Jason Beem's Thursday Column for Jan. 26, 2023

January 26th, 2023

A good Thursday morning to you all! Final weekend of January is already upon us and as I said last week, basically for the next several months we have something big on the racing calendar each weekend after the “quiet” season around the holidays.

This weekend, of course, the Pegasus World Cup (G1) takes center stage, and it’s a fun field of 13 runners assembled for the $3 million event. The question was being discussed on social media earlier this week on whether or not it was important to have big superstars in this race or just that it be a good race. So I wanted to weigh in on that topic here.

The Pegasus has been branded as an upscale party-type vibe, so it may be more so dependent on stars than some other big races. Also when you put up $3 million, I suppose you want to attract big names. Big names do attract headlines and interest from racing fans, so I get why it’s desirable to have the biggest names in your race. But in the grand scheme of things, is it more important to have the stars or have a quality field that’s a more interesting betting race?  My answer is the latter.

Now, I’m answering for myself here. Just my interest level. I’m going to watch any seven-figure race that takes place in the States because I’m interested and it’s part of my job to pay attention. Maybe I’m old and jaded at this point, but I’ve seen superstars. It’s fun to see superstars. I’ve seen Zenyatta and Flightline and American Pharoah, and all of them here in this century. But it seems like this past year or so we’ve been inundated with big stakes races that are five- or six-horse fields with horses from the top five barns in the country going off as big favorites and galloping around the track.

Sure, it’s fun to watch a great horse, but is it better for our product and game as a whole to have those same five barns dominating bad betting races? Or have a group of 12 or 13 decent horses contest a truly wide-open race? As a fan or a horseplayer, give the big field of evenly matched runners all day, every day.

I want to lead this paragraph off by saying I’m guilty of what I’m about to say. But racing media focuses so much on stakes races, and often they’re some of the least interesting races of the weekend. I get that the purse money draws eyeballs, but are we really doing our customers and fans any favors by constantly directing them toward five-horse fields with a lay-up favorite leading the way? It’s something I want to try to work on more this year, and that’s talking more about the most interesting races of the weekend, not just the stakes. Obviously, still going to talk about them, but not make them front and center when they don’t deserve to be.

The Pegasus has already had an interesting history in its short run, and I like that they’ve tried different ways to make the race somewhat interesting. In the end, it seems that it’s back to what it was when it was the Donn — a big-purse Grade 1 for older horses in January at Gulfstream Park. And maybe that’s all it ever needs to be. But I don’t fault them for trying different things and offering up the huge purses they did when the race was getting started.

I think this year, I’m going with Skippylongstocking and White Abarrio as my top two selections. I think Cyberknife’s post is tough, but also there are so many horses that want to sit third or fourth in here, and obviously only a couple of them can. Should be a really interesting race, and I'm curious how the race gets bet, but if odds hold on those two horses, they are the most interesting ones for me.  Best of luck, everyone!