Point/Counterpoint: Pegasus World Cup

This weekend, Gulfstream features the richest horse race in history: the Pegasus World Cup.

Though this year's race is the first running of the Pegasus World Cup, it starts as a Grade I by virtue of inheriting its grade from Gulfstream Park's previous top-level dirt route for older horses: the Donn Handicap (G1).  In recent years, the Donn had been drawing marginal Grade I horses.  However, the glitzy $12 million purse did as much as anyone could have hoped it would do.

It attracted the two superstars of the handicap division, CALIFORNIA CHROME and ARROGATE.  It drew several other familiar faces from the top of the handicap division: KEEN ICE, NOBLE BIRD, SHAMAN GHOST, BREAKING LUCKY.  It even generated far more intrigue around who would even start than any other race in recent memory, thanks to owners having to plunk down $1 million for a slot in May of last year, in hopes they would have a horse for the race eight months later.

Here, Nicolle Neulist (NN) and Paul Mazur (PM) discuss the Pegasus World Cup field horse by horse, in point/counterpoint style.  In addition, NN offers their picks for the rest of Saturday's stakes-laden card at Gulfstream.

The Pegasus World Cup will be televised on NBC; the broadcast runs from 4:30-6:00pm EST on Saturday.  In addition, Gulfstream Park streams all their races, including Saturday's stakes, on their website.  On the radio, the Horse Racing Radio Network will broadcast the Pegasus World Cup from 4:00-6:00pm EST, both on Sirius 93 and on their website.

Saturday, January 28: Gulfstream Park

Race 12: Pegasus World Cup (G1), one and one eighth miles on the dirt, four-year-olds and up (Northern Hemisphere)/three-year-olds and up (Southern Hemisphere), post time 5:40pm EST

#1 ARROGATE (7/5)

NN: At the rail we have one of the two Obvious Contenders, ARROGATE.  The rail is an interesting draw for him, since he's sent from the rail both times he's drawn it.  That said, he does not obviously have to send...he showed that in the BC.  He'd be best suited not sending...as if he does, he's going to have NOBLE BIRD to deal with on the front end, as a gadfly for a while.  ARROGATE is also unproven at nine panels as opposed to ten.  Could he win?  Sure.  Would it surprise me?  Not at all.  But (spoiler alert!) I went elsewhere on top.

PM: In light of the events with Masochistic and the Breeders' Cup Sprint, it looks suspicious that ARROGATE scratched out of the San Pasqual (G2) given the timing (and the rain providing a convenient deflection) of the Breeders' Cup and the San Pasqual. It looks *really* suspicious that ARROGATE is already out of the Dubai World Cup, as the timing between the Pegasus and the Dubai World Cup is too close for comfort. It's heresy and conjecture what's going on behind the scenes. It's not hard evidence. But it's a...kind of evidence you can use in handicapping. And the evidence is he beat Chrome, walloped in the Travers. He's going to have to work out an inside-outside trip and face CALIFORNIA CHROME at equal weights.  You have to use him in this spot, but I'm a little more bearish in the rematch as I was in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

NN: That's exactly how I feel -- and good point about the conjecture.  ARROGATE checks a lot of handicapping boxes, and he's obviously a good horse, but the scheduling is interesting to say the least.  And come to think of it...even after the scratch from the San Pasqual, there was all that will-he-or-won't-he miss a work, that malarkey.  It seemed a lot more pronounced than the BC Classic, which it was pretty obvious was a "Travers, then BC".  The layoff before the Pegasus feels more like a slapdash break than the planned one last year.

#2 PRAYER FOR RELIEF (50/1)

NN:  I know it's a recurring theme here at the old Picks and Ponderings...beware of Dale Romans at a price.  But...we'd need the PRAYER FOR RELIEF of old to rate for even a piece here, and I'm not convinced we have that.  I think some of the Twitter Brigade is overreacting with the whole "retire him" thing -- after all, he had a couple of sharp outings at the Dubai Carnival last year -- but I don't think he can hang with Grade 1 horses anymore.

