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Kentucky Derby: Captain Steve's a bear, and Pegasus is acting the goat again.

HAM and eggs $6, vegetable soup $2.50, at Wagner's Pharmacy, 4th and Central, just across from Gate 4 at Churchill Downs. Nick Zito, he loves Kitty's vegetable soup. D Wayne Lukas, he's a chilli man. Hot Mexican chilli. That's for D Wayne.

That's where they go for breakfast. Zito and Lukas, Bob Baffert and Gary Stevens. "Gary's a real good friend of mine," says Lee Wagner, grinning like a toothbrush promotion, hair cut neat and short, like his shirt. "He's given up with that knee of his, but I don't know for how long. Boy, he's itching to get back."

Packed cafe in the front, pharmacy out the back, all sorts in the middle.

Out the side, Wagner has another operation, making jockeys' silks and the number cloth for every runner in the Kentucky Derby.

"Father bought the pharmacy in 1922," says Lee. "As a kid, I remember Ben Jones in here; he trained Citation to win the Derby in 1948, Eddie Arcaro up."

On the wall above, a black-and-white photograph shows Arcaro garlanded with roses. The walls are covered with the photographs of Derby winners.

"Ben used to come in for Dad's botanical drugs. Wagner's fever medicine, leg paints, old-time things. Woody Stephens was always in here. The greatest trainer there ever was.

"They gave me tips. Sure they gave me tips. Those tips kept me broke. And I gave them tips. 1991, the track came up real sharp. It was making them dance. I carried ice over for Zito's Strike The Gold, painted it on his feet, called it foot-freeze, and he won the Derby. He's like family, Nick Zito."

In 1997, Wagner helped Baffert out with a few problems Silver Charm was having. "I'll tell you what," says Wagner, and he tells me, leaning forward, like a secret. You're a long way away. I can share it with you.

Baffert is a friend of Wagner's, a good friend, and he runs Captain Steve in the Derby. "He's doing good," says Wagner. "Believe me, he's doing real good." And he pauses, to make sure I know he isn't kidding. "He wasn't working good when he came, but he's been here a month and he's turning into a bear." Then Wagner nods. "Sure is."

On the backstretch, Lukas nods to his audience. Big hat, big audience. That's D Wayne. Voice a bit croaky. Must be all those words of his. "Unrenewable natural resources, that's what we need to worry about," Lukas tells a media man, "not where High Yield is in the gate. That's my philosophy for today."

But the media do worry about which gates the horses are in. They worry, too, about how Fusaichi Pegasus will cope with the crowd, and exactly how much it would mean to Sheikh Mohammed to win the Kentucky Derby.

"We need to win this race," says Saeed Bin Suroor, and the journalists ask just how much, exactly, Sheikh Mohammed needs to win it. "Would there be life afterwards, if he didn't win?" asks one.

Then they probe Bin Suroor's credentials as a policeman. Saeed looks baffled. Yes, it was 1986 when he became a policeman, and 1992 when he stopped being a policeman.

"But there's no crime in Dubai," one journalist protests. "How many people did you arrest?" Saeed smiles. "None," he replies, and smiles a bit more. "That's because we were good policemen."

Outside Barn 41, Neil Drysdale answers all the questions he had answered the previous day. Today, Fusaichi Pegasus goes to the track with a pony. He looks very strong, and later, when they stop him eating grass and tell him it's time for bed, Fusaichi Pegasus wants to stay up, eat more grass, watch a soap, maybe play a few hands of bridge.

"It's all overplayed," says Drysdale, gold-rimmed glasses, uncharismatic cardigan, looks a bit like Graham Greene, a bit like Henry Cecil. Drysdale stares at the sky every now and again, just to make sure it's still there, folds his arms, talks with an accent somewhere between Surrey and San Francisco.

Drysdale can't understand what all the fuss is about. "Fusaichi Pegasus isn't a bit malicious," he says, mildly exasperated. "I had four horses on the grass, and not one of them wanted to come in. That's what they like, eating grass."

That's right. Everyone knows that. Horses eat grass, like sheep, but faster.

Back at Barn 45, someone asks Bin Suroor: "Is there any American food you've grown to like?" He's not joking. "What you give me, I will eat," says Saeed. Simon Crisford has just bought a donut from Wagner's Trackside Van. I wonder if Saeed likes those.

I expect someone will ask him tomorrow.
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Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Ashforth, David
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:May 5, 2000
Previous Article:Kentucky Derby: Rings A Chime heads Kentucky Oaks field.
Next Article:Kentucky Derby: Godolphin approach leaves US writers cold.

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