By Richard Rosenblatt
A few lines from Arlo Guthrie’s classic “Alice’s Restaurant’’ came to mind after reading a press release issued by The Stronach Group on Sunday:
“Turned over the piece of paper, and there on the other side in, the middle of the other side away from everything else on the other side in parentheses … capital letters …. read:
“THE 2020 PEGASUS WORLD CUP CHAMPIONSHIP INVITATIONAL SERIES WILL BE MEDICATION-FREE AND WILL GIVE BACK TO HORSE CARE”
Carve up the turkey, please, because this headline is simply dressing over the real story.
Which is: The prize money for the Pegasus World Cup and Pegasus World Cup Turf at TSG-owned Gulfstream Park on Jan. 25 has been reduced by a whopping 75 percent! From $9 million to $3 million for the World Cup (G1), and from $7 million to a measly $1 million for the World Cup Turf (G1).
The reason? We’re not sure.
Could it be that owners had to put up as much as $1 million to have a horse in the starting gate, and maybe they balked at that idea? With the purse reductions, the buy-in fees are eliminated. Last year, though, 12 horses competed in the third World Cup and 10 in the first World Cup Turf. World Cup winner City of Light earned $4 million, and the last three finishers each earned $200,000. In the first running of the World Cup Turf, Bricks and Mortar won and earned $2,656,250, while the sixth-through-10th-place finishers each earned $350,000.
Or maybe TSG made this dramatic change less than six weeks before the races because they are — as the press release states – beginning “a new era in the sport of Thoroughbred racing in North America” and “will provide new and exciting opportunities for horse owners to showcase their equine athletes by competing free of any medications on race day.
The decision is “consistent with the International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities (IFHA) standards.’’ The Stronach Group also announced it will give back 2 percent of the purse winnings ($80,000) to thoroughbred aftercare.
“The Pegasus World Cup Championship Invitational Series is evolving toward a single goal — to provide a level of safety deserving of every horse and every rider, reflecting the new standard of care, on race day and beyond, while providing a lucrative opportunity for horse owners.” Craig Fravel, who recently left as President and CEO of the Breeders’ Cup and is now CEO of Racing for TSG, said in the release.
What does this have to do with slashing the purse money by $12 million? And then stating the obvious that the safety of the horses and jockeys are of the utmost concern.
As we know, TSG also owns Santa Anita, where 37 horses died either in training or in races in the past year, including Mongolian Groom in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) on Nov. 2. Horse safety has come under national scrutiny and racing organizations are banding together in an effort to improve methods of checking horses for any medical or physical issues. There is a movement for a national policy of no Lasix (an anti-bleeding medication) on race day, and TSG has been among the leaders.
All that said, it’s usually about the money, and now it appears the Pegasus Cup could lose its main attraction in Maximum Security, the DQ’d Kentucky Derby (G1) winner almost certain to be voted 3-year-old champion following his recent win in the Cigar Mile (G1). Owner Gary West told “Bloodhorse,” a racing industry magazine, that cutting the purse “is an absolute game-changer,’’ and he’s seriously considering passing on the race in favor of the newly created Saudi Cup on Feb. 29, which carries a $20 million purse ($10 million for first, $3.5 million or second)
“This is one of the biggest changes in a purse structure in the history of racing, and I think The Stronach Group has handled it very poorly,’’ West also told “Bloodhorse.”
Danny Gargan, who trains possible World Cup entry Tax, says he will talk to his owners about reconsidering his options after setting up training in Florida. “I’d rather be fourth for $20 million than third for $3 million,’’ he told “Bloodhorse.”
There’s even some added financial incentive for those choosing to pass on the Pegasus (which still carries a purse $1 million more than the obviously more prestigious Kentucky Derby): a chance to run in the Saudi Cup plus the $12 million Dubai World Cup (G1) a month later. Already, Bob Baffert-trained McKinzie and Mucho Gusto, Steve Asmussen-trained Midnight Bisou, and Bill Mott-trained Tacitus are being pointed to the Saudi Cup, with the possibility of sticking around for the race in the Dubai.
“Running the Pegasus World Cup Invitational and the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational medication-free is a stepping stone to what will be the eventual phase out of the use of race day medications for all graded stakes races by 2021 and puts this event squarely in line with the changing culture of our sport,” said Dr. Dionne Benson, Chief Veterinary Officer for TSG. “The health and safety of our athletes, equine and human, are our top priority.”
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.