PM:  You know, I'd give PRAYER FOR RELIEF a look if he was quoted at 50/1 morning line in the Poseidon on the undercard. He's hit the super both times he's raced at Gulfstream and he's always been a forward horse with a limited passing gear. He's actually a good fit for how this oval plays on a day-to-day basis. He's going third off the layoff. But back when he was in the United States more frequently, he struck me as a G2/G3 type. Even a marginal G1 like the Donn - the race the Pegasus is replacing on the calendar - would have been too much at his best.

NN:  Exactly.  This is just too much for him.

PM:  He's still a toss, but he's not a hopeless, worthless toss like a few others in the field. Plus Dale Romans won't shut up about his horse and when he's talking, his horses run like crud.

#3 NEOLITHIC (30/1)

PM:  Nicolle mentioned to beware Dale Romans at odds, but here you should Beware of Todd Pletcher at Gulfstream. Whether chemistry or humidity, it seems Pletcher's barn comes alive in Hallandale. NEOLITHIC has a good nine furlong pedigree, his main man John Velazquez rides, and he whistled over this oval last out. Yes, it was an a-other-than going a mile and a sixteenth, but he did show two back in the Discovery he can do fine from a tracking spot. He might trip out and hit the board as the "B" Pletcher.

NN:  NEOLITHIC intrigues me, a lot.  Ever since Starlight bought their spot in the Pegasus, they've talked about using it for one horse, and one horse only: this guy.  It's not like, say, Reddam or McIngvale, who bought the slot with a horse in mind and then had to change around a few times.  As goofy as it sounds to say "PEGASUS!" with a horse who could have qualified for a N1X (and still has an N2X condition), there are good things to say.  In addition to the long-term plan, NEOLITHIC has done his best work at Gulfstream, comes from the red-hot barn of Todd Pletcher, and gets Pletcher's top man in John Velazquez.  In addition to Gulfstream form, he also has some tactical speed.  All in all -- he's one you can't sleep on.

PM:  It's not often you get John Velazquez and Todd Pletcher at higher than 20/1, so step right up and take a rare swing. I don't think he wins, but the bottoms of the tris/supers are reachable.

NN:  Agreed.  A win would be a surprise, but leaving him off exotics would be goofy -- especially since even then he stands to be a price in the exotic pools, with the likelihood that so many people will key the likes of KEEN ICE, NOBLE BIRD, or even SHAMAN GHOST under.

#4 NOBLE BIRD (25/1)

NN:  And now, we get to the horse who I can never figure out...NOBLE BIRD.  Even trainer Mark Casse has admitted: when he's good, he's good.  When he's bad, he's ugly.  I never seem to be in sync with when he'll win by daylight and when he'll trail home beaten double-digit lengths.  Which NOBLE BIRD will we get today?  Only the shadow knows.  Of course, taking a shot with a speed horse at Gulfstream isn't the worst idea in the world, particularly with $12 million on the line.  But -- with CALIFORNIA CHROME and ARROGATE both forward?  You have to draw the line somewhere, and I'm betting we see the "beaten by double-digit lengths" NOBLE BIRD, not the "win by daylight" version.

PM:  NOBLE BIRD is the wiseguy horse, the steam horse. Everyone thinks Gulfstream is a carousel, so everyone picks the horse who went wire to wire in races like the Fayette (G2) and the Pimlico Special (G3) and the Lukas Classic. He's basically a better version of PRAYER FOR RELIEF. The downside is he's been exposed as not a G1 horse considering he was beaten twice by a zip code by Frosted. He's taking on Chrome and Arrogate, who are better than Frosted, who is better than Noble Bird. Transitive handicapping leads me away from him.  Plus he's a horse who needs a clean break or else he's screwed. Plus the "Gulfstream is speed, so play speed" people are on him. I'm taking a stand against him.

NN: He figures in the sense that he'll likely be on the front...but I see him being more likely to factor as a horse who annoys the front end (ARROGATE sending from the rail, I think) than a likely winner of this race.  No "Gulfstream is speed" is going to convince me he's going to bring his best against what he faces today, especially given how many second-tier Pegasus horses whooped him in the Clark (G1) last out.

PM:  I'm not going to take 25-1 on the second or third best speed horse with bad gate behavior, too.

NN:  Doing so would be bird-brained.

PM:  Yuk yuk yuk...

