Jason Beem's Thursday Column for Jan. 25, 2024

January 25th, 2024

A good Thursday morning to you all! It’s Pegasus World Cup weekend, and the race formerly known as the “Donn Handicap” will be run under the Pegasus title for the eighth time since it was revamped in 2017. It’s been a very interesting ride for this race, which started out as a $1 million buy-in event with a $12 million purse and is now just a regular Grade 1 with a whopping $3 million dollar purse.

It’s the premier race in January here in the states and has produced some big wins for top horses like Arrogate, Gun Runner, and Knicks Go, to name a few. But one thing the Pegasus Stakes hasn’t really done yet since it became the Pegasus is produce an exciting stretch run.

I don’t know why I thought about this earlier today, but every Pegasus World Cup has essentially been over by the top of the stretch. The winning margins of these races have been the following:

2017: Arrogate, 4 3/4 lengths 

2018: Gun Runner, 2 1/2 lengths (runner-up West Coast was 10 in front of third)

2019: City of Light, 5 3/4 lengths

2020: Mucho Gusto, 4 1/2 lengths

2021: Knicks Go, 2 3/4 lengths

2022: Life Is Good, 3 1/4 lengths

2023: Art Collector, 4 1/2 lengths

Oddly enough, Art Collector is one of the bigger margins, and his race was the one that maybe wasn’t a clear victory turning for home. Knicks Go just kind of cruised home but never looked beaten in his race. Arrogate ran amazingly, but, of course, the match-up between him and California Chrome didn’t materialize when Chrome failed to fire from post 12.

I understand that dirt races often produce less exciting finishes than turf races. It’s not even close really. Our handle at Tampa always seems to jump up from the dirt races. I think people just enjoy the thrill of turf racing, but also sometimes it feels as though possible price horses are more capable of winning on grass. I would actually be curious to see what the average prices on dirt versus turf are when field size is comparable. Often it’s not, as turf races do tend to draw more horses.

So, what does this year’s race look like? Will we finally get a dramatic stretch battle in the Pegasus? I hope so. I want my buddy Pete to get a chance to call a thriller. Now, National Treasure could absolutely win and is a deserving favorite. I don’t think he and First Mission are that far ahead of their rivals here so I’m hoping this year will produce a more exciting race.

I think a lot of times Grade 1s are either really competitive or just layups for the top superstars in the game to beat up on a small field. Personally I'll take the interesting betting race and a competitive one rather than the chance to watch a 3-5 shot gallop around the track unopposed. I know some people like superstars, and I love to see great horses too. But our game and industry is better when races are big and competitive, in my opinion.