By Richard Rosenblatt
A dozen horses (plus four also-eligibles) were invited Sunday (Jan. 3) to the fifth running of the 1 1/8-mile race for 4-year-olds and up on Jan. 23. To the surprise of hardly anyone – Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has a pair of the likely favorites.
Mucho Gusto, the defending champion, is set to return as is Charlatan, who has finished first in all four of his races, including the Malibu Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita on Dec. 26.
Mucho Gusto ran fourth in the $20 million Saudi Cup on Feb. 29, and didn’t race again until finishing fourth of six in the San Antonio (G2) at Santa Anita on Dec. 26. Owned by Prince Faisal Bin Khaled of Saudi Arabia, the San Antonio was simply a prep for the Pegasus and the 2021 Saudi Cup on Feb. 20.
Charlatan, meanwhile, returned with a victory after a seven-month layoff due to an ankle injury. The now 4-year-old won a division of the Arkansas Derby (G1) on May 2, but a post-race medication positive resulted in a disqualification.
The other 10 horses given first preference into the invitational race are Code of Honor, Harpers First Ride, Jesus’ Team, Kiss Today Goodbye, Knicks Go, Mr Freeze, Sharp Samurai, Sleepy Eyes Todd, Tax, and True Timber.
The also-eligibles are Anothertwistafate, Math Wizard, King Guillermo, and Idol.
Also, the invitees for the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) were announced, led by Grade 1 winners Say the Word and Storm the Court, and three horses trained by Todd Pletcher.
Baffert has saddled the winners in two of the four Word Cups – Arrogate in 2017, Mucho Gusto in 2020.
Knicks Go has won three in a row since being moved to trainer Brad Cox’s stable, including the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at Keeneland on Nov. 7.
Jesus’ Team was second in the BC Mile, and ran third in the Preakness (G1) and the Jim Dandy (G2) in 2020.
Sharp Samurai hasn’t won since 2018, but the 7-year-old gelding was third in the BC Mile, and second in the 2020 Pacific Classic (G1), Eddie Read (G2) and City of Hope (G2). He is also on the invite list for the Turf.
Code of Honor, trained by Shug McGaughey, was placed second in the 2019 Kentucky Derby (G1), won the Travers (G1) and the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) via a DQ of Vino Rosso, and took the Westchester (G3) in 2020, with runner-up finishes in the Clark (G1) and Kelso (G2).
True Timber, winner of the Cigar Mile (G1) qt the Big A on Dec. 5, is back for a third World Cup – the 7-year-old was seventh in 2019 and eighth in 2020.
This will be the third edition of the 1 3/16th-mile event previously won by Bricks and Mortar in 2019 and Zulu Alpha in 2020.
Pletcher’s trio includes Largent, Colonel Liam, and Social Paranoia.
The others with first preference are Anothertwistafate, Breaking the Rules, Cross Border, Doswell, North Dakota, Pixelate, Say the Word, and Sharp Samurai. The also-eligibles are Next Shares, Field Pass, Analyze It, and Greyes Creek.
Largent, a son of Into Mischief, comes into the race off a win in the Fort Lauderdale on Dec. 21. The gelding has won six of nine career starts, including four of five at Gulfstream
Colonel Liam won three of five starts in 2020, including the Tropical Park Derby on Dec. 26.
Social Paranoia, 5-year-old, prepped for the race with an allowance optional claiming win at Gulfstream on Dec. 16 off a five-month layoff. He also won the Appleton (G3) and the Poker Stakes (G3) in 2020. was Social Paranoia won the Appleton (G3) at Gulfstream.
Say the Word comes into the Pegasus Turf off a third in the Hollywood Turf Cup (G2) after winning the Northern Dancer Turf (G1) at Woodbine in October. Storm the Court, the 2019 BC Juvenile (G1) winner, has moved to turf and most recently ran seventh in the Hollywood Derby and second in the Mathis Brothers Mile (G2).
Chad Brown won his sixth consecutive New York Racing Association year-end training title with 91 wins, and Jose Ortiz captured his second riding crown with 142 victories.
Klaravich Stables was the runaway winner as top owner with 48 victories – 14 more than Repole Stable. The NYRA tracks are Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga.
Ortiz was 142-139-95 in 707 mounts on the NYRA circuit in 2020, a year that saw him win career race No. 2,000. He finished up with a 20.08% winning rate on the NYRA circuit.
“I’m pretty happy about it and I’m very proud of the work we put into it,” said Ortiz. “This is why you work this hard. It was a tough year. We couldn’t work horses in the morning like we normally could, but we made it through and I’m just happy we’re all healthy coming out of this.”
Among his wins: Kelso Handicap (G2) with Complexity; Miss Grillo (G2) with Plum Ali; Belmont Turf Sprint Invitational (G3) with Wet Your Whistle; Bowling Green (G2) Cross Border; Jim Dandy (G2) with Mystic Guide; Fall Highweight (G3) with Share the Ride and the Go for Wand Handicap (G3) with Sharp Starr.
Brown compiled a 91-81-83 record with 411 starters to become the first NYRA trainer to record six straight training titles since Gasper Moschera from 1993-98. Todd Pletcher second with 81 wins for the year.
Brown’s runners won more than 22% of the time and his hit the board at aa 62.04% rate on the NYRA circuit. Among his highlight wins were the Diana (G1) with Rushing Fall and the Saratoga Derby Invitational with Domestic Spending; the Manhattan (G1) with Instilled Regard; and the Just a Game (G1) with Newspaperofrecord.
Klaravich Stables, headed by Seth Klarman, won at least a share of four of the five individual NYRA meets. Klaravich sent out 171 starters on the NYRA circuit, going 48-30-39 for a 28.07% win rate.
Also, NYRA announced it had registered an all-sources handle of more than $1.8 billion in 2020 – a 19% increase over the average daily handle over 2019.
Total handle over the 157 race days at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga was $1,813,935,091 for an average daily handle of $11,553,727.
Average field size for the 1,507 races completed in 2020 was 7.82, a 6% increase over 2019.
Despite the loss of 43 race days to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in 27% fewer race days and 25% fewer races than in 2019, all-sources handle declined year-over-year by 14% compared to the $2,108,126,369 generated in 2019.
Since the resumption of live racing on June 3 through the end of 2020, all-sources handle totaled $1,586,344,888, a $7,059,402 increase over the same period in 2019. Average daily handle from June 3 through the end of 2020 was $13,443,601, marking a 16% increase over the same period in 2019.
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.