NN:  There's a reason I'll never make it as a comedian.

#5 WAR STORY (50/1)

NN:  WAR STORY won a minor stakes last out at Aqueduct.  The sun rises in the east, it sets in the west, and if a Loooch horse does well in a stakes race, they turn up in a GI next.  That said...midpack for WAR STORY could happen.  He has hit the board in three out of four starts going a mile and an eighth, and he can be forward.  He's not among the best, but he's...less overmatched, top to bottom, than he has been in some of his previous starts?

PM:  It's almost de rigeur to see a Loooch Racing Stables and run screaming into the night. WAR STORY and his #colorrush silks are here for the Pegasus, and they bring along Jorge Navarro to train. He likes nine furlongs and he has some plodding ability based on wiring the Queens County last out with settling insanely slow splits. He could win a G3 down the line, maybe the G2 Charles Town Classic if the handicap group collapses the morning after this race. But there are better plodders out there in this field. Plus he got thumped fair and square by the big two in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

NN:  I'm not using him, but he's not #CabooseCrew, either.  Meh.

PM:  He's like PRAYER FOR RELIEF: He's a toss but not a hopeless, worthless toss.

#6 WAR ENVOY (50/1)

NN:  And now...we get to my #CabooseCrew, the other War horse, WAR ENVOY.  No one in this field makes me go "WHY!?!?!" like WAR ENVOY.   He's slow, and his recent form has not been very good.  About the best thing I can say for WAR ENVOY is that Luis Saez is riding, but Luis Saez on a snail is still...a snail.

PM:  Now here, ladies and germs, is your hopeless, worthless toss. I tried and tried and tried to find something nice to say about WAR ENVOY. The only nice thing I can say is he won't finish last. He'll finish second to last.

NN:  That means you have more faith in WAR ENVOY than I do.  The Pegasus isn't the best betting race of the year, but if I could wager on WAR ENVOY to come in last, there would be enough money on a couple of the others that I may be able to call that my best bet of the race.

PM:  "WAR ENVOY has a chance in this race" is #alternativefacts.

#7 SHAMAN GHOST (20/1)

NN:  Hello, House Horse.  On the level of "horses who did not fill out the exacta in the Breeders' Cup Classic", there's a lot to like about SHAMAN GHOST.  He has a win at Gulfstream, and has hit the board in both his tries going nine panels.  He's tactical -- he can run a good race from close to the pace, well off it, or just about anywhere in between.  He can fire off a break.  And, though he loses Javier Castellano to KEEN ICE, Jose Ortiz has been riding well.  Should SHAMAN GHOST win, it would be the biggest Jerkens family upset since Onion...but he has as good a chance here as anyone not named CALIFORNIA CHROME or ARROGATE.

PM:  We come to SHAMAN GHOST. Oh look, a horse with class-appropriate form! What a concept! In truth, this Pegasus field is pretty representative of the handicap division beyond CALIFORNIA CHROME and ARROGATE in that it's a grab bag. I said back before the Breeders' Cup Classic that there's a steep drop off from the aforementioned pair. SHAMAN GHOST falls in that category with the rest of the grab bag group. SHAMAN GHOST did win the Woodward (G1) two back and he did close with a rally in the Clark after a bad break. And he is the House Horse. There is some steam on him, but Gulfstream is not the best oval for this type who just kinda sits midpack and makes his run. He's one of a few who could easily fill out the intermediate slots between the two you know and the WAR ENVOYs of the world.  I don't think he wins, but like a few others he could sneak into third or fourth if things go exactly right.

#8 SEMPER FORTIS (50/1)

PM:  There is a segment of Twitter *cough @derbyologist* who believe that KEEN ICE in post nine is a clown show because he's eligible for an N2X. If you are among those who believe KEEN ICE is a clown show, then SEMPER FORTIS from post eight isn't just the clown show. He's the bearded lady, the elephants, the trapeze...the whole friggin' circus. Aside from a clunk-up second two back at Zia he's done jack squat since late in his two-year-old and early in his three-year-old season and that was over a year ago. He's eligible for an N2X just like KEEN ICE, except this one has shown the ability to suck more money than a bad CashCall loan.

