By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Arrogate vs. California Chrome. Gun Runner vs. West
Coast. City of Light vs. Accelerate. The first three editions of the 1 1/8-mile
Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream Park attracted some of the best horses
in North America, generating widely-hyped showdowns between champions and
Breeders' Cup winners.
For various reasons, the 2020 Pegasus World Cup is
shaping up to be a more modest event. The scratch of Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile
(G1) winner Spun to Run leaves just
three Grade 1 winners among the 11 expected starters, and one of those Grade 1
winners hasn't scored a top-level victory since 2017.
This might be disappointing from a sporting perspective,
but on the other hand, it makes the Pegasus World Cup a potentially great
betting race. The first three Pegasus World Cup winners started at odds of 0.90-1,
1.10-1, and 1.90-1—barely worth playing in the win pool. This time around, we
could see a more unpredictable outcome.
That's not to say there isn't a heavy favorite. To the
contrary, #5 Omaha Beach should
start at even-money or even odds-on. Trained by Richard Mandella, this son of War
Front was among the most talented sophomores of 2019, using unwavering grit and
big mid-race moves to score victories in the Rebel Stakes (G2), Arkansas Derby
(G1), Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1), and Malibu Stakes (G1). From six furlongs
to 1 1/8 miles, Omaha Beach was tough to beat in 2019.
Yet despite his determination and occasional brilliance,
Omaha Beach came up short in his stiffest test of the year. Favored at
even-money in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1), Omaha Beach broke sluggishly over
a tiring track and never looked like a winner, only gradually working his way into
contention to finish second by 2 3/4 lengths against Spun to Run.
The slow start and challenging track conditions put Omaha
Beach at a disadvantage, forcing him to change his running style over a track
not particularly favorable to deep closers. Then again, maybe he ran his race
and was just second-best on the day. From a Beyer speed figure perspective, the
Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile was actually Omaha Beach's best race, producing a figure
That's where things get interesting. While Omaha Beach
has posted four consecutive Beyers in the 101-104 range, these numbers don't
give him much of an edge in the Pegasus World Cup field. Nine of his 10 rivals have
reached the 101 Beyer plateau at one time or another, with several earning
considerably higher figures.
In other words, is Omaha Beach really a standout worthy
of odds-on favoritism? He's the flashiest horse in the field, and arguably the
most accomplished, but to date he hasn't necessarily been the fastest. He made
a great visual impression winning the Dec. 28 Malibu (G1) with ease, but that
was a 7-furlong sprint against fellow 3-year-olds. He'll be facing much deeper
waters in the Pegasus World Cup.
Omaha Beach also dealt with a minor foot bruise after
arriving at Gulfstream Park, which caused one of his pre-race workouts to be
delayed. The issue seems to be behind him, but in the end I have just enough
concerns about Omaha Beach to view him as a vulnerable favorite, albeit one I wouldn't
want to exclude from multi-race wagers.
So who can spring the upset? Runaway Pacific Classic (G1)
winner #6 Higher Power is a logical
candidate with competitive speed figures, but he's broken slowly in his last
two runs, including a third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1). A similarly
slow start in the Pegasus World Cup could be disastrous, causing Higher Power
(breaking from post six) to become buried in traffic as horses to his inside
and outside rush madly to gain position during the short run to the first turn.
Mucho Gusto warrants respect for Hall of Fame trainer Bob
Baffert, who nabbed the inaugural edition of the Pegasus with Arrogate. But
while Mucho Gusto has been training up a storm at Santa Anita, 1 1/8 miles
seems to be pushing the stamina limitations of this three-time Grade 3 winner,
who counts next month's $20 million Saudi Cup (G1) as his primary winter
Call me crazy, but I'm going to go way, way outside the
box and side with #12 Bodexpress, a
30-1 longshot on the morning line. Bodexpress is probably best knowns for his
struggles during the 2019 Triple Crown; he was part of the infamous far turn
traffic incident in the Kentucky Derby (G1) that led to the disqualification of
Maximum Security, while in the Preakness (G1), he reared at the start and
unseated his rider before racing around the track on his own.
But Bodexpress also showed flashes of serious talent last
year. During the winter he finished second in a 7-furlong maiden race at
Gulfstream, beaten just a neck by future Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) runner-up
Shancelot. And in the Florida Derby (G1), Bodexpress tracked Maximum Security right
from the start to finish clearly second-best, ahead of future Travers (G1) and
Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) winner Code of Honor.
Bodepress took time off following the Triple Crown and
came back a better horse. He easily broke his maiden going a mile and 70 yards
at Gulfstream Park West, then won a one-mile allowance race over the same track
in gate-to-wire fashion, pulling away easily to score by 6 3/4 lengths with a
competitive 101 Beyer.
At first glance, Bodexpress' most recent effort—a third-place
finish in the 1 1/16-mile Harlan's Holiday (G3) at Gulfstream Park—seems like a
disappointment. Favored at 1.10-1, Bodexpress set the pace and led into the
stretch before weakening to finish third, three lengths behind fellow Pegasus
competitor #7 War Story.
But this basic description doesn't tell the whole story.
Bodexpress acted up significantly at the starting gate, almost breaking through
before the start, so he may have wasted his race before the gates even opened. And
on a day when RacingFlow.com detected a modest track bias in favor of closers,
Bodexpress was arguably too ambitious in his early exertions, carving out quick
fractions of :22.82, :46.14, and 1:10.47.
Assuming Bodexpress keeps his cool before the Pegasus and
breaks alertly from the starting gate, expect to see him seize the early
initiative. While there are several speed horses in the Pegasus field, most
prefer to track the pace, leaving Bodexpress to secure the lead. If the
Gulfstream main track is prepped to perfection for fast times on this special
day, a speed-favoring surface should be the result, giving Bodexpress every
opportunity to outrun expectations on the front end. At the very least, he's
worth playing in the exacta with Omaha Beach.
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.