CALIFORNIA CHROME TO RUN LAST CAREER RACE IN THE UPCOMING PEGASUS WORLD CUP

On Saturday (Jan 28), the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational will take place at Gulfstream Park in south Florida.

Referred to as “The World’s Richest Thoroughbred Horse Race”, the much anticipated Grade 1 contest will include 12 competitors (each 4 years old and up) to run 1 1/8 miles (9 furlongs) on dirt.

The winning horse will earn $7 million, $1 million more than the Dubai World Cup which had previously been the richest horse race in the world since 2010 ($10 million purse).

The field for the Pegasus is set to feature a rematch between the ever popular 2014 Kentucky Derby & Preakness winner California Chrome and Bob Baffert‘s late season prodigy Arrogate, the horse that handed Chrome his only loss in 2016 at the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November by a half-length.

What makes this race particularly special beyond the interesting rivalry between these 2 accomplished horses, is that the Pegasus will be Chrome’s final race before retiring to stud in time for the 2017 breeding season.

(For more on California Chrome and his amazing legacy, see my Oct 31, 2016 blog posting before the Breeders Cup Classic.)

Chrome’s millions of avid followers aside, his trainer Art Sherman still believes the horse “keeps getting better and better”.

Sherman said recently: “It will be emotional. I’d love to see him go out a winner.  I know it’s going to be a tough race, but I’ll tell you I’ve never seen a horse train like him in a long time. It seems like each time I work him he gets a little bit stronger.  I would have loved to have one more year with him. This year would have been a fabulous year for this horse. He amazes me on the way he’s just getting better. At 6 years old, you look at him and you say, ‘Wow, he hasn’t reached his peak yet.’”

It’s hard to believe that Chrome has yet to reach the zenith of his career, especially after he just reeled in his 2nd “Horse of the Year” Award following a 2016 campaign with 7 wins, 1 loss and $8 million+ in earnings.

But even one of Chrome’s co-owners, Frank Taylor, said this week that the horse has been “getting bigger and stronger” and “he’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a machine in a horse.”

Alas, we’ll all have to come to terms with the end of his wonderful career.  At least we’ll have Chrome’s future kids to look forward to racing in a few years.

First, he must get through Arrogate once more, seemingly his biggest competition for the Pegasus.

The late blooming Arrogate didn’t make his track debut until April 17 of his 3-year-old season when he came in third at a 6 furlong race in Los Alamitos.

Since then, the speedy colt has won 5 straight including a 13-length win at the G1 Travers Stakes in August and the Breeder’s Cup Classic in November.  He was also named the World’s Best Racehorse by Longines in 2016 (one point ahead of California Chrome), received the Eclipse Award for American Champion Three-Year-Old Male, and finished runner-up behind Chrome for the Horse of the Year Award.

Another challenge for Chrome in this race will be his unfortunate post position of 12th on the far outside.  Only 2% of horses that started from that post in 1 1/8 mile races at Gulfstream have won due to a quick first turn.

Sherman doesn’t seem too worried about it, though.  He said on Monday after the post positions were revealed, “The only good thing about this, he won’t have to be in the starting gate long.”

Still, he continues to have faith in Chrome.  “If the horse is good enough, he’s going to perform. And he’s good enough, believe me when I tell you that.”

The Competitors by Post Position

1 – ARROGATE

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Jockey: Mike Smith

Morning Line Odds: 7-5

This 4-year-old California colt hasn’t raced since November due to the extremely wet weather in California in contrast to Chrome who has been in south Florida for weeks and had workouts at Gulfstream. This may be a factor in this race, but most experts don’t seem to think it’s a major deal.  As for his inside post position, it could be a factor as well, but this horse has gone 2 for 2 from the inside.

2 – PRAYER FOR RELIEF

Trainer: Dale Romans

Jockey: Florent Geroux

Morning line odds: 50-1

A 9-year-old horse that should probably be retired.  He never won a Grade 1 race and his last win came in December 2013.  After 7 races in 2016, he never finished better than 3rd.  Still, he has earned more than $2 million for Zayat Stables (owner of American Pharoah) in his 45-race career.  Expect the odds to inflate to 99-1 on race day.  No chance for this one.

3 – NEOLITHIC

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Jockey: John Velazquez

Morning line odds: 30-1

May be a good long-shot pick.  The 4-year-old colt has won 2 of 7 starts including a minor allowance 8-furlong race in December at Gulfstream by 9 lengths.  Word is also that the horse has been training “great” since then.  He doesn’t have the graded stakes wins that we normally look for, but he has proved himself to win on this track. Todd Pletcher has also won more than any other trainer on this track.