NN:  Last out, running him in the Malibu (G1) wasn't very smart: seven furlongs against Mind Your Biscuits, Sharp Azteca, etc. for an allowance-level Distorted Humor half to Carpe Diem and (my 3yo filly #horsecrush) Farrell?  Of course that wasn't going to end well.  I agree with you that SEMPER FORTIS is outclassed here, but at least he tries.  Yes, the best of these horses are going to leave SEMPER FORTIS in the dust.  But, given how often he runs on for second or third when going two turns?  I see SEMPER FORTIS at least running on for not-last.  By not-last, I mean "he's ninth if he runs his eyeballs out"...but mark my words, SEMPER FORTIS beats WAR ENVOY all day and twice on Sundays.

PM:  This is like saying a blow to the head is better than a tummyache. They both suck like a vacuum cleaner.

NN:  SEMPER FORTIS is Dyson to WAR ENVOY's Hoover.

PM:  Fair enough, but SEMPER FORTIS is my click to pick to be last.

#9 KEEN ICE (12/1)

NN:  I may be the longtime conductor of the KEEN ICE train, but I'm also a realist: it would be an even bigger surprise to see KEEN ICE win this race than it was to see him win the Travers.  Last out in the Harlan's Holiday (G3) was as good an effort as one could expect from him at Gulfstream: Castellano kept him close, and he ran on for second behind a lone speed.  He will likely have more pace to chase today, but he'll have tougher horses.  My opinion on KEEN ICE here is nothing novel: he's in that second tier of horses who make sense to fill out a trifecta or superfecta.

PM:  I'm surprised Jerry Crawford hasn't taken out a defamation suit against the Horse Racing Twitter populace for their comments on KEEN ICE. As I said back in November, there's truth and propaganda and not much has changed. Eligible for an N2X, #plodsohard, needs a full field and quick pace. He's got the services of the Pletcher barn which is premium at Gulfstream. I don't think he's as bad as people think, and it was nice to see him be third - albeit beaten a zip code - in the Breeders' Cup Classic. He did well last out at a configuration that's not his best, a speed/inside favoring mile and a sixteenth. There's nothing that says he can't duplicate what he did in November and grab another bronze medal.

NN:  If anything, I'm slightly less keen on him since the Pegasus is nine panels and not ten...but still.  His class fits, and if Castellano gives him another tactical ride like last out?  He makes good sense to fill out exotics.

PM:  Totally agree that he is an "unders" type - as he was back in November.

#10 BREAKING LUCKY (25/1)

PM:  The more I look at BREAKING LUCKY, the more I see a Hoppertunity-like horse. BREAKING LUCKY is this field's garbage collecting type. Nine furlongs is a-okay although he's been facing the NOBLE BIRDs and SHAMAN GHOSTs of the world and been behind them. The double-digit post really does no favors to him, but he's placeable anywhere. He's somewhere in that middle that have to finish behind the bookends but ahead of the worthless tosses. With a better post I'd give him a chance, but here he functions as someone I'll leave off the tickets.

NN:  BREAKING LUCKY fits into that second tier here, along with the likes of SHAMAN GHOST and KEEN ICE.  Though he was off the board in his only start over the course, cut him some slack -- that was his career debut.  He has a stalking, tactical style, some underneath shares at nine panels, and his only recent bad outing was over a track with some moisture at Churchill.  He gets a dry one here, making him a must-use under.

PM:  I'm not as keen for the unders as you, but for a deeper spread ticket or an #NHC18 bomb play you could do worse.

#11 ERAGON (50/1)

NN:  To Mattress Mack's credit, there's a better chance of Eragon spurring an epic sale at Gallery Furniture than there would be if Runhappy were entered in the Pegasus.  But, that's more a testament to Runhappy's non-sprint tries being disasters than any real chance of ERAGON winning the Pegasus.  This race is a huge step forward from Argentine Grade 1 dirt miles, and his closing style will not do him any favours here.  Yes, ERAGON is a "wild card"  (DRINK!), but I'm willing to bet he's not up to this task.

