For the two years since its inception, the Pegasus World Cup Invitational has been the world's richest horse race, with a $12 million purse in 2017 and $16 million the year later. Both times, the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) winner has come back triumphant in South Florida: Arrogate won the inaugural running, and Gun Runner ended his career with a Pegasus procession last year.
Gun Runner concludes his career by holding West Coast at bay in the 2018 Pegasus World Cup.
This year the dirt horses have to share the wealth. The Pegasus World Cup purse is now a paltry $9 million -- but the other $7 million has been allocated to a companion race on the grass, the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational. Just as the Pegasus World Cup got its Grade 1 right out of the gate by succeeding the Donn Handicap, the Pegasus World Cup Turf also starts as a G1 by inheriting its rank from one of the track's other top-level features, the Gulfstream Park Turf Stakes.
Below our selections and analysis for the day's two Grade 1 races, we also have a grid of our selections and longshots for all nine stakes carded on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
Television coverage of the Pegasus World Cup will begin at 4:30pm EST (3:30pm CST) on NBC.
Selections for the Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint, Ladies' Turf Sprint, South Beach, La Prevoyante, and W. L. McKnight are for turf only.
Gulfstream Park - Saturday, January 26
Race 11: Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1), four-year-olds and up, one and three sixteenths miles on the dirt, post time 4:51pm EST
The dirt experiment with YOSHIDA last year proved fruitful, as he has a Grade 1 win and a solid fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic to show for it. However, he starts his five-year-old season back on the surface where he originally built his reputation, running in a rich race that he ought to be able to win. Yes, it's YOSHIDA's first start since the beginning of November, but he popped up ready, willing, and able to take down a Grade 1 in his first start last year, off an even longer layoff. the mile and three sixteenths trip should suit him beautifully, a bit of cut in the ground from rains should post no problem, and Jose Ortiz knows him (and his tactical versatility) well enough to carve out a trip. YOSHIDA is the obvious contender for good reason, and the rest of the bunch is going to have to put running shoes on to beat him.
Horse racing people tend to sound like broken records whenever there's a top-class turf race, the way everyone talks about Chad Brown. However, it's with good reason, given what a force he has been in such races: his starters in Grade 1 turf races are 23% winners (with a small flat-bet win profit despite his usual chalky odds!) and 55% in the money. Here, Brown sends out BRICKS AND MORTAR. The lightly-raced five-year-old has never tried the top level before, but at age three, he looked like he was on his way there as he traded blows with the likes of YOSHIDA. Laid off over a year, BRICKS AND MORTAR returned with a victory in an allowance-optional over this course. He can move forward second off the break, and the son of Giant's Causeway has pedigree upside on the stretch out to this 1 3/16-mile distance.
Beyond those major contenders, there are a lot of ways to go. The race drew two international shippers, but questions surround both. Frontrunning AEROLITHE will have to deal with FAHAN MURA on the engine, and MAGIC WAND is preferred for an underneath share, especially with the rain in the forecast and the distance being a bit short of her best. CATAPULT proved he is better than the usual west coast turf offering when finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) last fall, and given his pedigree he is not impossible over this distance. However, we'll go for a bit more of a price in this third spot with DELTA PRINCE. The 15/1 morning line seems like a pipe dream; we're expecting more like 9/1 or 10/1 on him between his royal pedigree, the addition of Frankie Dettori in the irons, and the fact that he's the house horse (owned by Stronach Stables. But, kind of like the aforementioned BRICKS AND MORTAR, DELTA PRINCE is a lightly-raced older horse with upside. The six-year-old returns to the grass after a one-off dirt sprint try, and has shown form running fresh for a trainer who wins at 24% off similar layoffs. That trainer, Jimmy Jerkens, has been firing on all cylinders this winter at Gulfstream. DELTA PRINCE also intrigues at the trip. He has been going a mile for much of his career, and never gone past a mile and a sixteenth -- but being a Street Cry half to Royal Delta he could very well thrive going longer. Watch for him to sit midpack and then make a race of it in the lane.
#2 YOSHIDA (5/2)
#7 BRICKS AND MORTAR (5/1)
#8 DELTA PRINCE (15/1)
Longshot: We'll give one more chance to #3 CHANNEL MAKER (12/1), who faltered in the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) but now gets a somewhat better footing and a drop in company. With FAHAN MURA and AEROLITHE both likely to be forward, CHANNEL MAKER may get first and best run on the frontrunning mares, and he may get the same kind of trip he got in the Bowling Green over the summer. The rain -- some on Thursday and likely some more on Saturday -- should not hurt the son of English Channel, as he proved last year that he can handle some cut in the ground. The major question is the rider, as he loses rider Irad Ortiz to Bricks and Mortar, and loses Joel Rosario to Catapult. However, CHANNEL MAKER gets a high-percentage local rider in Javier Castellano, and he gets a seven-pound weight break for not running with race-day Lasix.