4 – NOBLE BIRD

Trainer: Mark Casse

Jockey: Julien Leparoux

Morning line odds: 25-1

The career of this 6-year-old son of Birdstone can be summed up as inconsistent and his personality as temperamental.  But, he has 7 wins, 4 second place finishes and over $1 million earnings from 20 lifetime starts. He has also shown real speed and success in 2016 with a G3 win at the Pimlico Special and a G2 win at Fayette. However, he finished seventh in his recent G1 start in Nov at the Clark Handicap.  Trainer Casse said the horse has been training very well lately and has an “A” game.  The question is, will he bring it on Saturday on a track he’s never raced on before?

5 – WAR STORY

Trainer: Jorge Navarro

Jockey: Antonio Gallardo

Morning line odds: 50-1

This 5-year-old gelding has not fared well at G1 races during his lifetime.  For instance, he finished 16th at the 2015 Kentucky Derby, 8th at the 2015 Breeder’s Cup Dirt Mile, 7th at the 2016 Pacific Classic, and 8th at the 2016 Breeder’s Cup Classic.  However, he has showed promise in lesser stakes contests and seems to be maturing now.  After an impressive 9 furlongs win in the Queens County Stakes this past Dec and encouraging training as of late, there are signs this horse could place especially if he has the lead at any point.  The odds should lower for this one as we get closer. Some experts are recommending this horse for superfecta bets.

6 – WAR ENVOY

Trainer: Craig Dollase

Jockey: Luis Saez

Morning line odds: 50-1

A 5-year old colt who began his career in Ireland.  He is 2 for 21 career starts (placed in 5 stakes races).  He ran in Europe on turf as a 2-year-old, but came to North American in 2015.  His debut did not go well as he finished last in the 2015 Breeder’s Cup Dirt Mile.  Not many stats on this horse and no buzz to speak of.  Probably has no chance to compete with the better horses.

7 – SHAMAN GHOST

Trainer: Jimmy Jerkens

Jockey: José Ortiz

Morning line odds: 20-1

This 5-year old Canadian bred colt is owned by Frank Stronach, owner of Gulfstream Park and creator of this race.  The horse has a record of 6-1-2 in 13 starts.  He was named Canadian Champion Three-Year-Old Colt in 2015 and won 2 graded stakes races in the US in 2016 including the prestigious Woodward Stakes (G1) in Sept at Saratoga and Brooklyn Invitational (G2) in June at Belmont Park. His sire was Hall of Famer Ghostzapper and grandsire was Awesome Again who won the Breeders Cup Classic twice. He is a stalker who likes to stay just off the lead and pounce down the stretch which gives him a real chance here if the conditions are right.

8 – SEMPER FORTIS

Trainer: Doug O’Neill

Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione

Morning line odds: 50-1

Named after the US Navy’s motto in Latin which means “Always Strong”.  The 4-year old colt is winless in 11 starts.  He did finish 2nd in 3 stakes races including the Sept. 24 Los Alamitos Derby (G2), but he came in 6th at the G1 race in Dec (Malibu Stakes).  He is owned by Reddam Racing, which bought a spot in the Pegasus hoping to run 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, who has been retired.

9 – KEEN ICE

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Jockey: Javier Castellano

Morning line odds: 12-1

I always believed this 5-year-old horse would win another big race after he finished 3rd at the 2015 Belmont Stakes and was the only horse to beat Triple Crown winner American Pharoah during his 3-year old campaign at the 2015 Travers Stakes. Since then, Keen Ice has not won, but has performed moderately well in races entered.  He was transferred to trainer Todd Pletcher in 2016 and came close from off the pace to finish 3rd in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  There is a good chance this horse will again be in the mix with the 2 favorites and could be a danger to upset both, especially since he’s been improving and has Todd Pletcher on his side now.

10 – BREAKING LUCKY

Trainer: Reade Baker

Jockey: Luis Contreras

Morning line odds: 25-1

The Canadian-bred 5-year old son of Lookin at Lucky has a career record of 3-16 and zero G1 stakes wins.  He came in 2nd behind Gun Runner in the G1 Clark Handicap in Nov and 4th in the G1 Woodward Stakes in Sept and is a multiple G3 stakes winner.  He has been wintering in Florida and appears to be improving since the fall and has raced at Gulfstream before (March 2015).  Has a chance to place.

11 – ERAGON

Trainer: Laura Wohlers

Jockey: Edgar Prado

Morning line odds: 50-1

This horse is a 5-year old import from Argentina brought in just for this race. He is 10 for 20 with three G1 wins on both turf and dirt in South America which is impressive.  And, he’s won the Pegasus distance (1 1/8 mile) on turf before.  His major disadvantage is that only arrived to the US in December and this is his first race. The trainer has tried to make all necessary changes to his training regime to help him acclimate.  Considered a deep closer.  Multiple experts have referred to him as a “mystery”.  Could be a dangerous prospect.