PM:  ERAGON is the plan B horse from Mattress Mack and Laura Wohlers. Their plan A horse was Runhappy, but he's off to make little Runhappys. Word on the street is that ERAGON has looked dreadful in the mornings at Gulfstream. It's quite possible he needs time after having a full Southern Hemisphere campaign and then shipping north for a United States G1 - which is way way harder than what ERAGON has been facing. He's a toss to me on the climate change and the steep step in class. His humans would finish last, he seems to be a non-threatening ninth type.

NN:  $5 will get you $10 that his chart comment will say "passed tiring horses".

#12 CALIFORNIA CHROME (6/5)

NN:  Everyone's been making such a big deal about his outside post, but if there's a horse for which that draw will hardly matter, it's CALIFORNIA CHROME.  He runs well when he can stalk the pace from the outside -- something he will likely do, as NOBLE BIRD will certainly send, and ARROGATE could very well be forward from the rail as well.  He runs well at a mile and an eighth.  He has never run at Gulfstream, but stands to be forward enough that the track won't hurt his style.  I see him stalking and pouncing from the outside, and making his career finale a winning one.

PM:  Now you see, Breeders' Cup....THIS is how you apply "The Best Is Yet To Come."  Because the twelve post on the far outside is CALIFORNIA CHROME, the two time horse of the year whose only blot on last year's campaign was a slightly overconfident ride and Arrogate reaping the spoils. In this rematch scenario at nine furlongs, the added factor is that this the last start for CALIFORNIA CHROME. I bet in a year Joe Drape or Claire Novak or John Scheinman will come out with a tell-all book or long form that this race was done as checkbook journalism. That Stronach lured him east to his own oval to try to #makegrade1sgreatagain and basically told Martin and Taylor to name your price. It's time for Stronach to pay up, to see if his checkbook policy works. I know CHROME has to break from the twelve post, but he's outside speed. In this race, he's going to be cranked up not to ten, but to eleven because there is no tomorrow. Nine furlongs on a speed-conducive track where he can dictate the flow from the outside? Fine with me. Chrome will run two laps around Gulfstream: one in the Pegasus, one in victory.

I honestly think this race was created precisely for CHROME. That if CHROME had retired, there would be a hasty serious of press releases cancelling the race. Stronach created this race for CHROME.

NN:  I'm not sure I'd go that far.  Something tells me Stronach had this idea at some point...but perhaps Chrome was more the horse that pushed it from "pipe dream" to "if it's going to happen, this is the year, and this is the horse."

PM:  For all the checkbook journalism suspicions, I like the Pegasus. It tests trends. Everyone bitches and moans that racing needs its stars. We have the stars, there's no football this weekend, so this race should draw higher ratings than A Connie Chung Christmas or Magic Bullet Commercials if everyone thinks racing needs its stars for sustainability.

NN:  This really was the perfect weekend to do it -- no football, and an otherwise quiet stretch of the handicap division schedule.  And, it has compelling storylines: CHROME staying in training for it, ARROGATE emerging as a star, and all the drama over who would even be in the starting gate.  You had Mattress Mack shipping in a horse from Argentina.  You had hope, then the quarantine, then hope, then a no-go for Gun Runner.  You even had drama around your #CabooseCrew horse, with SEMPER FORTIS being slotted instead of Ralis at the last minute.  Following that was FUN.

PM:  Okay, there is the Pro Bowl, but a P&P Investigation reveals that doesn't count. Crux of it all: the Pegasus put sizzle into the normally drab winter season and we're not chasing three-year-olds. We're chasing CHROME, like all the rest.

Nicolle Neulist's Selections:

#12 CALIFORNIA CHROME (6/5)

#1 ARROGATE (7/5)

#7 SHAMAN GHOST (20/1)

Nicolle Neulist's Longshot:  #3 NEOLITHIC (30/1)

Paul Mazur's Selections:

#12 CALIFORNIA CHROME (6/5)

#1 ARROGATE (7/5)

#9 KEEN ICE (12/1)

Paul Mazur's Longshot:  #3 NEOLITHIC (30/1)

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Below are Nicolle Neulist's picks for Saturday's stakes races at Gulfstream Park. This will be updated as they finish handicapping the card.  If you have questions about why NN landed on a particular horse, please leave us a comment, or tweet us at @picksponderings!

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