HORSE RACING – PEGASUS WORLD CUP 2018 PREVIEW

The 2nd running of the “World’s Richest Race” takes place tomorrow (Saturday, Jan 27) in south Florida at Gulfstream Park.

Twelve of the best 4+ year olds in the world will run 1 1/8 miles (9 furlongs) on dirt and vie to pocket a collected $16 million, $4 million more than last year’s inaugural earnings (2017).

The quality of this year’s group is solid and includes the heavy favorite Gun Runner who will retire after this race and could become the world’s 2nd top earning North American horse with a win; the top 2015 filly (Stellar Wind); 5 of the 6 top finishers from November’s Breeders Cup Classic (only Arrogate will be missing due to retirement); a couple of excellent Baffert horses (West Coast, Collected); and Kentucky Derby challengers.

This is going to be epic.

EVOLUTION

A couple of the stories highlighting the second year of this race is the evolution of how it works financially, as well as the details of the actual race itself.

Beyond the extra $4 million boost in the total purse this year, every horse that starts the Pegasus in 2018 will receive a guarantee of at least $650,000, and the top 5 finishers will get shares of the remaining $8.2 million with $7 million to the winner.  All entrants will also share in the revenue.

Last year, entrants were “only” guaranteed $250,000, and received a split from sponsorships and wagers.  And, only the top 3 horses shared in the purse.

The same format of 12 shareholders each paying $1 million to purchase a gate position still holds.  This year, the last three slots were purchased by the managing company (Stronach Group) who leased them to horse owners for earnings-shares.

As for the race track itself, there has been some concern that with Gulfstream Park’s short distance to the first turn matched with the distance of this race (9 furlongs), it all but eliminates contenders drawing outside posts even before they get started.

Some experts have suggested moving the race to a more “fair” racetrack like Santa Anita Park to help with this issue.

I think next year’s location will come down to what happens with Gun Runner tomorrow.  He is clearly the best horse in this race and posted an outside #10, where hardly any one wins at this track.   If he loses, I’ll bet this race moves next year (2019) to a more “fair” track…

 

CONTENDERS

(By Post Position; Includes Morning Line Odds)

 1 – SINGING BULLET (30-1)

Trainer – Dale L. Romans

Jockey – Robby Albarado

A 4-year old with nice pedigree and streaky talent, but this field and distance may be too much.  Never raced more than 1 1/6m and this will be only his second start in a graded stakes race, the first more than a year ago when he finished fourth.

2 – WEST COAST (8-1)

 Trainer – Bob Baffert

Jockey – Javier Castellano

One of the real contenders in this race, the 4-year old colt won the Travers Stakes and Penn Derby in 2017 and came in 3rd at the Breeders Cup Classic behind Gun Runner and Collected (his stable mate).  He had a very wide trip in the BC compared to the others and word is that he is improving.  Also, an inside post should help him as the first turn at Gulfstream is very short.  His work has been good leading up to the weekend and Baffert was feeling really good about him this week.

3 – STELLAR WIND (30-1)

Trainer – Chad Brown

Jockey – Joel Rosario

The only female in the field, this 6-year old was the champion three-year old filly of 2015.  Handicappers do not seem to be high on her in this race, but we can’t discredit her excellent pedigree (Curlin) and track record of 3 wins in 2017.  Also, she is now trained in Florida by Chad Brown who has a reputation for reviving champions with layoffs. Could be a threat.

4 – SHARP AZTECA (6-1)

Trainer – Jorge Navarro

Jockey – Irad Ortiz

Handicappers seem to like this 5-year old dark bay colt, but have reservations.  While he loves Gulfstream Park (won 3 of 5 graded stakes) and had a strong performance in the Breeders Cup Mile (2nd) in Nov, there is concern about his ability to handle this distance with two-turns in a high caliber field.  He has also never competed in a race longer than 1 1/6 m (Monmouth Cup), but did win that by 5+ lengths. A definite contender who likes the front.

5 – COLLECTED (8-1)

Trainer – Bob Baffert

Jockey – Mike Smith

This horse is known for his tactical speed (127 Equibase) and excels on fast dry tracks, which Gulfstream will be on Sat.  He came in second to Gun Runner at the BC Classic, but then strangely, finished 3rd at the San Antonio Stakes Dec 26 with a 20-point drop in his usual average speed which is a concern.  However, he likes the lead and will prob challenge Gun Runner the whole way.

6 – GUNNEVERA (15-1)

Trainer – Antonio Sano

Jockey – Luis Saez

This is arguably the best deep closer in the field who loves this racetrack.  His jockey (Saez) also won a record 7 races at Gulfstream on Wed (incredible).  Handicappers are thinking that if the front runners push the pace too much, this 4-year old could be right there to sweep past them.

