Pegasus World Cup 2023: Seven things to know

January 6th, 2023

The seventh running of the Pegasus World Cup (G1) is coming up Jan. 28, 2023, at Gulfstream Park.

Worth $3 million, the 1 1/8-mile test anchors a card that includes two companion stakes on turf. The $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) is also held over 1 1/8 miles, while the $500,000 Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G3) is slightly shorter at 1 1/16 miles.

To help you get ready for the Pegasus World Cup, here are seven things to know about race trends, the historical background, and successful trainers.

Breeders’ Cup winners are key

Five of the six runnings of the Pegasus have gone to horses coming off Breeders’ Cup victories. In the first two years, the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) was the key race: both Arrogate (2017) and Gun Runner (2018) followed up their Classic wins by adding the Pegasus. Moreover, Gun Runner beat fellow Classic alumni West Coast and Gunnevera in a clean sweep of the trifecta.

More recently, the pattern has shifted in favor of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1). In 2019, reigning Dirt Mile star City of Light romped at a sloppy Gulfstream, leaving Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Accelerate behind in third. The 2020 Dirt Mile exacta, of Knicks Go over Jesus’ Team, was duplicated by nearly the same margin in the 2021 Pegasus.

Knicks Go eventually landed the Breeders’ Cup Classic to clinch 2021 Horse of the Year honors. But when he returned to Gulfstream to mount a title defense in the 2022 Pegasus, Knicks Go was run off his feet by the recent Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner, Life Is Good.

The 2020 exception — a harbinger for 2023?

The exception to this trend came in the 2020 Pegasus, when no Breeders’ Cup winners were in the line-up. The best of the runners who had competed in the Breeders’ Cup was Higher Power, a distant third in the Classic (G1), and he wound up last in the Pegasus. The winner was the Bob Baffert-trained Mucho Gusto, who was reappearing fresh from a nearly four-month layoff.

Could this scenario be in play for the 2023 Pegasus? There’s no Breeders’ Cup winner in the field for Jan. 28, perhaps making for a more open race. On the other hand, Cyberknife just missed by a head in the Nov. 5 Dirt Mile at Keeneland. He thereby fits the Pegasus profile well for Brad Cox, who also trained the aforementioned Knicks Go. Cyberknife, by Gun Runner, could complete the first father-son double in the Pegasus.

Harlan’s Holiday not as helpful

The local stepping stone, the 1 1/16-mile Harlan’s Holiday (G3), has not had a substantial impact on the Pegasus. Two Harlan’s Holiday winners have managed to make the lower rungs of the Pegasus exotics, Fear the Cowboy (fourth in 2018) and War Story (third in 2020).

Nor have those beaten in the Harlan’s Holiday fared any better. The most notable in this category is Keen Ice, runner-up in the 2016 Harlan’s Holiday and fourth in the 2017 Pegasus. Indeed, more significant in this connection is that Keen Ice was third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic two back.

The respective top four from the Dec. 31 renewal of the Harlan’s HolidaySkippylongstocking, Pioneer of Medina, Simplification, and O’Connor — all have to buck this trend.

Clark graduates outperform Cigar Mile

Although the Clark H. (G1) has yet to produce a Pegasus winner, a few have come out of that Churchill Downs feature on Thanksgiving weekend to place at Gulfstream Park. The connection is logical, since both are marquee events at 1 1/8 miles, and Clark hero Proxy will try to improve on that record.

Shaman Ghost, third in the 2016 Clark, was second in the 2017 Pegasus. Seeking the Soul, the 2017 Clark winner, was only fifth next out in the 2018 Pegasus, but he placed in both events the following season. Third in the 2018 Clark, Seeking the Soul came back to finish runner-up in the 2019 Pegasus (in which Clark second Bravazo was fourth). Mr Freeze, third in the 2019 Clark, was second in the 2020 Pegasus.

In contrast, the Cigar Mile (G1) has been a negative pointer in the Pegasus, albeit from a very limited sample size. Partly that’s because the one-turn mile affair at Aqueduct tends to suit a different type, a concern that applies to recent Cigar Mile near-misser Get Her Number. Cigar Mile third White Abarrio, however, could override this trend. As the 2021 Florida Derby (G1) winner, White Abarrio is proven over the Pegasus track and trip.

Favorites often prevail

Given the dominance of Breeders’ Cup winners, it’s no surprise that they’ve often justified favoritism. The top betting choice is 4-for-6 so far in the Pegasus.

Twice the market leaders ran one-two — Gun Runner (11-10) beat second choice West Coast (3.70-1) in 2018, and Life Is Good (4-5) and Knicks Go (9-10) made for a super-chalky exacta last year. Knicks Go had been 13-10 in his 2021 win. Arrogate was the 9-10 favorite in 2017; the 6-5 second pick, California Chrome, was a subpar ninth in his career finale.

Both times that the Pegasus favorites lost, the second pick won. City of Light (19-10) wasn’t far off 3-2 favorite Accelerate in the wagering. Mucho Gusto likewise was the slight 3.40-1 second choice compared to lukewarm favorite Higher Power (2.80-1).

Historic legacy as successor to Donn H.

The Pegasus is building upon the historic legacy of its Gulfstream predecessor, the Donn H. (G1), inaugurated in 1959. The Donn honor roll features such Hall of Famers as Gun Bow (1965), Forego (1974), Foolish Pleasure (1976), Cigar (1995-96), Skip Away (1998), and Invasor (2007). Deputy Minister (1983) (himself a Canadian Hall of Famer), $4 million-earner Creme Fraiche (1986), Medaglia d’Oro (2004), and Horse of the Year Saint Liam (2005) are among the other illustrious campaigners to have won the Donn.

The venerable contest was transformed into the Pegasus for 2017, with a dramatic change in entry procedures to boost the purse to $12 million. Owners or other interested parties could buy a spot in the starting gate for $1 million. In 2018, the purse ballooned to $16.3 million.

By 2019, the entry cost was trimmed to $500,000. The Pegasus purse was reduced to $9 million, as Gulfstream added the $7 million Pegasus World Cup Turf to the agenda. But the shareholder model did not endure.

The 2020 Pegasus marked another evolution, becoming purely an invitational event with no fees to run, and a purse of $3 million. Its Turf companion has since carried a $1 million purse. The Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf became part of the program in 2022.

Successful trainers

Baffert is the only trainer to win the Pegasus twice, courtesy of Arrogate and Mucho Gusto, and he’d also taken the Donn once (Captain Steve in 2001). His 2023 Pegasus invitee, Defunded, is in the form of his life following victories in the Awesome Again (G1) and Native Diver (G3). The Awesome Again was a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In.” If not for the formidable presence of Flightline, might Defunded have accepted his spot in the Classic?

While Hall of Famer Bill Mott has not won the Pegasus, he was a three-time winner of the Donn. Most famously Mott trained the aforementioned Cigar, and Lea (2014) added to his tally. Art Collector sports a 9-7-0-0 career mark at the 1 1/8-mile trip. That encompasses all of his career stakes victories, notably the 2021 Woodward (G1), 2020 Blue Grass (G2), and the past two runnings of the Charles Town Classic (G2). But he has to rebound from a fifth in the Oct. 1 Lukas Classic (G3).

Todd Pletcher won his first Pegasus with Life Is Good, but the Hall of Famer had won the Donn five times. After sending out Harlan’s Holiday to score in the 2003 Donn, Pletcher would rack up four wins in a comparatively tight time frame — Quality Road (2010), Graydar (2013), Constitution (2015), and Mshawish (2016). His current Pegasus hope, Pioneer of Medina, is currently on the reserve list and needs help to make the field.