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Pegasus World Cup Turf prospectus: Internationals add needed depth

By Kellie Reilly

As the field for the $9 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) crystallizes, its newly minted companion event for January 26, the $7 million Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1), is still in the assembly stage.

Unlike the dirt contest that offers a terrific rematch between Accelerate and City of Light, plus the possible addition of McKinzie, the about 1 3/16-mile turf affair will not lure any Eclipse Award finalists or Breeders’ Cup heroes. Turf (G1) queen Enable has been on winter holiday, along with Filly & Mare Turf (G1) heroine Sistercharlie; Mile (G1) winner Expert Eye is already retired to stud; and Turf Sprint (G1) repeater Stormy Liberal is sticking to shorter targets.

Glorious Empire, a finalist in the champion turf male category, was in the mix until injury sent him to the sidelines. Also missing is arguably the best, if unluckiest, U.S.-based turf male, Robert Bruce. If not for a frustrating trip in the Manhattan (G1) and unsuitably soft going in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1), couldn’t Robert Bruce have factored in the Eclipse discussion? Hopefully the Chad Brown import will enjoy smoother sailing in 2019, but his campaign won’t kick off this early.

The Pegasus Turf is luring a few high-profile Americans in Grade 1 winners Yoshida, the Japanese-bred son of Heart’s Cry, and Next Shares along with Breeders’ Cup Mile runner-up Catapult.

Yoshida captured the Old Forester Turf Classic (G1) on Kentucky Derby Day and tried the Queen Anne (G1) at Royal Ascot, where he was beaten a shade over a length in fifth. The Bill Mott trainee later advertised his versatility by landing the Woodward (G1) on the Saratoga dirt, and he concluded the year with a creditable fourth to Accelerate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

While Yoshida might have stayed on dirt for the $9 million Pegasus, his connections mostly overlap with Pegasus contender Audible. The shared ownership group (including WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, and Head of Plains Partners) preferred to split their forces between the two lucrative races – and have a shot at the $1 million bonus to an owner who turns the Pegasus dirt/turf double.

“We debated about whether to run him on the dirt or the turf,” WinStar President and CEO Elliott Walden told Gulfstream Park publicity. “The nice thing about Yoshida is he’s a Grade 1 winner on both surfaces. We felt like with Audible being in the other race, this was a good place to start.

“He’s done great. He had a little bit of a break for the month of November and then started back training. He’s had three breezes at Payson Park and Bill is really happy with him. He’s continued to fill out and do well and we’re excited about the upcoming year with him. He’s unbelievable. He’s been a good horse from day one.”

Next Shares, who upset the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) at Keeneland before finishing 13th in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, joined the prospective field after rebounding in Saturday’s San Gabriel (G2) at Santa Anita. The six-year-old has reached a new level for trainer Richard Baltas.

Similarly, Catapult was an improved character in 2018. Formerly with Brown before joining John Sadler, the son of Kitten’s Joy swept the Eddie Read (G2) and Del Mar Mile (G2) and came a half-length shy of glory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

Brown’s Pegasus Turf hopeful is reportedly Bricks and Mortar, who returned victorious from a 14-month layoff in a December 22 Gulfstream allowance. The Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence runner was among the notable turf sophomores of 2017, when he traded decisions with Yoshida. Bricks and Mortar won his first four starts, capped by the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame (G2), but endured a couple of tough trips in his third-place efforts in the Saranac (G3) and Hill Prince (G3).

Rounding out the list of known American prospects, as of this writing, is Unbridled Juan. The Stronach Stables homebred has mostly plied his trade on dirt, with a few sorties on the Woodbine synthetic, and his lone turf attempt was a troubled fourth in the 2017 King Edward (G2). With fellow homebred and stablemate Something Awesome bound for the Pegasus on dirt, the Jose Corrales trainee is under consideration for the Turf.

Might another candidate emerge from the January 12 Tropical Turf (G3)? Admittedly it’s a two-week turnaround to the Pegasus Turf. Also, the stretch-out from a mile to 1 3/16 miles might not suit everyone ideally – e.g., Heart to Heart, although his predilection for Gulfstream can carry him some way.

But Divisidero is a prominent Tropical Turf nominee too, and his only win of 2018 came at precisely the Pegasus Turf trip, in the Arlington H. (G3). With his proven class as a multiple Grade 1 veteran and better-than-appears fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, Divisidero would deserve a chance at the big prize.

That said, considering the purse of $7 million is almost four times that of the Breeders’ Cup Mile and the Filly & Mare Turf ($1.786 million apiece), and roughly twice that of the Turf ($3.572 million), you’d really want the Pegasus Turf to showcase more strength in depth than the domestic probables can muster.

Given its position on the calendar, it’s a bit optimistic to look for a Breeders’ Cup-style invasion, but thankfully two serious internationals have stepped up to the plate — Aidan O’Brien’s Magic Wand and Japan’s Aerolithe. Interestingly, both are distaffers.

Magic Wand saw her Filly & Mare Turf hopes decrease as the rains fell at Churchill Downs, putting her fourth into perspective. The quicker surface at Gulfstream would play to her strengths as the impressive Ribblesdale (G2) winner and runner-up in the Prix Vermeille (G1) and Prix de l’Opera (G1).

Aerolithe has already beaten males at home, in the 2017 NHK Mile Cup (G1) and last October’s Mainichi Okan (G2), and she missed by only a neck in the Yasuda Kinen (G1) over the summer. If this distance would tax her stamina too much at Tokyo, the easier contours of Gulfstream should put it squarely in her grasp.

We’ll have international scouting reports once the Pegasus Turf is finalized, but as this foretaste implies, the guests are most welcome to bolster a race in need of greater heft.

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