By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
With a full field and a winner's purse of $7 million on
the line, Saturday's $16.3 million Pegasus World Cup (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park
is shaping up to be a tremendous showdown between some of the best dirt horses
in the world.
Let's take a look at each horse in the field....
Singing Bullet: He's shown flashes of talent throughout his
career and ran third in the 6 ½-furlong Amsterdam Stakes (gr. II) last year,
but so far he's seemed more effective running shorter and against easier
West Coast: I like horses that show steady improvement as
they mature, and West Coast certainly fits the bill. Early in 2017, he was
hard-urged to beat two rivals in a maiden race at Santa Anita, but by the end
of the year he was clearly the best three-year-old in the country, having scored
front-running wins in the Travers Stakes (gr. I) and Pennsylvania Derby (gr. I)
before finishing a strong third in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I).
I've made known my opinion that the rail was not the best
part of the track on Breeders' Cup Saturday, but at the same time I got the
feeling that the bias was losing its strength by the end of the day, which
means that West Coast's wide trip stalking the pace in the Classic might not
have been ideal. According to data from Trakus, he ran about 4 ¾ lengths
farther than Gun Runner, larger than his margin of defeat.
Under the circumstances, West Coast's performance was
strong, and it's not hard to envision him taking another step forward in the Pegasus
World Cup. He's improving at the right time and will have every chance to work
out a ground-saving trip while breaking from post position two. The question
is, can he turn the tables on Gun Runner?
Stellar Wind: This six-year-old daughter of Curlin has been
a Grade 1 competitor for years, but arguably peaked when beating the four-time
Eclipse Award winner Beholder in back-to-back races in 2016. Following a last
place finish in the 2017 Breeders' Cup Distaff, she was transferred to the barn
of Chad Brown to prepare for the Pegasus World Cup. On her best day, she could
be competitive, but this is a tough spot to seek a rebound.
Sharp Azteca: He has absolutely excelled going a mile and
enters off a decisive victory in the Cigar Mile Handicap (gr. I) at Aqueduct,
but he got a perfect setup that day settling behind a fast pace and could face
a tougher setup in the Pegasus World Cup. He's the obvious danger on the front
end, but going nine furlongs against this level of competition is a different
ballgame and I'm inclined to think he'll grow leg-weary in the homestretch.
Collected: 2017 was a breakout year for this Bob
Baffert-trained runner, who defeated Arrogate in a strong renewal of the
Pacific Classic (gr. I) and then ran second to Gun Runner in the Breeders' Cup
Classic after tracking the pace throughout. On his best day, he would be the
most likely candidate to upset Gun Runner, but he's lost some supporters
following a third-place finish in the San Antonio Stakes (gr. II) on December
While it's a bit concerning that the usually
front-running Collected didn't show any speed in the San Antonio, dropping back
to trail the five-horse field early on, his effort wasn't that bad considering
how the race unfolded. The early fractions of :24.49 and :49.19 strongly
favored the pace-setting Giant Expectations, who then rattled off quarter-mile
fractions of :23.75 and :23.90 plus a final sixteenth in :06.23 to win
decisively. Collected deserves credit for gaining any ground at all into those
fractions, and if he returns to front-running tactics in the Pegasus, we could
see a big rebound.
Gunnevera: He seems to have an affinity for Gulfstream
Park, a track at which he has cracked the trifecta in six of his seven starts,
and you can't knock his respectable fifth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup
Classic (gr. I) last time out, for which he received a 109 Beyer. His ability
to accelerate around the far turn could be an asset in the Pegasus World Cup, which
should unfold at a quick pace favorable to Gunnevera's late run. I don't think
it's out of the question that he could finish in the top four.
Fear the Cowboy: He might not be the most nationally prominent
horse in the Pegasus World Cup field, but he's 4-for-6 at Gulfstream with two
graded stakes wins under his belt, including a decisive late-running triumph in
the 8.5-furlong Harlan's Holiday Stakes (gr. III) last month. He's taking a big
step up in class, but like Gunnevera, he could be a threat to finish in the
superfecta from off the pace.
War Story: Surprised a few people when fifth in last
year's Pegasus World Cup at 49-1, but subsequently won the Brooklyn Handicap
(gr. II) and finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic to prove that he
belongs at this level. He's fairly versatile in terms of running style, but
leans toward a "pick up the pieces" running style in major races will likely
try to out-kick Gunnevera and Fear the Cowboy from off the pace.
Toast of New York: He ran huge when beaten a nose by Bayern in
the 2014 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) but has only run once since then,
returning from stud to win a minor race going ten furlongs over the all-weather
track at Lingfield in Great Britain. Now seven years old, can Toast of New York
compete at this level while making his second start off a three-year layoff? It's
one of the more intriguing storylines in the Pegasus World Cup, but I'll take a
stand against him from a handicapping perspective.
Gun Runner: On paper, the Pegasus World Cup is absolutely
Gun Runner's race to lose. Just look at his record dating back to the summer of
2016-nine consecutive triple-digit Beyer speed figures and five Grade 1 wins,
including four straight during the second half of his 2017 campaign. He's been
the picture of consistency, utilizing his excellent early speed to win race
after race in powerful fashion, culminating with a 2 ¼-length victory over
Collected and West Coast in the Breeders' Cup Classic. He's been almost
unstoppable going nine furlongs, and while his outside post draw is less than
ideal, it's probably better than drawing a post in the middle of the field,
where he would risk getting bumped around in between horses in the run to the
My only hesitation is that Gun Runner has danced seemingly
every dance dating back to 2016, including the Kentucky Derby, the Dubai World
Cup, and two Breeders' Cups, and I have to wonder if this long campaign and his
hard effort in the Breeders' Cup Classic could start catching up to him in the
Pegasus World Cup. Although he's been unbeatable as of late, he wasn't that far
ahead of his rivals in the Classic, and the possibility of a wide trip leaves
him with little room for error. He'll likely be an odds-on favorite in the
Pegasus World Cup, and at that price I think he's worth playing against.
Seeking the Soul: He's turned into a different horse in his
last two starts, rallying to win an allowance race at Keeneland and the Clark
Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill Downs while pairing up 103 Beyers. But he'll be
facing a much higher level of competition in the Pegasus World Cup and could
find the waters a bit deep.
Giant Expectations: He looked great beating a good field in the
San Antonio Stakes (gr. II) by 3 ¼ lengths with a 106 Beyer, but he also
received a perfect trip setting a slow pace against a small field, and under
the circumstances anything less than a victory would have been disappointing.
He'll likely be in for a tougher trip on Saturday while breaking from the far
outside post position.
While it's not the most creative opinion, I view West Coast, Collected, and Gun Runner as
the "big three" in the Pegasus World Cup and will take a shot with the
up-and-coming West Coast to win. I don't expect him to go off at his 8-1
morning line odds, but I think anything near that price would be excellent
For the trifecta and superfecta, I'll look to Gunnevera and Fear the Cowboy as longshots to hit the board while respecting that
Sharp Azteca, though perhaps not
quite suited to this distance, could hang on for a top four finish.
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Pegasus World
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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.