Racing Roundtable: Arabian Knight, Pegasus World Cup, and Eclipse Awards

January 31st, 2023

The Racing Roundtable discusses Arabian Knight's victory in the Southwest (G3), thoughts on the Pegasus World Cup (G1), and Eclipse Awards disagreements. 

Did we learn anything from Arabian Knight's romp in the Southwest?

James Scully: Yes, Arabian Knight confirmed himself as the horse to beat in the three-year-old division. He dominated his second career start, and two-turn debut, with consummate ease, and Arabian Knight has a lot going for him. I thought his Brisnet Speed rating (97) would come back higher, but the conditions weren’t favorable (sloppy track) and the speedy son of Uncle Mo wasn’t asked for his best. He may return to Oaklawn for the $1 million Rebel (G2) on Feb. 25, and wherever he runs next, Arabian Knight probably won’t face a large field due to his imposing form.

Kellie Reilly: Arabian Knight figured to handle the stretch-out to 1 1/16 miles, so it would have been a surprise if he hadn’t won convincingly. We would have learned more on a fast track, since his most interesting rival, Corona Bolt, was not happy at any point in the slop. Still, the way that Arabian Knight polished off the race reiterates his special quality. This wasn’t just a case of speed carrying over a wet track; he appeared to be loafing in the stretch, then suddenly re-engaged and zoomed off by 5 1/2 lengths. The most useful piece of data from the Southwest involves the closing runner-up, Red Route One. He had been the unlucky fourth in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), where he might well have fought out the finish with Instant Coffee if any meaningful gap arrived. Red Route One was also third in that deep Breeders’ Futurity (G1) behind champion Forte and Loggins. The Gun Runner colt therefore gives Arabian Knight key collateral form while continuing to be one to watch himself on the trail.

Vance Hanson: Arabian Knight is immensely talented, at least in comparison to what he’s faced in his two starts, which seemingly hasn’t been much. Perhaps his margin of domination wouldn’t have been as large over a fast track, but in general I think we’re looking at a potential superstar. Whether Bob Baffert’s belief that the colt needs a lot of spacing between starts is due more to his issues with Kentucky Derby eligibility or the colt’s physical constitution remains to be seen, but it does hint that his future appearances could be sporadic. That would be a shame as, so far, he’s certainly one of the more exciting members of his crop that we’ve seen.

What are your main takeaways from the Pegasus World Cup?

JS: Art Collector surprised me. I doubted his chances because of the pace scenario — he had run poorly for Bill Mott when settling off the speed in previous stakes attempts — but the six-year-old thrived on the tactics change in the Pegasus World Cup, rating a length back in fourth after the opening quarter-mile as Stilleto Boy and Defunded showed early speed. Art Collector put rivals away with a sharp turn of foot into the stretch, striking the front and opening a clear advantage, and he rolled home with Junior Alvarado, netting a commendable 104 Speed rating.

From the Pegasus undercard, I'll mention Mage, a three-year-old colt who appears to have a future for Gustavo Delgado following a 3 3/4-length victory in Saturday’s second race, a seven-furlong maiden special weight. A $290,000 two-year-old purchase from the first-crop of Good Magic, Mage appeared to be training forwardly for his unveiling but was overlooked at 11-1 against well-fancied opponents from the barns of Todd Pletcher, Shug McGaughey, Dale Romans, and Mott. The chestnut seized control leaving the gate, showing the way on a short lead down the backstretch, and Mage humbled the competition on the far turn, drawing off stylishly to reach the top of the stretch with about a five-length advantage. He came home fast, registering 101 Speed and 105 Late Pace numbers, and Mage hails from a classy female family geared toward longer distances.

KR: I confess to underestimating Art Collector in the Pegasus World Cup, in the mistaken belief that he’d evolved into a need-the-lead type who wouldn’t get his trip. The Bernardini blueblood proved that he could in fact revert to his old stalking ability, in a dynamic display reminiscent of his victory in the 2020 Blue Grass (G2) over Swiss Skydiver. I’m tempted to think that new rider Junior Alvarado was decisive here. It’s no criticism of his previous pilot, Luis Saez (who opted to ride Pegasus also-ran Get Her Number), to note that sometimes horses need different jockeys at different points in their career. Art Collector might have simply gotten into a habit of overexerting early with Saez — a style that didn’t work as well in more challenging circumstances. If Alvarado has clicked in a way to rejuvenate Art Collector, he could become a more consistent force in the division.

VH: It wasn’t surprising that this year’s Pegasus World Cup, which lacked the superstar power of past editions, resulted in its biggest upset. Although not an improbable winner, Art Collector did seem a season or two past his peak and had rarely shown the ability to rate and win. This newfound ability will serve him well as the season progresses, but his overall record remains one of a horse that blows either hot or cold. As for the rest, I doubt any will be talked up seriously come Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) time.

What is your biggest disagreement with the Eclipse Awards results?

JS: I thought the voting in both turf divisions would be closer, but wasn’t disappointed by any results. And while the categories lacked the suspense of previous years, Mike Repole’s acceptance speeches made the ceremony fun to watch. Eclipse Award producers adopted a zero-tolerance policy toward acceptance speeches over a minute in recent years, and Mike Repole wasn’t having any of it, they weren’t getting him off the stage in two appearances. Repole deserved all the time he wanted after a great 2022 season — his enthusiasm for Thoroughbred racing is easy to appreciate.

KR: My vehement disagreements are with the nonsensical ballots cast by stray voters here and there that make a mockery of the official tabulation. On what planet can one vote against Flightline as champion older dirt male or Horse of the Year? The voters who abstained at least found a courteous way to express an honest — if arbitrary and misguided — idea that a horse needs more than three starts. But those who voted for other horses, including a few beaten pointless by Flightline, simply cannot defend that on any rational basis. 

VH: The only equine Eclipse Award in which I did not select the eventual winner was turf female, which was the most contentious race on the ballot. I suppose I was a little surprised that my pick, War Like Goddess, came third, but vociferously disagreeing with Regal Glory is not a hill I’m willing to die on. However, I’d still maintain War Like Goddess’ record against males last season was better than Regal Glory’s, even if her record in restricted races paled a bit by comparison.