Race 12: Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1), four-year-olds and up, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 5:36pm EST
My biggest complaint about the Pegasus has been that it's at a mile and an eighth: a compromise distance that tries to lure in the milers and dirt routers who can't quite stay the Classic distance, without getting any added intrigue that wouldn't already exist at a mile and a quarter. After all, we'd have had California Chrome vs. Arrogate at ten furlongs two years ago. We'd have had Gun Runner vs. West Coast over that trip last year.
This year, the Pegasus does actually get an interesting middle-distance matchup, as Breeders' Cup Classic winner ACCELERATE and Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winner CITY OF LIGHT clash in a race that will be the career finale for both. It's a rubber match: CITY OF LIGHT struck the first blow when he prevailed by a neck in last year's nine-furlong Oaklawn Handicap (G2), then ACCELERATE struck back at the Classic distance when he won the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) a month and a half later.
The thrill of this year's Pegasus comes from the fact that neither would be a surprise. However, CITY OF LIGHT gets the slight nod for several reasons. He has tactical speed, and sitting closer to the pace and getting the jump on ACCELERATE is an advantage in Hallandale Beach. Furthermore, the distance favours CITY OF LIGHT. Though most of his races have come shorter, and he is perhaps best at the extended one-turn trip, the son of Quality Road stretched out to a mile and an eighth to hand ACCELERATE his only loss last year. The biggest question with CITY OF LIGHT is the rain in the forecast, since has never run over an off track, but his pedigree suggests he will handle it.
ACCELERATE does loom the other major foe. Even though the distance is perhaps on the short side for him, as he emerged a true Classic-distance runner at age five, the neck loss in the Oaklawn Handicap is ACCELERATE's only defeat in four tries going nine furlongs. The rain in the forecast is not a concern, as ACCELERATE has run well in both off-track starts. But, Gulfstream's tendency to be so speed-friendly could be his undoing, as his better style has him just a little bit further back than CITY OF LIGHT typically sits.
The third slot was a tight choice between a pair of contenders. GUNNEVERA, third in this race last year, is a threat for an underneath spot again. This is his back yard, he always fires, and he stands to fire best of the real closers. But, whether he gets all the way there is the major question. Particularly over this course, BRAVAZO has just a bit more of a win chance. The son of Awesome Again has tactical speed, and can get a ground-saving trip in striking range. He gets back rider Luis Saez, who rode him to several good races over the summer, and who has taken up residence in the Gulfstream Park winners' circle this winter. BRAVAZO has also shown he can run well fresh -- though trainer D. Wayne Lukas ran him in his trademark demanding campaign through 2018, BRAVAZO has gotten a breather since a second-place finish in the Clark, and should be fit to fire in the Pegasus. He would need a step forward at four to beat the top two, but so would anyone else, and he is bred to be a nice older horse.
#3 CITY OF LIGHT (5/2)
#5 ACCELERATE (9/5)
#1 BRAVAZO (12/1)
Longshot: Red-hot owner G M B Racing is taking a shot on Saturday, and so is the longshot writer. #6 TOM'S D'ETAT (20/1) has never faced company this tough. The hulking six-year-old has been difficult to keep on the track, as he has started only nine times so far, with his outings coming in fits and starts. But, TOM'S D'ETAT has commenced a real campaign this winter for which the Pegasus has always been in the conversation. It has gone as planned: an easy allowance win at Churchill Downs in November, then a win in the Tenacious Stakes at Fair Grounds last month. The win in the Tenacious showed a new dimension for TOM'S D'ETAT -- in his stakes debut, he sat farther off the pace than he had in any of his other victories, and even though he got a wide trip, he got the job done by daylight. Though a bit closer to the pace would perhaps be ideal, it's good to see he has options. Finally, the distance suits -- even though his pedigree makes him an exciting prospect to go even longer as the year goes on, he has already shown aptitude at this distance, and cold be a factor against these tougher foes if he brings his best.
Below are all of Nicolle Neulist's picks for the stakes races on Pegasus World Cup day at Gulfstream Park. This will be updated as they finish handicapping the card. If you have questions about the logic behind any of these picks, please leave a comment or tweet us at @picksponderings!
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