It’s a huge day at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, with the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup taking center stage and providing one of the most eagerly awaited match-ups in a long time, with outstanding front-runners Knicks Go and Life Is Good set to go head to head in a thrilling speed contest for the $3 million purse, a race that everyone’s been talking about.
There’s also the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf, in which last year’s winner Colonel Liam bids to retain his crown against a field including fast-improving barnmate Never Surprised, and the Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf, which has drawn a deep field featuring Grade 1 winner Regal Glory. It’ll definitely be a day to remember
Pegasus World Cup Invitational
Lucky us; we finally get to see what happens when the irresistible force meets the immovable object. The meeting of two of the world’s best horses in the enormously valuable Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on Saturday has been long awaited, and expectations are high.
The Pegasus World Cup is a ‘world’ event only in the same way that the World Series of baseball is a global competition, as it is strictly a local showdown, there are no competitors from overseas. It is a race that the whole racing world will be watching, though, as two brilliant Breeders’ Cup winners take each other on in a compelling duel.
In the red corner, Knicks Go – Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, certain to be crowned Horse of the Year, and just this week confirmed as the world’s best horse of 2021 by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA). In the blue corner, Life Is Good – Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner, a major contender for an Eclipse Award, and in the world’s top ten on IFHA rankings. Seconds out; let battle commence.
Twelve months ago, Knicks Go was favorite for the Pegasus and led at every call on his way to a dominant victory. That was only the first instalment on an outstanding campaign that also brought success in the Grade 1 Whitney, two Grade 3s and the aforementioned BC Classic at Del Mar, in which he showcased his genius for front-running to perfection, controlling the race throughout and keeping on strongly to win by two and three-quarter lengths from Medina Spirit and Essential Quality.
The grey six-year-old, having his last run here before being retired to stud, has proved almost impossible to beat when setting the pace around two turns. Knicks Go doesn’t always appear to be going that fast, but he is nevertheless setting a rhythm that his rivals can’t deal with. His relentless stride breaks races apart, he is the immovable object on the lead, and there’s always something left for the final furlong.
Today’s drop back in distance is not an issue – he’s a Grade 1 course-and-distance winner, after all – and Knicks Go is, on every reckoning, the best horse in the race. He will have to be alert from his inside post, though, because his main rival is an equally brilliant front-runner.
In the BC Dirt Mile, Life Is Good started out sprinting and didn’t stop, producing an extraordinary display of barely controlled power, blitzing the first quarter in 21.88 and clearing away in the stretch to win eased down by five and three-quarter lengths. He was more impressive than Knicks Go had been when winning the Dirt Mile the year before, and given that it was only the sixth race of his life he is likely to keep improving for a while.
The four-year-old is five-for-six, his only defeat coming in the Grade 1 Allen Jerkens Memorial over seven furlongs at Saratoga when beaten a neck by sprint ace Jackie’s Warrior. That was Life Is Good’s first race off a near six-month layoff, and jockey Mike Smith was not as vigorous on him as he might have been, so it’s only circumstantial that he doesn’t have a perfect record.
He is all speed, he is the irresistible force, and now stretches out to nine furlongs for the first time, although the way he won the mile-sixteenth Grade 2 San Felipe at Santa Anita last March – led from the gate for an eight-length defeat of Medina Spirit – suggests that he’ll cope.
The perfect race in store
The Pegasus is set up perfectly. Two of the three best horses in the land in Knicks Go and Life Is Good, with this deadly duo sharing an exhilarating approach to race tactics, allied to two brilliant jockeys in Joel Rosario and Irad Ortiz, two outstanding trainers in Brad Cox and Todd Pletcher.
The pace will be the race, and whichever horse gets round the clubhouse turn in front will be putting the other out of his comfort zone. That is the key to the whole shooting match. Then what? Well, we’ll get our money’s worth in the first furlong, and the rest will be free.
It would be an outrageous shock if both these fine horses were beaten, because although anything can happen between gate and wire, and we’ve all seen big names brought low by a frenzied speed duel, the calibre of opposition is no more than decent Grade 3 standard. But it’s true that Knicks Go and Life Is Good could both go too fast and fold up, like poor Sham in the 1973 Belmont, so we need to look at the rest of the field.
The 2019 Belmont winner Sir Winston is the polar opposite of the big two, as he has stamina aplenty and will be doing his running late. He comes here in good order, after getting there in the last few jumps to win the Grade 3 Valedictory on the synthetic surface at Woodbine over a mile and a half, and could be the one for show bettors.
