PREAKNESS MEMORIES: THE LATE-BLOOMING RED BULLET
On April 13, 1997, a red colt made his way into the world. Bred by Adena Springs, the colt was by Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic Champion Unbridled, and was out of the Caro mare, Cargo. Given the name Red Bullet, the colt was owned by Stronach Stables and was trained by Joe Orseno.
Red Bullet was a bit of a late bloomer, kicking off his racing career in January at the age of three. Despite his late start to the races, Red Bullet was quick to make an impression on the track. Right off the bat the chestnut colt rattled off three victories in a row, including a score in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack. It was not until his start in the Wood Memorial (G2) where Red Bullet tasted defeat for the first time. His loss came at the hands of the indominable Fusaichi Pegasus, who would go on to win the Kentucky Derby one month later.
After his second-place finish in the Wood Memorial, Red Bullet sat on the sidelines while many of his peers ran for the roses in Kentucky. Orseno said that Red Bullet was experiencing a “growth spur” and that skipping the laborious grind of the Kentucky Derby was in his best interest.
“If I’d run him in the Derby, I would have said to myself how stupid I was,” Stronach said later.
While Red Bullet continued to grow and train, Fusaichi Pegasus was being showered in roses and hailed as a hero of the sport, as many experts believed that he had what it took to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. Red Bullet, on the other hand, would beg to differ.
Fusaichi Pegasus entered the Preakness Stakes as the 3-10 favorite, with many bettors convinced that he had the talent to keep Triple Crown hopes alive. While somewhat living in the Derby winner’s shadow, Red Bullet was not totally forgotten by the betting public and paraded to post as the 6-1 second choice. When the starting gates would open in the Preakness Stakes, it would be the first meeting between Fusaichi Pegasus and Red Bullet since the Wood Memorial, when Red Bullet was forced to feel the sting of defeat for the first time in his young life. A crowd of 98,304 gathered at Old Hilltop to witness the anticipated rematch that Red Bullet and his connections had been waiting for. This time it would be Red Bullet who would have the last laugh.
The starting gates rumbled open and the field took off to the roar of the crowd in the 125th Preakness Stakes. With Jerry Bailey in the irons, Red Bullet launched from post four. Wanting to conserve his steed’s energy, Bailey restrained Red Bullet’s speed and held him back, allowing a surge of rivals to rush by.
In the early stages of the race, Red Bullet was traveling seventh in a field of eight. Red Bullet took an awkward step near the clubhouse turn and lost momentum, but he quickly recovered and, though seventh, was not too far behind the dueling leaders, Hugh Hefner and High Yield.
Up the backstretch, Red Bullet crept closer while between horses. By the time the field entered the far turn, he was just a couple of lengths behind the leaders while moving in tandem with Fusaichi Pegasus, who was just to his outside.
Bailey implored his steed for more and Red Bullet was quick to respond. Rounding the turn, Red Bullet shot forward, which brought him up to speed with Fusaichi Pegasus who was in an all-out drive. The pair hit the lane almost together, Red Bullet four wide and Fu Peg one path wider still, until Red Bullet found something more. Red Bullet seized the lead and refused to let it go.
Rising to a 3 3/4 length advantage in the final stages of the stretch, Red Bullet flashed over the wire in a modest final time of 1:56.04. Behind him, Fusaichi Pegasus and jockey Kent Desormeaux narrowly held second over the late-charging longshot Impeachment, who completed the trifecta.
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While many lamented the demise of yet another Triple Crown bid, the connections of Red Bullet found the taste of victory sweet.
“I always knew in my heart this was a great horse,” owner Frank Stronach said of Red Bullet after the race. “Anytime a horse doesn’t finish well in (the Wood Memorial) it takes more out of him than you think.”
For jockey Kent Desormeaux, his loss in the Preakness Stakes perhaps stung a little more. Two years previously, he’d seen his Triple Crown dreams dashed in the most stunning possible way, when Victory Gallop ran down Real Quiet in the very last jump of the Belmont Stakes, spoiling what would have been the first Triple Crown in 20 years. In the aftermath of the 2000 Preakness Stakes, Desormeaux was once again left to come to terms with what could have been and accept it for what it was.
“The track was a little greasy,” Desormeaux said in an interview with the New York Post. “It might have made a difference, but Red Bullet and I were right together all the way down the backside. We pushed the button at the same time, but Red Bullet had the bigger button.”
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Red Bullet was not quite the same after the Preakness Stakes. The colt raced nine more times after being crowned as the Preakness hero, but only made it to the winner’s circle in two of those attempts. When all was said and done, Red Bullet retired from the races with a record of six wins from fourteen starts, and career earnings of $1,161,920.
Red Bullet stood at stud at his owner’s farm, Adena Springs. Red Bullet did well in his new career, and went on to sire many winners, including Canadian Horse of the Year, Fatal Bullet.
Red Bullet stood at stud until 2011, when he was pensioned due to a decrease in fertility. Upon his retirement from the breeding shed, Red Bullet had sired progeny that had collectively earned more then $9.1 million on the track.
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