Fusaichi Pegasus, who sold for $4 million as a yearling and then lived up to those expectations by winning the 2000 Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs, died May 23. He was 26.
Coolmore reported the passing of the classic-winning son of Mr. Prospector, noting he was euthanized at Ashford Stud May 23 because of the infirmities of old age. He stood at Ashford from 2001 until 2020, when he was pensioned.
That $4 million price is the highest paid at any auction for an eventual Kentucky Derby winner. In fact, no other eventual Derby winner has reached seven figures when sold at public auction as a yearling or juvenile. Beyond horses to win the Derby, Fusaichi Pegasus is the highest-priced horse to ever start in the classic.
Bred by Arthur Hancock and Bob and Janice McNair's Stonerside Farm, 'Fu Peg' as he widely became known, was purchased for that $4 million by Fusao Sekiguchi at the 1998 Keeneland July Sale of Selected Yearlings from Stone Farm. Trained by Neil Drysdale, Fusaichi Pegasus took the San Felipe Stakes (G2) and the Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) before winning the 2000 Derby as the favorite and finishing second in the Preakness Stakes (G1) 14 days later.
Fusaichi Pegasus won the Derby the same year that Drysdale was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. The trainer remembers a quirky colt who didn't care for repetitiveness in his training.
"He was a challenging horse to train, actually," Drysdale told BloodHorse upon the news of Fusaichi Pegasus' death. "He was rambunctious and had a lot of energy. He was a horse who you had to do something different with every day. Most horses enjoy a routine and he did not."
Fusaichi Pegasus provided Drysdale with his first Kentucky Derby win in what has turned out to be the only year the trainer has participated in the race. Drysdale also saddled that year's ninth-place finisher, War Chant. As the post-time favorite, Fusaichi Pegasus gave jockey Kent Desormeaux his second win in the Run for the Roses following a victory aboard Real Quiet two years earlier.
"He trained very well going into the race," Drysdale said. "It was a big field (19) and the racing gods were on his side, and he was able to have the guts and came from the clouds."
For Hancock, the memories of Fusaichi Pegasus still echo strongly in his mind.
"He was the best-looking foal I think I've ever seen," Hancock told BloodHorse May 24. "Five of us were there when he foaled. He started looking at each one of us, like a dog would study you. He kind of turned his head as he looked at each of us. He was smart. Then he got up and I saw him the next morning and we turned him out. I said, 'He looks like a little Superman.' So, I nicknamed him Superman. And he just kept on being grand-looking."
Hancock admits to having some jitters as Fusaichi Pegasus was about to make his entrance into the sales ring as a yearling at Keeneland.
"We loved the horse. I think our reserve was $1.4 (million), if I remember right. We knew that Coolmore and (another prominent owner) Satish Sanan were interested in him," Hancock recalled. "Right before the sale, I was sitting there and I was nervous. John Adger (the McNairs' bloodstock advisor) came by with (Bob McNair) and John said, 'Oh no, oh no.' I asked him, 'What's the matter with you?'—the horse was just about ready to come into the ring."
Adger then told Hancock that Coolmore and Sanan had teamed up to bid on the colt. At that point, Hancock figured they only had one bidder, in essence.
"Then the bidding started and Mr. Sekiguchi bought him and (Sanan) and Coolmore were the under bidders. Maybe it worked out better with those two working together because they bid up to $3.8 or ($3.9) million before he sold for $4 million."
Another fond memory for Hancock is how he and the McNairs acquired Fusaichi Pegasus' dam, Angel Fever, for $525,000 at the 1994 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale when she was in foal to Forty Niner. The stakes-placed daughter of Danzig had won one of two starts before her retirement in 1992 and was consigned to the sale by Longfield Farm. Fusaichi Pegasus would become the mare's fourth foal.
"When we bought the mare, I was bidding, and Bob McNair and John Adger were sitting there. I bid $475,000 and someone else bid $500,000. That was a lot of money. I passed on bidding again. That scared me to death, $500,000. So Bob, who is very smart, said, 'If she's worth $500,000, isn't she worth $25,000 more?' I said, 'Well, Bob, that makes a lot of sense.' I bid and we got her.
"Without having Bob by my side and without him having said that, I would have stopped. That extra $25,000 was the reason that we bred a Kentucky Derby winner."
A year on from his legendary sire Mr. Prospector passing away, a heated bidding war involving most farms in Lexington for Fusaichi Pegasus ensued, and he retired to Ashford Stud at the end of 2000 for a then record-breaking sum. Multiple outlets reported that price to be north of $60 million. He would stand his initial season for $150,000.
Fusaichi Pegasus went on to sire six champions worldwide and grade 1 winners including Roman Ruler, Champ Pegasus, Haradasun, and Bandini, while Southern Hemisphere stints at Haras Don Alberto and Haras Philipson yielded Chilean Horse of the Year Bronzo and champion miler Telamon. He was also the broodmare sire of 2023 Chilean Triple Crown winner Fortino.
Fusaichi Pegasus lived out his retirement at Ashford.
"Fu Peg was a fantastic racehorse and a colorful character," commented Ashford Stud general manager Dermot Ryan. "I would like to thank (stallion manager) Richard Barry and all of his team, past and present, for providing the highest level of care for him throughout his time at Ashford."