I chose “Round Two” for the name of the second installment of my coverage of the inaugural Pegasus World Cup, the world’s richest horse race carrying a $12-million-dollar purse. In my first installment, I covered the unique purse structure, funding and revenue stream that, in addition to the excitement of the race, opened doors to a whole new set of negotiations and opportunities. That end of things is beginning to heat up and get more interesting.
The reason I chose “Round Two” as the title of this article is because, not only is this the second installment covering the first running of a first-of-its-kind race, but it is likely to be round 2 in the matchup of Arrogate and California Chrome. While it initially looked like those two would scare everyone away, and those who purchased slots in the race hoping to sell them at a profit might be in a little deep water, horse racing once again showed us that, until the race is drawn, we just don’t know how things will play out — and the plot here has certainly thickened.
Initially, it was a foregone conclusion that Arrogate would compete in this race. A recent workout fueled the speculation that the Pegasus was exactly what he was being pointed for. However, his connections, perhaps strategically, or, perhaps simply being frank and transparent about their plans, cast a bit of a doubt on whether Arrogate will be in the gate for the world’s richest race.
First off, at this point, they do not have a starting slot. That really isn’t an issue for them. Many with slots will be willing to sell or lease their slot to Arrogate; more interesting were their comments regarding the speed-favoring nature of Gulfstream Park and meeting up with California Chrome again at a mile and an eighth over that type of strip.
It appeared Arrogate needed the entire mile and a quarter of the Breeders’ Cup Classic to nail California Chrome on the square. In that light, you can maybe see the apprehension. Personally, I don’t — and I don’t think the connections of Arrogate are particularly worried about it either. They cited some basic facts: Gulfstream can be speed-favoring and their horse does seem to prefer a somewhat longer distance, but paces, projections and the way races play out differ from one to another and Arrogate didn’t appear to me to have much to worry about.
I’d bet, if he is healthy, he is in the gate come Pegasus Day.
Not committing at this point is helping build the field as well. When it was assumed the one-two Breeders’ Cup Classic finishers would meet in their own round two in the Pegasus, there were not a lot of people anxious to come and take on both of them, despite the massive purse. With the lack of a commitment and securing a slot by Arrogate — to date, anyway — interest has grown.
This was amplified by impressive performances by Gun Runner in the Clark at Churchill Downs, and Connect in the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct — both of them are now looking long and hard at the race. Shaman Ghost, who is owned by Adena Springs, another of Gulfstream owner Frank Stronach’s holdings, is very likely and already has a slot, as does California Chrome.
Eric Guillot, trainer of Laoban, is looking at the race and his horse has speed and is by hot sire Uncle Mo. Guillot has indicated he’s been contacted about securing a slot and is playing it by ear, planning a start for his colt in the Harlan’s Holiday and seeing how he comes out of that race.
Eddie Plesa Jr. is looking at the race for Mr. Jordan. He appears overmatched on paper, but with a $12-million-dollar purse, along with a unique revenue share purse and handle structure, some unexpected types are likely to show up.
We know there is a lot of talk regarding the open slots and those who own them among people that have horses who fit or want to take a shot in the race. There are likely plenty of discussions going on behind the scenes we know nothing about, as the different types of purchase and lease and revenue share deals that can be structured around this type of race are almost endless.
Although I expect a full and respectable field, regardless of what happens, you have to applaud Gulfstream Park for the new concept and continually trying to improve the game, their venues and the fan and bettor experience by offering and implementing new ideas like the Pegasus and the Rainbow 6.
The game needs new and innovative ideas and tracks willing to experiment with them and gamble on their success and popularity. The cost of attending the Pegasus is high, with the lowest priced ticket at $100 (even more than The Kentucky Derby), which sort of takes the smaller everyday bread-and-butter customer out of the equation and I think that is a shortsighted mistake. But maybe Gulfstream Park will see the light on that before race day, or, at worst, before next year’s event (if the race is brought back, as I think most of us hope and anticipate it will be).
In addition to those mentioned, there are some European grass horses looking at the race as well — one of which is Highland Reel, who, despite a lack of dirt experience, would garner at least some attention.
It is an intriguing concept from both a sporting and business standpoint. Is it a sign of how more races in the future will be structured? I don’t think so, but some similar and copycat ideas may indeed grow out of it.
We’ll learn more after the inaugural running at the end of January. Until then I’ll keep you posted on developments right up to my prediction of the winner.