Picks and Plays on Pegasus Weekend

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

In what can easily be billed as the first big weekend of racing in 2019, Gulfstream Park will host a stakes-packed card led by the $9 million Pegasus World Cup (gr. I) and the $7 million Pegasus World Cup Turf (gr. I), while on Friday, Oaklawn Park will join the action with the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes, a prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

At the request of longtime Unlocking Winners commenter gary26, let's take a look at all three races....

Pegasus World Cup (gr. I)

I don't think anyone will deny that, on paper, this 1 1/8-mile race is a battle between Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Accelerate and Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) winner City of Light. One excels running long, the other excels running shorter, and when they met over the middle distance of 1 1/8 miles in the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) last spring, they were separated by just a neck as City of Light emerged victorious.

It doesn't really make financial sense to play them both on top, even in the exotics, since they'll both be heavily bet and there's no guarantee that they'll run 1-2. For single-race bets (multi-race wagers are a different question) I feel like you have to side with one or the other, and I'm throwing my support behind City of Light.

My reasoning is simple enough. The one time they met going 1 1/8 miles, City of Light won fairly and squarely, so it's not like he needs to step up his game to reach the same level as Accelerate. And while Accelerate was terrific in 2018, winning five Grade 1 races including the Breeders' Cup Classic, he had lost some of his pure brilliance by the end of the year and was regressing on the speed figure scales.

In contrast, City of Light ran the race of his life in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, crushing the field in gate-to-wire fashion with a 110 Beyer. In trying to project their form for the Pegasus, I think the lightly-raced City of Light is more likely to bring his A-game than Accelerate, who will need to regain his summer speed if he's going to catch the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner in what appears to be a relatively paceless race.

Underneath in the exotics, Gunnevera and Bravazo—two consistent horses with a knack for "picking up the pieces" in big races—are logical candidates to finish in the money, and since I'm taking a stand with City of Light on top, I wouldn't be opposed to playing Gunnevera and Bravazo for as high as second place. The 2018 Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Audible, coming off a second-place finish with a wide trip in a strange renewal of the Harlan's Holiday Stakes (gr. III), is also worth including. My thinking here is that late runners are more likely to round out the Pegasus exotics than speedier types who will be facing a tough task trying to keep up with City of Light and Accelerate early on.

Pegasus World Cup Turf (gr. I)

A couple months back I spent an entire blog post expounding on the virtues of Bricks and Mortar, so there's no need to rehash it all here. But to provide an update, Bricks and Mortar made his much-anticipated return to the races in a one-mile allowance optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park last month, and from all appearances, he hasn't lost his terrific turn-of-foot.

I loved everything about Bricks and Mortar's performance. First he settled nicely behind a fast pace, and when the capable stakes winner Mr Cub sprinted to a clear lead in the homestretch, Bricks and Mortar unleashed a relentless rally to wear him down and win by a well-measured half-length, running the final quarter-mile in about :23 flat.

The 1 3/16-mile distance of the Pegasus World Cup Turf is a bit of a question mark for Bricks and Mortar, but as long as he settles kindly in the early going I think he'll be able to reproduce his turn-of-foot over the longer distance. Any risk is offset by his appealing 5-1 morning line odds, an excellent price for a wildly talented horse, especially one trained by Chad Brown.

Smarty Jones Stakes

Gray Attempt made a nice impression while defeating a quality field in the six-furlong Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds last month, and the strength of that speedy effort was reiterated when his closest pursuers Manny Wah and Hog Creek Hustle returned to round out the trifecta again in the Lecomte Stakes (gr. III).

In terms of Beyer speed figures, Gray Attempt is the fastest horse in the field, and he's been improving with leaps and bounds through his first three starts. He's got excellent tactical speed and should have little difficulty securing a good position on or near the early lead. For good measure, he'll carry three pounds less than his main rival Long Range Toddy, a presser/stalker who will attempt to negotiate a winning trip from his potentially tricky rail draw. For all these reasons, I view Gray Attempt as clearly the horse to beat in the Smarty Jones.

One runner who interests me at a slightly better price is Super Steed, the fourth choice on the morning line at 9-2. Trained by Larry Jones, Super Steed never really fired when coming home fourth in the Sugar Bowl Stakes, but he was certainly an eye-catching winner two starts back at Churchill Downs, rolling from off the pace after a poor start to win by six lengths with an 87 Beyer.

You can make a case that Super Steed's performance might have been enhanced by a fast pace and a sloppy, sealed track—as a son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver out of a mare by Elusive Quality, he certainly has some mud influences in his pedigree—but there's also a chance that Super Steed is just a promising colt with a bright future regardless of track conditions. He's bred to handle two turns and could be a threat from off the pace in the Smarty Jones.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the weekend stakes races?


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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.

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