Another viable alternative for exotics players is Fair Grounds specialist Chess Chief , who has never won away from the New Orleans circuit, where he landed a stakes over a mile-sixteenth last time out. He’s another who will be rallying late, although he was outclassed when fifth behind Knicks Go in the Grade 3 Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs in October.
Equally, it would be no surprise if Stilleto Boy hit the board given that his last three starts – all in Grade 1s – have been the best of his life. He ran fifth in the BC Classic behind Knicks Go, beaten ten lengths, and then went up against the frightening Flightline in the Grade 1 Malibu at Santa Anita and plodded on gamely to be third. He could figure if getting a good trip behind the big two.
There has been improvement over sprint distances from Endorsed since being claimed in August, but he is on a 15-race losing streak and his performance when runner-up in the Grade 3 Mr Prospector over seven furlongs here last month doesn’t cut it at this level. Another August claim was Empty Tomb who has never won at stakes level and whose own brand of front-running isn’t likely to survive against the white-hot pace of the big two. The old man of the party Title Ready won the Grade 3 Louisiana at the Fair Grounds on his first outing of 2021, but a trip to Dubai knocked the stuffing out of him and he hasn’t looked the same horse in two starts since. The field is completed by Commandeer an allowance optional claimer winner who makes his stakes debut here
Betting Prediction for The Pegasus World Cup is KNICKS GO is the top-rated horse in the world and is the choice to sign off a glorious career in style.
|Horse||Jockey||Horse Racing Odds courtesy of JazzSports|
|Knicks Go||Joel Rosario||+120|
|Chess Chief||Reylu Gutierrez||+1000|
|Stilleto Boy||Kent J. Desormeaux||+2000|
|Life Is Good||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||+140|
|Empty Tomb||Paco Lopez||+2000|
|Sir Winston||Edwin Gonzalez||+1200|
|Title Ready||Tyler Gaffalione||+2000|
|Commandeer||Julien R. Leparoux||+3000|
Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf Invitational
The Filly & Mare Turf is a rebranded race now brought under the Pegasus banner and has attracted a strong field for its inaugural running, with turf maestro Chad Brown supplying the morning-line favourite in the shape of Regal Glory, the only US Grade 1 winner in the field.
The mare made her breakthrough at the highest level in the Matriarch over the Del Mar mile in November, building on her second place in the Grade 1 First Lady at Keeneland with a dominant gate-to-wire display, extending her advantage in deep stretch to two and a half lengths at the wire. That ended her campaign on a high, and if reproducing that level of performance she’ll be a tough nut to crack.
The first three home in last month’s Grade 3 Suwannee River here over a mile take each other on again, and Todd Pletcher has yet another big chance with Sweet Melania, who came out on top by a half-length that day after a prolonged duel with runner-up Shifty She, while In A Hurry finished strongly for third, another half-length away. Alms was a disappointing seventh.
It was arguably a career-best for Sweet Melania, although now she meets Grade 3 Noble Damsel winner and four-time course winner Shifty She on 4lb worse terms, and Shifty She will be out there on the pace again making that weight differential count. In A Hurry was fourth in the Noble Damsel and is clearly on the upgrade, although further improvement is required.
Irish Oaks third Nicest cuts back to this distance for the first time since her two-year-old days, and given that she ran all the way to the line when runner-up – on dirt – in the ten-furlong Grade 1 American Oaks at Santa Anita last time it might not be the right move. Fellow European import Wakanaka hasn’t run since April, when she won the Group 3 Italian 1,000 Guineas over a mile. Italian form is not usually strong and she may need an easier spot.
Lady Speightspeare blew her four-race unbeaten record – including the Grade 1 Natalma and Grade 2 Bessarabian at Woodbine – when third in a stakes over course and distance on her first venture south. She was three-quarters of a length behind longshot winner Bipartisanship, for whom it was a first stakes success, but is 5lb better off here and can flip that form.
Grade 2 winner Gift List has a near eight-month layoff to overcome and could be a little rusty, but Summer In Saratoga – who has never actually run at the Spa – comes here on a roll, winning the Grade 3 Dowager at Keeneland and a stakes at the Fair Grounds on her last two starts, and her rate of progress makes her of interest to exotics players.
