Racing Roundtable: Pegasus World Cup Day recap

January 30th, 2024

This week, the Racing Roundtable reflects on Pegasus World Cup Day at Gulfstream, including National Treasure's win in the marquee race as well as Warm Heart and Francesco Clemente's turf scores.

In the video portion, we also highlight a TwinSpires user's once-in-a-lifetime Pick 6 score, where he won a cool $1.8 million on Sunday's mandatory payout.

What are your takeaways from the Pegasus World Cup?

James Scully: National Treasure ran big, dueling through hot fractions and repelling the fast-finishing Senor Buscador, and he looks poised for a successful four-year-old season. The taxing pace set up for late runners, as Senor Buscador and third-placer Crupi closed from next-to-last and last in the 12-horse field, and National Treasure has improved significantly in his last two starts, registering a 109 Brisnet Speed rating for a nose second to Cody’s Wish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) and a 105 in the Pegasus World Cup.

Vance Hanson: The World Cup seemed to underscore the continued lack of depth in the older male dirt division. While some horses with presumed upside (e.g. First Mission, Grand Aspen) failed to fire at all, the race turned out to be a two-horse one in the final quarter mile, with National Treasure eking out the win over a well-exposed Senor Buscador and the rest far back. National Treasure has evolved into a more consistent and capable horse in the last three months, but his performance on Saturday still suggests 1 1/4 miles is probably still beyond his ideal. The same could probably be said of Senor Buscador, who appeared to be running out of gas as much as making incremental inroads into National Treasure's lead inside the final furlong. At this point in time, I wouldn't think White Abarrio has anyone significant to fear within the division.

Ashley Anderson: I had my doubts about National Treasure, who appeared to be a need-the-lead type and lacked consistency as a three-year-old, going 1-for-7 with a lone win in the Preakness (G1) back in May of 2023. But the Quality Road colt showed the ability to press the pace in this race after Hoist the Gold gained the early lead, and National Treasure held off a late-surging Senor Buscador to prevail by a neck. The Bob Baffert trainee has shown fight in the final furlong in his last two races, nearly rallying to beat Cody's Wish after National Treasure was overtaken in deep stretch in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1). Part-owner of SF Racing, Tom Ryan, said "(Baffert) has already said whatever (National Treasure has) done at two, he'll do more at three, and there'll be a lot more at four." Following his win on Pegasus World Cup Day, I am much more of a believer and think we'll see a strong four-year-old campaign from the colt.

What were your thoughts on the Pegasus World Cup turf events?

JS: Ryan Moore put Warm Heart in a favorable early position, just off the leaders stalking the pace in third, and the classy four-year-old mare finished powerfully to conclude her racing career on a winning note in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1). A three-time Group/Grade 1 winner for Coolmore and Aidan O’Brien, Warm Heart also established a new course record, completing 1 1/8 in 1:44.45, and connections speculated the daughter of Galileo would be bred to Justify.

In the Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf (G1), Didia is now 4-for-4 off a freshening stateside, parlaying a frontrunning trip into a game neck decision. The Argentinean bred also improved to 4-for-4 at the 1 1/16-mile distance.

VH: Warm Heart was sensational in her career swan song, winning the Pegasus World Cup Turf in course record time under a patented ride from Ryan Moore. She will be sadly missed the remainder of the season in Europe.

Regarding post-time favorite Integration, it's too early to give up on him. This was his first run against older rivals and he was still giving up loads of experience with just three races behind him. However, his 6-5 starting price was ridiculously short, given those factors. Demanding value from him will be the way to go in the future.

Didia bounced back well from her modest showing in the Breeders' Cup to win the Filly and Mare Turf, showing more positional speed than she had in nearly every other outing since her importation. Star Fortress, meanwhile, endured a rough trip but ultimately might have found the ground much too fast for her liking. She enjoyed the soft, loose footing at Churchill last fall, so her future success might be ground dependent.

AA: Outside of Warm Heart and Francesco Clemente's ultra-fast victories on the turf, I was surprised by the disappointing finishes of Integration, Star Fortress, and Romagna Mia in their respective races. Integration was bet down to the 1.20-1 post-time favorite but made no impact, finishing fifth in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1). In the Filly & Mare Turf, Star Fortress entered off a 10-length win in the Cardinal S. (G3) at Churchill on Nov. 23 but had a troubled trip in her second U.S. start, coming home last of 11. Romagna Mia was a heavy .70-1 favorite in the La Prevoyante (G3) and finished a six-length fifth to Alpha Bella, an 8-1 choice, who's by Justify, set to be bred to the now-retired Warm Heart following her win in the Pegasus World Cup Turf.

What else caught your eye at Gulfstream on Saturday?

JS: A three-year-old son of Constitution, Speak Easy caught the eye winning at first asking for Todd Pletcher. The well-built colt pressed Victory Avenue, a well-regarded firster for Gustavo Delgado bet down to 3-2 favoritism, until taking over in the stretch drive, and Speak Easy received an excellent 103 Brisnet Speed rating for the 1 3/4-length decision. Speak Easy is the second exciting debut winner of the meet for Pletcher, who sent out Born Noble to a 5 1/2-length victory over seven furlongs in late December, and the two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer has champion Fierceness and Grade 1 winner Locked readying for their returns over the next two weekends.

VH: I thought Francesco Clemente's performance in the W.L. McKnight (G3) suggested that he, rather than Integration, might be the one to take over from Up to the Mark as the U.S.'s leading turf male. He won with authority and missed equaling the course mark for 1 1/2 miles by .01 seconds, admittedly over a turf that was producing quick times all day.

Given trainer Chad Brown prefers to keep him at distances from 1 1/4 miles to 1 1/2 miles, Francesco Clemente might have difficulty securing a Grade 1 until much later in the year. The Manhattan (G1) will be run at a reduced distance of 1 3/16 miles at Saratoga in June, while historic races like the Man o' War and United Nations have sadly both been downgraded from Grade 1 to Grade 2 events this year.

AA: On the heels of his fifth career Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey, Irad Ortiz Jr. put in a dominant day at Gulfstream on Saturday, winning five of his 11 mounts on the 13-race card, with two second-place finishes and a third. Among his victories were a 1 3/4-length win with Speak Easy in a maiden special weight on the undercard as well as stakes scores with Olivia Darling in the Inside Information (G2) and Francesco Clemente in the William L. McKnight. One of his more surprising finishes came in the Pegasus World Cup Turf, where he came home a half-length second to Warm Heart aboard I'm Very Busy, a 14-1 longshot. Ortiz is just 31 years old and two shy of tying Jerry Bailey's record of seven Eclipse Awards as a jockey. If he continues to perform like he did Saturday, it's safe to say he'll be collecting at least his sixth trophy for 2024.