winner of the Grade 3 Locust Grove Stakes at Churchill Downs on Saturday is, after all, his 84th stakes winner, but it is fair enough to criticize Fusaichi Pegasus for his flaws while also acknowledging what he has nevertheless accomplished despite them.

Bred in Kentucky by Stonerside Stables and Arthur B. Hancock III, Fusaichi Pegasus was born to stardom and played that role with abundant talent and sometimes excessive spirit on the racetrack. From the 22nd crop of his two-time leading sire Mr. Prospector, his dam, Angel Fever, by Danzig, was a full sister to 1992 Preakness Stakes winner and fair sire Pine Bluff, and half-sister to Grade 1 Arkansas Derby winner Demons Begone, by Elocutionist, from the great family tracing to foundation mare Bold Irish that also includes champions Ruffian, Green Forest, Epitome, Castle Forbes, and Kentucky Derby winner Orb.

Fusaichi Pegasus looked the part of a high-class racehorse so thoroughly at the 1998 Keeneland July sale of selected yearlings that flamboyant Japanese owner Fusao Sekiguchi paid a sales-topping $4 million for him. A tall, long-bodied, correct horse though perhaps slightly soft in his pasterns, Fusaichi Pegasus had everything a buyer could want in a prospective racehorse.

Sent to trainer Neil Drysdale, he did not make his first start until Dec. 11 of his juvenile season, when he made the lead in the stretch but tired to be beaten a neck by subsequent stakes winner David Copperfield in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden at Hollywood Park. The turn of the calendar brought easy victories in a six-furlong maiden and a 1 1/16-mile allowance at Santa Anita, and the Mr. Prospector colt then proved his class with wins in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes and the Wood Memorial.

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That made Fusaichi Pegasus the favorite for the Kentucky Derby, and he duly obliged in impressive fashion by 1 1/2 lengths over Aptitude. Odds-on for the Preakness two weeks later, he never showed the same sparkle, rallying tamely as Red Bullet squeezed through inside him for an easy win. Fusaichi Pegasus ran only twice more, winning the Jerome Handicap, but he made no show behind Tiznow and Giant’s Causeway in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Fusaichi Pegasus’s first crop included the high-class but temperamental colt Roman Ruler (out of Silvery Swan, by Silver Deputy), who remains his best American-bred son, as well as Blue Grass Stakes winner Bandini, but there was nothing of comparable merit in his second crop, and Fusaichi Pegasus’s popularity with breeders quickly faded. He was actually somewhat more successful in shuttle service in Australia and South America, siring champion Haradasun (Circles of Gold, by Marscay) down under and champion Bronzo (Bateria Blindada, by Memo) in Chile.

Engaginglee’s pedigree is typical of the quality of mare Fusaichi Pegasus has been able to attract in recent seasons in America. Her dam, Lee Gage, by Fit to Fight, was tough and sound winning 15 of 60 starts, mostly in claiming company, and earning $153,532. Lee Gage has produced two other winners, and there is no black type under her dam, Starry Flag, by Admiral’s Flag. Starry Flag, though, is a full sister to Honest Ensign, winner of the Grade 3 Broward Handicap and the Widener Handicap.

There is a smattering of black type along various branches of her extended family tree, but the only Grade 1 winner of recent vintage is 2016 Shoemaker Mile winner Midnight Storm, by Pioneerof the Nile, who is a very distant relation.

Fusaichi Pegasus’s 84 stakes winners worldwide account for only 4.3 percent of his 1,946 foals age 3 and up, ample reason that his 2016 stud fee was listed at only $7,500.

Despite his failures, though, Fusaichi Pegasus has left something of a legacy through Roman Ruler, who has become one of the leading sires in Argentina in recent years. His son Lenovo was champion sprinter there in 2015 and may well extend the genes of Fusaichi Pegasus to future generations.