Saturday’s $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) melds storylines from the sport’s biggest events, the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup, along with the prospect of untapped potential on display.
Here’s one way to explore the multifaceted angles:
Triple Crown winner Justify’s legacy. Let’s stipulate that sweeping the Kentucky Derby (G1), Preakness (G1), and Belmont (G1) is an outstanding feat, especially when it’s accomplished in unprecedented fashion by a colt who didn’t race at two, and retired unbeaten. In that respect, Justify’s historical legacy is secure, and he’ll probably be honored as Horse of the Year at Thursday night’s Eclipse Awards.
The question is rather how Justify stacks up more broadly against the all-time greats, the kind of parlor-game exercise that has no definitive answer but is endlessly intriguing to ponder. Since Justify was retired before he had the chance to tackle older horses, his beaten rivals who are still on the track can help.
At this writing, the rest of the 2018 Triple Crown participants have not stepped up. That picture can change, however, over the course of 2019, and the Pegasus represents the perfect opportunity. If Kentucky Derby third Audible, or hard-charging Preakness runner-up Bravazo, upstages the older establishment at Gulfstream Park, it would be a significant form boost for the 2018 Triple Crown. By definition that flatters Justify.
To raise the stakes further, the Pegasus is literally the last chance for Audible and Bravazo to strike a blow against the two top older (route) males of 2018 who are both retiring to stud after Saturday. That brings us to the next storyline.
Accelerate versus City of Light rubber match. As if a clash between Breeders’ Cup winners weren’t enough to whet the appetite, added spice comes by way of the Pegasus serving as the tiebreak bout after split decisions in 2018.
Accelerate, a Horse of the Year finalist and the presumptive champion older male, compiled a six-for-seven mark last season crowned by the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). His lone reverse came in the Oaklawn H. (G2) at the hands of City of Light. Accelerate exacted swift revenge next time in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1), where City of Light was a well-beaten third. The result was not surprising as the 1 1/4-mile trip is Accelerate’s wheelhouse, and City of Light excelled over shorter trips. City of Light accordingly reverted in distance and capped his campaign with a resounding victory in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).
As a 1 1/8-mile contest like the Oaklawn ‘Cap, the Pegasus gives City of Light the chance to turn the tables at a trip more congenial to him. But Accelerate isn’t exactly a plodder. A closing third in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at three, he famously romped in the 2017 San Diego H. (G2) when Arrogate flopped. Although his 2018 resume featured four Grade 1 wins at 1 1/4 miles, Accelerate also scored in a pair of nine-furlong events, the San Pasqual (G2) and Awesome Again (G1).
There wasn’t much between them at Oaklawn, with Accelerate giving City of Light three pounds and coming up a neck short. At the time City of Light was making his two-turn debut off back-to-back seven-furlong coups in the Malibu (G1) and Triple Bend (G1), while Accelerate was cutting back in trip from the Santa Anita H. (G1). City of Light was the sharper of the pair on April 14, but Accelerate has arguably improved in the interim too, and the freshening since the Classic could lend more zip to his legs than he had in Hot Springs. All of which is to say that both Breeders’ Cup stars have strong claims in what should be a fantastic throwdown.
Lightly raced talent on the upswing. At the opposite end of the career spectrum are Patternrecognition and Tom’s d’Etat, both on an upward curve with their ceiling to be determined.
Patternrecognition is further along the class ladder, as the winner of the Cigar Mile (G1) and Kelso (G2), but has yet to try two turns. Tom’s Etat, on the other hand, is two-for-two at 1 1/8 miles but has yet to face graded company, let alone a loaded Grade 1 field. His personal best Brisnet Speed rating (107) suggests he can fit at this level. Given their admirable career records – Patternrecognition has been in the exacta in 10 of 11, and Tom’s d’Etat is six-for-nine with a four-race winning streak – they are eligible to make their presence felt.
But Tom’s d’Etat brings an additional storyline thanks to his New Orleans Saints connection. He sports the colors of GMB Racing, the nom de course of Gayle Benson, who also owns the NFL team. After Sunday’s controversial denouement to the NFC Championship game, with the infamous blown call that helped sink the Saints, what better way to rebound than a big effort in the nation’s richest race?