12 – CALIFORNIA CHROME

Trainer: Art Sherman

Jockey: Victor Espinoza

Morning line odds: 6-5

It was reported on Saturday that Chrome had “blazing” speeds during his last workout at Gulfstream.  Sherman was thrilled and said it was “awesome work” and “sensational”.  He also said earlier in the month that Chrome had traveled well and always had, racing on 9 different tracks during his career.  Chrome has also been in south Florida for several weeks and had some work in at the track which bodes well for his acclimation.  The only real downfall is his outside post position which could hurt him to win.  He has been known to break well out of the gate and he’ll need that talent for this one.

ANALYSIS

On paper, it seems to be a two horse race between Arrogate and California Chrome who are clear and away the most decorated and talented of all 12 horses.

If it comes down to these 2 in the end like it did at the Breeders Cup, I am going with California Chrome over Arrogate.

Now, it’s true that Arrogate ran him down at the Breeders Cup.  Watch it again:

But, if these 2 horses are pitted together again down the stretch at the Pegasus, I think Chrome can fend him off this time.

It may be wishful thinking, but the positivity of his trainer Art Sherman is putting me over the top, besides the fact that Chrome has had more time to train in Florida than Arrogate and his jockey knows what he needs to do to win against his rival this time.

Sherman said recently that the loss at the Breeders Cup has been “eating at [him] since it happened” and “I’ve been wanting a rematch”. And then he said today, “We are going to win the Pegasus”.

The difference to Sherman is the fact that his jockey Victor Espinoza waited for Arrogate at the finish line in the Breeders Cup.  Espinoza also has been kicking himself since that race and wants retribution.

“Every time I get beat on a horse, I think about what I could have done differently, think about trying new things,” Espinoza said. “If it didn’t work, what techniques can I use as a jockey, what can I learn for the future?  After the Breeders’ Cup, I criticized myself for the way I rode him. I think I can do a better job than I did. It’s a good thing I’m getting a second chance.”

Well, this will be the jockey and the horse’s 21st race together. They have won 14 of 20 starts, 7 of their last 8, and have won together the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Dubai World Cup, and Pacific Classic among the 7 Grade 1 races they have captured.

Sherman said he’s told Espinoza about Chrome’s last ride in the Pegasus: “This is the ‘Last of the Mohicans.’ Let’s go for it.”  In other words, be aggressive because if this horse is in the clear down the stretch, he could use his speed to push out the win.

Of course, there are variables for this contest that may make the finish different than a two horse race at the end.

First, Gulfstream Park track provides a short run to the first turn.  Horses with post positions on the far inside like Arrogate (#1 post position) and far outside like Chrome (#12 post position) will both have to get to the front quickly or could have troubles from their respective positions.

For Chrome, he could get booted out wide and will need to make up time in a hurry to stay with the pack.  Luckily, he has a lot of speed and likes to be on the edge which bodes well for him if he keeps pace which I think he can.

For Arrogate, he must work hard to break well, or could get stuck behind the pack on the rail.  Unfortunately for him, the quickest horses besides Chrome are on the inside.

There is also a wild card in the #4 horse Noble Bird.

As mentioned earlier in the post position breakdown, this horse has a major “A game” and he likes to lead.  In fact, he is considered a “lead-only horse”.  If he gets a good start and the pack pushes Arrogate behind them on the rail and Chrome swings wide outside, Noble Bird could lead on an already fast race track with high speed and either win it outright, or set the race up for closers like Keen Ice, Neolithic, Shaman Ghost, or even Eragon to come in and take the win.

Sure, Arrogate has the speed and the Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith to overcome this situation, but this could be a factor if he doesn’t.

However, if Noble Bird does not get a good break at the gate and runs alongside other horses, which he has shown not to like, it could be a real contest between Arrogate & Chrome at the finish.

For more on the Arrogate – California Chrome rivalry, see this interesting video by TVG:

THE PICKS

1 – California Chrome

2 – Arrogate

3 – Keen Ice

4 – Shaman Ghost

5 – War Story

Coverage for the Pegasus World Cup Invitational will be televised live by NBC on Saturday, January 28, 2017 beginning at 4:30pm ET.  Post time is 5:40pm ET. 

 UPDATE: THE WINNERS

1 – Arrogate

2 – Shaman Ghost

3 – Neolithic

4 – Keen Ice

5 – War Story

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