The big-race rollercoaster kicks back into action early next year, when the 2023 Pegasus World Cup, Saudi Cup and Dubai World Cup offer colossal prize-money to those major players who are staying in training for another campaign. It may be goodbye to Flightline, Life Is Good, Epicenter and Malathaat, but there’s still plenty to look forward to with the likes of Taiba, Nest, Cody’s Wish, Proxy and Rich Strike sticking around to thrill us all again in 2023.
Cyberknife set for one last dance
Horse racing is a sport that is always looking forward, but as 2022 turns slowly but inexorably into 2023 there’s time to look back as well. The Pegasus World Cup, Saudi Cup and Dubai World Cup punctuate winter and early spring, but when we think of the horses who might bid for all that purse money it’s almost easier to list the ones we’ve already said goodbye to.
Big names retire to stud every year, but this time around there has been an even greater rush for the exit door than usual. Next year we won’t be seeing Flightline, Life Is Good, Epicenter, Early Voting, Golden Pal, Jack Christopher, Jackie’s Warrior, Olympiad, Mo Donegal, Happy Saver, Speaker’s Corner, Malathaat, Ce Ce, Blue Stripe and Corniche, to name just a few G1 winners who have been hustled off to a new career in the breeding sheds.
So who’s left? Given that the breeding season starts in mid-February, the $3 million G1 Pegasus World Cup over a mile-eighth at Gulfstream Park on January 28 is still an option for some, including dual G1 winner and BC Dirt Mile runner-up Cyberknife, who will head to Florida for one more race before becoming a stallion. The race is a possibility for Art Collector, who is also booked for stud duty.
The future-book favorite for the 2023 Pegasus is dual G1 winner and BC Classic third Taiba, who has few miles on the clock – just six starts to date – and is likely to be one of the major players in 2023. It’s fair to expect a little further improvement from the colt, who will also be a candidate for the $20 million mile-eighth G1 Saudi Cup in Riyadh on February 25 and/or the $16 million G1 Dubai World Cup over ten furlongs at Meydan on March 25.
His barnmate Country Grammer – also in the same ownership – won this year’s Dubai World Cup and stays in training; his plans are likely to dovetail with those for Taiba, with a trip to the desert on the cards for both horses. Baffert also trains G2 Pat O’Brien winner Laurel River, who was denied his Breeders’ Cup opportunity by veterinary order but remains a progressive individual who stays a mile well and could go longer.
The Pegasus is also a possible destination for BC Dirt Mile winner Cody’s Wish, whose fairytale back-story has made him one of the most famous horses in the world. He would be happier at Churchill Downs, where he is unbeaten in four, but looks capable of stretching out to a mile-eighth for the first time and, if the extra mileage is no problem, the Saudi Cup would also be a potential target. If it’s a bridge too far, expect to see Cody’s Wish in races such as the G1 Met Mile at Belmont Park next summer.
His owner Godolphin also has recent G1 Clark winner Proxy to count on next year, and his schedule is expected to embrace the Pegasus and then the Dubai World Cup, a race his trainer Michael Stidham won in 2021 with the now-retired Mystic Guide. Godolphin are unafraid to run more than one horse in these big races so perhaps Proxy’s path will cross with Cody’s Wish along the way.
Bill Mott, the trainer of Cody’s Wish, has another Breeders’ Cup winner in the barn with Elite Power, who completed a five-timer in the Sprint. The retirement of Jackie’s Warrior leaves a big hole at the top of the sprint standings and Elite Power has excellent credentials to dominate the division in 2023. The hard-knocking Gunite, winner of the G2 Amsterdam at Saratoga in July before finding the last eighth of the BC Dirt Mile too far, finishing fourth, is likely to be a fierce competitor for Elite Power at seven furlongs.
Charge It powers up for return
Todd Pletcher has bade farewell to this year’s Pegasus winner Life Is Good and champion distaffer Malathaat, but appears to have ready-made replacements already in the barn.
There has been a buzz about Charge It ever since he made his debut at Gulfstream Park in January, which increased to a big noise when he smashed the G3 Dwyer at Belmont Park in July to little pieces, beating not very much but doing it by a romping 23 lengths. Injury issues have kept him off the track since then, but the grey is due to return within the next few weeks and, depending on how he fares, he could easily become a livewire for the Pegasus.
Malathaat may be replaced like-for-like by Nest, whose midsummer brilliance brought her wide-margin victories in the G1 Coaching Club American Oaks, the G1 Alabama (both at Saratoga) and the G2 Beldame at Aqueduct before her streak was snapped behind her barnmate in the BC Distaff. If Malathaat’s career is a guide, Nest is unlikely to take on the boys – although she has already done that, when runner-up in the Belmont – and will instead concentrate on a further domination of the distaff scene.
Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike also stays in training, and is currently having a rest after a disappointing performance in the Clark. He won’t be ready for the Pegasus, but connections have spoken about pointing him towards the Dubai World Cup, with the possibility of a prep beforehand. The third and fourth home behind Rich Strike at Churchill Downs in May, Zandon and Simplification, will be back again next year with reputations to mend, while G1 Florida Derby winner White Abarrio would not be a surprise contender for the 2023 Pegasus given that he is unbeaten in four at Gulfstream and has never won anywhere else
2023 Pegasus World Cup Odds courtesy of JazzSports
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