Better luck the second time around? Gunnevera and Seeking the Soul, the respective third and fifth from last year’s Pegasus, can make a case to improve on those efforts.
Although Gunnevera is a minor award specialist, the $4.1 million-earner comes off a far better Breeders’ Cup Classic performance than at the comparable time a year ago. He was a dead-heat fifth at Del Mar in 2017, but a fine second at Churchill Downs in November. Factor in his established proficiency around Gulfstream, with a local mark of 9-4-2-2, and the social media celebrity is entitled to be involved.
Seeking the Soul brought a progressive profile into the 2018 Pegasus, only to sustain an injury in the course of his 14-length loss in fifth. Owner/breeder Charles Fipke said that it took him time to return to form. Seeking the Soul won or placed in his final three starts of the year, including a clear second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. If he needs a career best to upset, his “A” game can put him in the exotics.
Is the top older male of 2019 skipping the race? Once Accelerate and City of Light are living the high life in the Lane’s End stallion barn, divisional leadership is up for grabs. Even if another horse upends them both, he’ll have to withstand ongoing challenges to his pro-tem status, chiefly from McKinzie.
Trainer Bob Baffert has made no secret of his belief that McKinzie is a budding champion. Indeed, he’s already a triple Grade 1 winner, with his latest, the Malibu (G1), the most impressive yet. But Baffert did not want to pitch him into the Pegasus. That decision was perhaps influenced by the fact that his 2017 winner, Arrogate, and 2018 runner-up, West Coast, were flattened after competing in both the Pegasus and Dubai World Cup (G1).
By the end of the 2019 season, McKinzie might well have vindicated the Hall of Famer’s judgment, and it would be no surprise if he’s playing the Accelerate role in the 2020 Pegasus. If so, the Pegasus theme of looking more backward than forward would continue.
International ambitions more realistic on turf than dirt. Foreign shippers have struggled in the first two runnings of the Pegasus, Argentine import Eragon (2017) and British comebacker Toast of New York (2018) each finishing a long-way last of 12. Unbeaten Mexican superstar Kukulkan has a low bar to cross to do better.
To be fair, Eragon was whisked across hemispheres without time to acclimate, and Toast of New York was making his second start off a three-year layoff, much of it spent retired at stud. Kukulkan has a stronger hand to play than either of them, as a race-fit campaigner with a win over track and trip in the Caribbean Classic. Obviously, “stronger” is a relative term, and Kukulkan is up against on the galactic class hike.
Hence the addition of the $7 million Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) to the card casts out a more enticing lure for internationals, admittedly at a difficult time on the calendar. Japan’s Aerolithe and Aidan O’Brien’s Magic Wand rate as major threats in an open-looking inaugural, as the forthcoming scouting report will explain.
Owner’s bonus for hitting the Pegasus double. Turning the Pegasus into dirt and turf events has created the opportunity to hit the double. Scooping both would be a windfall, but Gulfstream has sweetened the pot with a $1 million bonus to the doubly victorious owner.
Audible and Pegasus Turf contender Yoshida pack a one-two punch for WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, and Head of Plains Partners, the overlapping portion of their respective ownership groups (Audible’s partnership includes Starlight Racing while Yoshida’s includes SF Racing).
Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence have a plausible shot with Bricks and Mortar in the Pegasus Turf and Patternrecognition, both trained by Chad Brown. Stronach Stables’ homebred Delta Prince holds much more intrigue in the Turf than Something Awesome on dirt. Ron Paolucci is swinging for the fences with Imperative (co-owned by Imaginary Stables), who snapped up the spot that could have been McKinzie’s, and Dubby Dubbie in the Turf.
As of known contenders Monday evening, John Sadler is the other trainer (besides Brown) who could turn the double, although Accelerate (Hronis Racing) and Turf runner Catapult (Woodford Racing) have different owners. Note that more trainers could join Brown and Sadler in both races by entry time Tuesday. Kiaran McLaughlin, who has True Timber in the Pegasus, also has Qurbaan as a Turf nominee; Audible’s trainer, Todd Pletcher, may have Hi Happy in the Turf; and Something Awesome’s trainer, Jose Corrales, could put Unbridled Juan (yet another Stronach runner) in the Turf.
Justify photo by Jamie Newell/Horsephotos.com