Handicapping the Pegasus World Cup Showdown

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman 

When talk of a rich "Pegasus Championship" began circulating in January 2015, no one knew for certain whether the race would come to fruition and if it would be embraced as a goal for the best horses in the United States. A year later, we have the answer--the $12 million Pegasus World Cup (gr. I) has become one of the most anticipated races in recent memory and has attracted a fantastic field led by two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome and Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Arrogate.

Without question, California Chrome and Arrogate are two of the best horses we've seen in a while. California Chrome has compiled a sensational record during his lengthy career, earning a record-breaking $14,502,650 in purse money while prevailing in races like the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), Preakness Stakes (gr. I), and Dubai World Cup (gr. I). Arrogate is much less experienced, with only six starts under his belt, but he shattered a 37-year-old track record when he won the Travers Stakes (gr. I) by 13 ½ lengths, and he proved that his stunning performance was no fluke when he reeled in California Chrome to win the Breeders' Cup Classic.

It would be a major surprise if California Chrome and Arrogate don't finish 1-2 in the Pegasus World Cup, and nothing short of a monumental upset if both were beaten, so if you want to find value in the exotic wagers, the key might be to take a chance and play only one to win. The tricky part is deciding which one, as neither drew particularly good post positions (Arrogate landed the rail with speed to his outside and California Chrome drew post twelve, which has produced only one winner since 2006.)

I have the feeling that this race will come down to who gets the best trip, so with California Chrome stuck on the far outside with a short run to the first turn, I'm leaning ever so slightly toward Arrogate. His rail draw could prove troublesome as well--he strikes me as the type that needs plenty of racing room to utilize his abundant stamina as efficiently as possible--but if Mike Smith can get him out of the gate fast to secure good position, or get to the outside at some point during the race, I think Arrogate will be very tough to beat.

But while Arrogate is my selection, the truth of the matter is that both Arrogate and California Chrome will be short prices (they're 7-5 and 6-5 on the morning line, respectively), and unless you plan to single one or the other in multi-race wagers, there probably isn't much money to be made. That's why--in my opinion--the most important thing is to simply enjoy this race for what it is: a fantastic showdown between two champions, and a rematch that we would only be dreaming of if it weren't for the inauguration of this unique new race.

Setting Arrogate and California Chrome aside, I also have a bit of interest in the 30-1 shot Neolithic, who could have a shot to hit the board at a huge price. Trained by Todd Pletcher, who is enjoying a fantastic meet at Gulfstream so far, Neolithic has shown significant talent during his relatively brief career, culminating with an impressive nine-length win in a Gulfstream allowance race on December 14th. His recent Beyer speed figures (100 and 101) suggest that he fits well with this field, and his blend of tactical speed and ability to rate just off the lead should help him adapt to whatever pace scenario unfolds. How about an Arrogate/California Chrome/Neolithic trifecta?

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Pegasus World Cup?

Always Dreaming, Battle of Midway Win Impressively

While it's getting a bit late for three-year-olds to break their maidens and still have a major impact on the Kentucky Derby, during the last week a pair of colts scored maiden victories in such impressive fashion that you have to wonder if they could be exceptions to the rule. 

The first was Battle of Midway, a son of Smart Strike that made his debut in a six-furlong maiden special weight on January 21st at Santa Anita. There was plenty of talk beforehand that Battle of Midway might be something special, and while he wasn't the betting favorite (he actually went off as the third choice at 3.40-1), Battle of Midway had little trouble cruising to a 3 ¼-length victory. (VIDEO)

From every perspective, Battle of Midway ran a fast race. After dueling for the lead through quick fractions of :21.67 and :44.42, he kicked clear under jockey Drayden Van Dyke and ran the last quarter-mile in :24.67 to record a final time of 1:09.09, which translated to an 88 Beyer speed figure.

Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer and owned by Fox Hill Farms, Battle of Midway appears to have a very bright future, and his pedigree suggests that additional distance won't be an issue--in fact, he might absolutely relish ten furlongs. The only question is whether Battle of Midway will actually embark on the Kentucky Derby trail, having gotten off to such a late start. But he is among the early nominees to the Santa Anita Derby, so the possibility exists that we could see him in a Kentucky Derby prep race.

The other colt that caught my eye this week is Always Dreaming. The son of Bodemeister ran a couple of solid races for trainer Dominick Schettino last summer, including a narrow defeat in a six-furlong maiden race at Saratoga. After a long layoff, Always Dreaming returned to action in a 1 mile and 40-yard maiden special weight on January 25th at Tampa Bay Downs with Todd Pletcher as his new trainer. Sent off at odds of 1-10, Always Dreaming absolutely crushed his eight rivals, tracking the early pace before powering away to win by 11 ½ lengths under a light hand ride. (VIDEO)

Visually, Always Dreaming looked effortless coming down the homestretch and appeared to have a lot left in the tank. His final time of 1:40.54 earned a solid 85 Beyer, and with that effort behind him, Always Dreaming will almost certainly be bound for a Kentucky Derby prep race in the near future, with the March 11th Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) being a possible target.


The Unlocking Winners Road to the Kentucky Derby Handicapping Challenge is back for a third consecutive year! Please be sure to post all entries, prime horses, and stable additions on the official contest page. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!


J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.

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