Top Pick for the Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf is SHIFTY SHE can land her fifth win at this track.
|Horse||Jockey||Horse Racing Odds courtesy of JazzSports|
|Sweet Melania||Luis Saez||+500|
|Wakanaka (IRE)||Umberto Rispoli||+1200|
|Lady Speightspeare||Junior Alvarado||+800|
|Regal Glory||Jose L. Ortiz||+200|
|Gift List (GB)||Julien R. Leparoux||+1500|
|Summer in Saratoga||Corey J. Lanerie||+1200|
|Shifty She||Edwin Gonzalez||+600|
|In a Hurry||Javier Castellano||+1200|
|Nicest (IRE)||Tyler Gaffalione||+600|
|Bipartisanship (GB)||Paco Lopez||+2000|
Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational
On what could be an absolute bonanza afternoon for trainer Todd Pletcher, he brings last year’s winner Colonel Liam back to defend his crown in the Pegasus World Cup Turf, the highlight of the day’s lavish undercard and run at a sixteenth of a mile shorter than 12 months ago.
Last year Colonel Liam needed every yard of ground to get his nose in front, prevailing by a neck after a relentless stretch run in what was probably not as hot a contest as this year’s promises to be. The question hanging over the five-year-old is whether he can be ready to run for his life off a near eight-month layoff, having not been seen since turning in a lacklustre effort in the Grade 1 Manhattan at Belmont Park.
Pletcher is renowned for his talent in bringing back long-term absentees, but Colonel Liam couldn’t have found a tougher spot. His barnmate Never Surprised, on the other hand, is fresh and ready after registering a dazzling display of front-running to win a stakes here over a mile-sixteenth last month – the same race Colonel Liam used to prep for last year’s World Cup Turf.
Never Surprised blew them away by six and a quarter lengths in a blistering time, and his freewheeling style is likely to have plenty of his rivals in trouble. He has never been out of the first two in seven starts – although all his defeats have come in Graded company – and will be hard to catch if he gets his own way in front from his outside post.
The 2020 World Cup Turf fourth Sacred Life returns for another duel with Field Pass , the pair having met on their last two outings with the score standing at 1-1. Sacred Life got the better of things by a head in the Grade 3 Knickerbocker over a mile-eighth at Belmont Park in October, and Field Pass took his revenge the following month in the Grade 2 Seabiscuit at Del Mar over a mile-sixteenth, also by a head.
There is unlikely to be much between them again, with Field Pass looking comfortably the best of trainer Mike Maker’s quartet ahead of Flavius, who has his first run for Maker after switching from Chad Brown’s barn. He has yet to make it stick at Graded level but his victory in a Saratoga stakes in August suggests that he will one day, although this might not be the time and place.
Maker also sends last year’s World Cup Turf third Cross Border back for another try, although the old-timer will need to find more than he showed when winning a stakes at Turfway Park last time out, and he’s accompanied by Atone runner-up in the Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale over course and distance last month, when he went down by a length and a half to Doswell, with the short runner Space Traveller two and a quarter lengths further back in fourth.
That was a lifetime best for Atone and he’s arguably overpriced, but there’s no obvious reason why he should flip the form with Doswell, who led at every call and was strong through the final furlong. The victory marked a return to form for Doswell, who has hit the board in all four starts at Gulfstream, and as long as he doesn’t get tangled up in a speed duel with Never Surprised he could make his presence felt at the business end.
This represents something new for west-coast raider Hit The Road , who has been campaigned strictly at a mile and who hit the big time when getting there late to win the Grade 1 Frank E Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita in March, with Flavius fourth. He boasts solid form but could struggle to see out the distance in this company, especially with a strong pace guaranteed.
March To The Arch has good form at Woodbine and is Grade 1-placed at a mile, but his performance when a never-nearer fifth in a mile stakes at Aqueduct last time out gives little encouragement that he can get involved. The popular Channel Cat peaked in May last year when winning the Grade 1 Man O’War at Belmont, his sole win in his last 14 races, and looked vulnerable thereafter. He is unlikely to get his usual place on the lead at this shorter distance, so could struggle on his final start before being retired to stud at Calumet Farm.
Betting Prediction for the Pegasus World Cup Turf
Todd Pletcher holds the key to the Pegasus World Cup Turf with the two market leaders, but given last year’s winner Colonel Liam’s long absence from the track, trailblazing barnmate NEVER SURPRISED is the choice to make his breakthrough at the top level.
|Horse||Jockey||Horse Racing Odds courtesy of JazzSports|
|Space Traveller (GB)||Jamie P. Spencer||+1200|
|March to the Arch||Edwin Gonzalez||+2000|
|Hit the Road||Tyler Gaffalione||+800|
|Colonel Liam||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||+300|
|Sacred Life (FR)||Jose L. Ortiz||+600|
|Field Pass||Umberto Rispoli||+1000|
|Channel Cat||Joel Rosario||+1200|
|Cross Border||Reylu Gutierrez||+1500|
|Never Surprised||Luis Saez||+350|
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