The fifth annual Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes Saturday at Gulfstream Park is the first marquee race of the 2021 calendar, bringing together 12 veteran horses to compete for a total purse of $3 million. Formerly known as the Donn Handicap, the Grade 1, 1 1/8-mile Pegasus World Cup Invitational was rebranded in 2017 and has since been won by a quartet of highly accomplished runners: Arrogate (2017), Gun Runner (2018), City of Light (2019), and Mucho Gusto (2020).
The GI Pegasus World Cup Invitational, run on the dirt at 1 1/8 miles, offers a $3-million total purse. The GI Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational, run on the turf at 1 3/16 miles, offers a $1-million purse. 1/ST entirely provides the $4-million total purse contribution.
This year’s event will provide opportunities in North American Thoroughbred racing for horse owners by showcasing their equine athletes competing free of medications on race day while providing the winner of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational with an automatic entry into the 2021 $20-million Saudi Cup.
In 2019, the purse was cut to $7 million and the field lost depth. It was very strong at the top with a pair of Breeders’ Cup winners, Accelerate and City of Light, but the full field had 17 fewer graded-stakes victories than the year before.
Last year, the purse was cut to $3 million and the quality of the field diminished. It already was not quite as strong as years past before the late scratches of Omaha Beach and Spun to Run, which devastated the field. Higher Power and Seeking the Soul were the only Grade 1 winners in the field, and the winner of the race, Mucho Gusto, had not won a race at the Grade 1 or 2 level heading into the Pegasus.
The 2021 Pegasus has followed a similar pattern to last year. The prospective field initially looked strong with Tiz the Law, Charlatan, Maxfield and Mucho Gusto under consideration. They all have defected, leaving this year’s Pegasus as a solid but unspectacular group.
He will attempt to follow in the footsteps of 2019 Pegasus World Cup winner City of Light, as this son of Paynter comes out of a win in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (Grade 1) in November. He was unbeaten in three starts in 2020, and was also a Grade 1 winner as a juvenile, proving his class was always there. This will be his first start at Gulfstream Park, but the $1.3 million earner should find the racing surface and style ideal.
A top sophomore of 2019, Tax was off from May until December, when he scored in the local prep race for the Pegasus World Cup, the Harlan’s Holiday. The son of Arch won by over four lengths, defeating several other Pegasus contenders. He has just under $1 million in earnings.
True Timber is coming off an upset win in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct. He had been knocking on the door, with multiple Grade 1 placings before his big win. He tried the Pegasus World Cup in 2019 – seventh – and 2020 – eighth – but is doing far better now than he ever was before. The son of Mineshaft has already earned $1.2 million, and has been top three in 19 of 29 starts lifetime.
Mucho Gusto is the defending champion of the Pegasus World Cup. The son of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man has won six of 13 lifetime starts and has earnings of just under $4 million to his name. He was the second choice last year when he won under jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., strolling away 4 1/2 lengths in front. He finished fourth in his comeback race, the Grade 2 San Antonio on December 26.
This horse went from a $32,000 claimer to Grade 1 placed in just seven months. The son of Tapiture broke his maiden on this Gulfstream Park track, which he loves, and went on to run fourth in the TVG.com Haskell (Grade 1) and second in the TVG.com Pegasus at Monmouth Park. He was third in the Preakness Stakes (Grade 1), beaten by top horses Swiss Skydiver and Authentic. He ran second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) before scoring in the Claiming Crown Jewel over this course on December 5.
Code of Honor
A Grade 2 winner over this track as a three-year-old, Code of Honor went on to be placed second in the Kentucky Derby and won the Jockey Club Gold Cup (Grade 1). He struggled last year with just one Grade 3 victory, but should rebound over this track.
Kiss Today Goodbye
He was the surprise winner of the Grade 2 San Antonio at Santa Anita Park over Pegasus World Cup defending champion Mucho Gusto. That was his second win in a row; he has always been quick but improved coming off the grass last fall.
A Grade 2 winner at Keeneland in the fall, Mr Freeze was second in this race last year, and went on to be an impressive Grade 2 winner here. He likes the course and the distance.
A former turf star, this guy has found new life on the dirt. He was third in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (Grade 1) and second in the TVG Pacific Classic (G1). He rarely wins – he hasn’t since 2018 – but has only run worse than third once in well over a year.
Sleepy Eyes Todd
This popular gray runner has been impressive of late, winning two in a row including a big race on the Breeders’ Cup undercard. He took the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic in August over this same distance.
Harper’s First Ride
The Maryland-based runner has won two listed stakes races in a row, and four of his last five starts. His speed figures contend with this group.
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Miriam Lee has always been a horse racing fan thanks to trips to the tracks in her home state of Maryland with her father as kid. She owns an OTTB and is an advocate for promoting the sport among her peers. Miriam studies communication arts at Hood College and will receive her master’s degree in 2021, which she plans to use for a career in screenwriting. Her all-time favorite racehorse is Man O War.