J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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?
it's your turn! Who do you like in the Pegasus World Cup?
Always Dreaming, Battle of Midway Win
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.
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)
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.
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.
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)
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.