7 – FEAR THE COWBOY (30-1)

Trainer – Efron Loza, Jr.

Jockey – Tyler Gaffalione

This 5-year old colt is a multiple graded stakes winner and loves Gulfstream (won 4 of 6 starts at this track), but he has never faced competition like this before. His trainer said this week that Cowboy is “in his best form right now”, so there may be a chance he could challenge this field. This is a longshot that could pay off.

8 – WAR STORY (25-1)

Trainer – Jorge Navarro

Jockey – Jose Ortiz

A 6-year old gelding with only 1 win in 6 races in 2017.  He also came in 4th place three times in last year in races won by Gun Runner.  It doesn’t seem likely this horse will really challenge him, or gun down the other talented horses, but could be in the top 5.

9 – TOAST OF NEW YORK (20-1)

Trainer – Jamie Osborne

Jockey – Franke Detorri

An interesting story may not be enough to get this 7-year old horse in contention with the likes of this crowd.  But, he does have potential: a British horse and last raced in the US three years ago in the 2014 Breeders Cup Classic when he came in 2nd.  An injury ended his racing career temporarily when he went to stud, but he came out of retirement in December (after 3 years) and won his first race back.  Is he in shape enough?  Some think horses based in the UK train harder.

10 – GUN RUNNER (4-5)

Trainer – Steve Asmussen

Jockey – Florent Geroux

Clearly the most talented and decorated horse in this race, this 5-year old chestnut horse just won the 2017 Horse of the Year Eclipse Award on Thursday night.  His record speaks for itself: no worse than 2nd since Sept 2016 and has won four Grade 1 Stakes races in a row.  He has only gotten better and matured over time and has never been out of the top 3 in races with fast dry tracks.  The big red flag in this race for him is his post position (#10) which would be killer for a less-talented horse.

11 – SEEKING THE SOUL (25-1)

Trainer – Dallas Stewart

Jockey – John Velazquez

A very experienced and decorated handicapper I follow thinks this long shot will be in the mix at the end.  Not sure I feel as confident, but the 5-year old did just get his first Grade 1 Stakes win at the Clark Handicap in November, beating out decent competition.  Also, the Hall of Fame jockey (Velazquez) wanted to ride this horse at this race and does well with this kind of horse.  (Can’t argue with him, since he won 15 Breeders Cup races and 4 Triple Crown races).  Also, Soul’s trainer thinks the horse’s riding style is suited well for this race (middle of the pack fighter who likes a target).

12 – GIANT EXPECTATIONS (30-1)

Trainer – Peter Everton

Jockey – Gary Stevens

He’s a 5-year old NY-bred horse based in Cali who just won the G2 San Antonio Stakes in Dec.  But he’s never raced at this distance before and this outside post will likely be too difficult based on the other competition.

 

MY PICKS

I’m picking Gun Runner to win, but I’m not going to dance around it:  I’m concerned about his post position on the far outside.  Not many win from #10 at Gulfstream.

Overwhelmingly, experts seem to think that Gun Runner has the talent to overcome this, so who am I to argue?  But, with pace setters/pressers like West Coast, Stellar Wind, Sharp Azteca and Collected all sitting on the inside, there’s a good chance that Gun Runner will be pushed back or out wide.  This is concerning.

The good news is that Gun Runner has tactical speed and does not seem to need the lead.    If that happens, Sharp A and Collected could duel it out in front with a lot of speed which could set up West Coast and Gun Runner down the stretch, unless Collected holds to the finish line.

Then, either long shots Fear the Cowboy or Seeking the Soul could charge up from their stalking positions and grab an upset, or get into the top 4.

As for Gunnevera, this is a sentimental favorite for me as I always had a feeling this Venezuelan horse was special despite a disappointing 7th at the Kentucky Derby and 5th at the Preakness this past year.  Maybe with his new rider (the very experienced Saez who knows this track like the back of his hand) it can all come together for Gunn’s connections… finally.

  1. Gun Runner
  2. West Coast
  3. Collected
  4. Seeking the Soul
  5. Fear the Cowboy
  6. Gunnevera

WHEN TO WATCH

NBC will have the coverage on Saturday (Jan 27) from 4:30-6:00pm ET.  Post time of the Pegasus is 5:40pm.

 

UPDATE (January 28, 2018):  RACE RESULTS 

  1. Gun Runner
  2. West Coast
  3. Gunnevera
  4. Fear the Cowboy
  5. Seeking the Soul
  6. Stellar Wind
  7. Collected
  8. Sharp Azteca
  9. Giant Expectations
  10. War Story
  11. Singing Bullet
  12. Toast of New York

 

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