Pegasus World Cup Update: Surprise, Surprise!

Gulfstream ParkAs the inaugural Pegasus really started coming together, the Stronach Group made a surprise announcement, which really shouldn’t have been a surprise at all. They announced that, in all likelihood, this first edition of the Pegasus — the world’s richest horserace, with a uniquely structured $12-million-dollar purse and an innovative new entry system — would probably be the only time it is run at Gulfstream Park.

This is odd considering that the Pegasus theoretically replaced the Donn, a race of significant importance in the sport and the history of Gulfstream. It was a prestigious race named after the Donn family, longtime owners of the “old” Gulfstream Park. The Donn had been run at Gulfstream Park since 1959.

It was also an odd announcement since the race was named after the $40-million-dollar statue of Pegasus, the flying horse, which has become the symbol of the new Gulfstream Park. The statue, the second tallest in the United States at 100 feet in height, ranks only behind the Statue of Liberty. It depicts Pegasus defeating a dragon, who stands at 50 feet in height. The statue is bronze and steel and is something to see. I always had an issue with it, however. Any sharp gambler knows a flying horse, even at 100 feet in height, has absolutely no shot against a 50-foot-high dragon. It’s just not happening.

That aside, it still should not have been a surprise that the Stronach Group plans to move the Pegasus to sister track, Santa Anita, in 2018. They’d probably like to move the statue as well, but that has proven to be cost prohibitive. While a lover of the old and new Gulfstream, the fact remains that the new Gulfstream is small and not suitable for a major racing event. I never understood why they did not make it large enough to host the Breeders’ Cup — or an event like the Pegasus. It would have been a perfect venue for both if not for the cramped size and layout. It’s immaculate, beautiful, modern, but small. The rumors of how they will handle this first and likely last running of the race are rampant. I hear they will restrict those who attend to the area where they purchase a seat, with no access to other areas. This means if you have a seat in one of the restaurants, you can’t go look at the horses in the paddock or watch a race from the rail or apron should you so choose.

Nonetheless, Gulfstream does know how to put on a show and I have little doubt attending will be a memorable experience, albeit a crowded one. Of course this is horseracing, so winning will make it all the better. As the great Joe Namath said, “when you win, nothing hurts.”

The race itself is coming together, at least on the surface, as good as Gulfstream and racing fans could have hoped for. The field is led by Arrogate and California Chrome, the one-two finishers in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and likely three-year-old champion, and horse of the year, respectively.

arrogate

Arrogate

The remainder of the field is shaping up as well. The behind the scenes wheeling and dealing of slots purchased for the race only adds to the intrigue. Arrogate’s connections played their cards close to the vest for a while, but wound up making a deal for the Coolmore slot. War Story got in by making a deal with an investor who decided to get into racing by purchasing a Pegasus slot as an investment. Interesting foray into the Sport of Kings if I do say so myself. Dan Schafer, a pizza franchise owner from Northern Kentucky bought the slot, and it is a safe bet he made a profitable deal with the owners of War Story to get him into the race.

James MacInvale, also known in the industry as “Mattress Mac” purchased a slot with the intention of stretching Runhappy out in distance and putting him in the race. When that didn’t work out, as Runhappy retired, Mattress Mac found a horse named Eragon in South America (Argentina to be specific) and is going to run him in the big event.

As of now, seven of the twelve slots are accounted for, but we are still four weeks out from the race. At present, the confirmed probable starters are:

1) California Chrome
2) Arrogate
3) War Story
4) Eragon (Arg)
5) Shaman Ghost
6) Neolithic (Arg)
7) Keen Ice

Neolithic and Keen Ice are both trained by Todd Pletcher. Pletcher runs a powerhouse stable, but seems to excel at Gulfstream Park. He is always dangerous there. Bob Baffert also runs a powerhouse stable, but has not been nearly as successful at Gulfstream Park as he has been at other tracks. He hasn’t won there since Captain Steve took the Donn — yes, the race the Pegasus is replacing — back in 2001. He has only run a handful of horses at the South Florida oval since then, but none have won.

Also interesting about Arrogate is his recent change in plans and then — surprise, surprise — his second change in plans. Initially, it was reported Baffert would train Arrogate up to the Pegasus, which worked like a charm when he trained him from his Travers victory to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, where he defeated California Chrome, who had the edge and every opportunity to beat him.

California Chrome

California Chrome

He called a late audible and decided to start the colt in the San Pasqual on Jan. 1. However, uncharacteristic heavy rains in Southern California soaked the Santa Anita dirt, which is a track not used to taking heavy rain, and prompted Baffert to scratch Arrogate and train him up to the race. I was surprised he entered him and always thought he would train him up to the Pegasus, but you don’t question Baffert about a racehorse.

The San Pasqual did come up tough and there was talk following it that the winner, Midnight Storm, may take a swing at the Pegasus. That didn’t materialize and his connections are passing the race.

Connect, Chad Brown’s Pennsylvania Derby and Cigar Mile winner is also passing the race. Gun Runner, winner of the Clark following a bang-up placing in The Breeders’ Cup Mile wants to run, but is dealing with quarantine issues due to a EHV-1 outbreak at the Fair Grounds where he is stabled. His connections do not currently have a slot for the Pegasus, but they could surely obtain one, probably at a good price, considering five remain open. Those five owners have to be at least slightly concerned at this point.

Another thing that I must say wouldn’t surprise me is if Baffert calls another audible and decides to pass with Arrogate. The Pegasus is at a mile and an eighth, over a speed-favoring track that may not suit Arrogate. Consider that and Baffert’s lack of success at the Hallandale oval and it might make sense to pick a different spot.

I don’t think the fact that they just acquired a slot will come into play; they will do what is best for their horse. I’m not sure that is the Pegasus, although Arrogate is very special and might just be good enough to overcome the obstacles he’ll be facing on Jan. 28 in order to win it. We know he can beat California Chrome on the square, but will things be on the square in three weeks?

It will be interesting to see how those other five slots fill up and play out. I’d have to think they will, even if it is late in the game. If one has a million invested and no horse to run, I’m sure one can find someone to take a flyer at the right price or with the right deal to recoup something. As of now, if things stay the same and we get some quality additions, we should see a nice race. If Arrogate passes, the race will lose a lot of the draw it currently has.

Our coverage of the race will continue right up to our preview and even after with our recap.

Jonathan Stettin
Jonathan has always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings, as he practically grew up at the racetrack. His mother, affectionately known as “Ginger,” was in the stands at Belmont Park the day before he was born as his father, Joe, worked behind the windows as a pari-mutuel clerk.

As a toddler, Jonathan cheered for and followed horses and jockeys, knowing many of the names and bloodlines by the time he was in first grade. Morning coffee in his household was always accompanied by the Daily Racing Form or Morning Telegraph.

At the age of 16, Jonathan dropped out of school and has pretty much been at the races full-time ever since. Of course, he had some of the usual childhood racetrack jobs growing up — mucking stalls, walking hots and rubbing horses. He even enjoyed brief stints as a jockey agent and a mutuel clerk (like his dad).

His best day at the track came on August 10, 1994 at Saratoga, when he hit the pick-6 paying $540,367.

Jonathan continues to be an active and successful player. You can follow him on Twitter @jonathanstettin or visit his Web site at www.pastthewire.com.

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