By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
We've all heard the phrase "chalk-eating
weasel" to describe a horseplayer who isn't afraid to bet on favorites. It's a humorous
term, and certainly I've been known to eat my fair share of chalk through the
But "chalk-eating weasel"
doesn't really capture how heavily I'll be relying on favorites at Gulfstream
Park this Saturday. The $3 million
Pegasus World Cup (G1) and the $1
million Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) are the highlights of the afternoon,
with a dozen runners slated to contest each race. Surely this is a prime
opportunity to think outside the box and find a couple of live longshots,
I suppose so, but
truthfully, I believe the favorites look formidable at fair prices. I'll
explain my reasoning in a moment, but in the meantime, we had better come up
with a phrase better than "chalk-eating weasel" to describe my dedication to
the Pegasus World Cup favorites. "Chalk-eating elephant," maybe? Or perhaps "chalk-eating
diplodocid?" That might be more appropriate since any horseplayer consuming a
diet of pure chalk is bound to eventually join the dinosaurs in extinction...
Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1)
Initially, I had planned on
betting recent Gulfstream allowance winner Greyes Creek in the 1 3/16-mile Pegasus
World Cup Turf. But the exciting Chad Brown trainee wound up #13 on the
invitation list and didn't draw into the field. No matter, though—I'm perfectly
happy to throw my support behind #5
Colonel Liam (7-2) instead.
Sold for $1.2 million as a
yearling, Colonel Liam is a rapidly rising star for Gulfstream's perennial
leading trainer, Todd Pletcher. The son of Liam's Map actually debuted with a
couple of average efforts on dirt last spring before transitioning to turf,
where he showed flashes of significant talent at Saratoga.
Indeed, Colonal Liam really
caught my eye when exploding to victory in a July 22 allowance race at the Spa.
After settling a few lengths off the lead in mid-pack, Colonel Liam dashed the
final five-sixteenths of a mile in :28.07 to dominate the 1 1/16-mile event by
2 3/4 lengths.
Colonel Liam subsequently
endured a rough trip when stepping up in class for the $500,000 Saratoga Derby
racing 1 3/16 miles. After breaking just a step slowly, Colonel Liam got
squeezed between rivals and was briefly bounced back to last place. Despite
changing his running style, Colonel Liam unleashed a game rally around the far
turn and down the homestretch, battling through tight quarters between rivals
to finish less than a length away from victory.
The strength of the Saratoga
Derby form was reiterated when 1-2 finishers Domestic Spending and Gufo
returned to win Grade 1 races. The fact Colonel Liam came so close to winning,
even with a rough trip, is a testament to his talent.
After taking some time off,
Colonel Liam returned to action in the 1 1/16-mile Tropical Park Derby on Dec.
26 at Gulfstream Park, and once again he delivered an eye-catching performance.
Settling nicely in mid-pack while racing wide, Colonel Liam casually swept to
the front around the far turn and rocketed home in :28.43 to trounce his
pursuers by 3 1/4 lengths.
I expect Colonel Liam to
unleash a similarly sharp performance in the Pegasus World Cup Turf. The
distance shouldn't be an issue, and he'll be guided by Eclipse Award-winning
jockey Irad Ortiz. Not only has Ortiz been super-hot at Gulfstream (winning at
a 29% rate), he's 2-for-2 aboard Colonel Liam and knows how to get the best out
of this talented gray 4-year-old.
Ft. Lauderdale (G2) winner #6 Largent (9-2), San Gabriel (G2)
winner #8 Anothertwistafate (5-1),
and #12 Social Paranoia (8-1) are
other logical contenders in the Pegasus World Cup Turf. But without any
international shippers in the mix, the race hasn't come up as tough as it might
have, opening the door for an impressive up-and-comer like Colonel Liam to
steal the show in his Grade 1 debut.
Pegasus World Cup (G1)
Two years ago, Breeders' Cup
Dirt Mile (G1) winner City of Light used his abundant speed and talent to upset
Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) winner Accelerate in the 2019 Pegasus World Cup. On
Saturday, #4 Knicks Go (5-2) will
try to emulate City of Light with a sweep of the Dirt Mile/Pegasus double. But
unlike City of Light, Knicks Go won't be squaring off against any rivals as accomplished
as a Breeders' Cup Classic winner.
Two factors have conspired
to dilute the strength of the 2021 Pegasus World Cup field. For starters, the
purse is "only" $3 million, down from $9 million last year. For another, the
rise of the $20 million Saudi Cup has drawn away several top-class horses who
might have otherwise taken aim at the Pegasus, including flashy Malibu (G1)
As a result, Knicks Go is
one of just three Grade 1 winners entered in the Pegasus World Cup, and his
credentials are formidable. The son of Paynter has been nothing less than
sensational since transferring to the care of hot trainer Brad Cox, compiling
an unblemished (and unchallenged) 3-for-3 record in 2020. Of course, Knicks Go
has always shown speed and talent; don't forget, he wired the 2018 Breeders'
Futurity (G1) at odds of 70-1. But he's elevated his game to an entirely
different level under Cox's care, developing into an uncatchable speed demon.
Case in point? Look at how
Knicks Go performed in a pair of starts at Keeneland last fall. In a 1
1/16-mile allowance race, he led all the way to dominate by 10 1/4 lengths, stopping
the clock in the track-record time of 1:40.79. Then in the Breeders' Cup Dirt
Mile (G1), Knicks Go carved out otherworldly fractions of :21.98, :44.40, and
1:08.25 before kicking clear easily to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Once again, his
final time of 1:33.85 broke (actually shattered) the track record.
Suffice to say, Knicks Go's
blowout victories produced big speed figures—110 and 109 on the Brisnet scale.
He continues to train strongly, and he won't have to worry about the short run
to the first turn at Gulfstream—drawing post five should set the stage for a
perfect front-running, ground-saving trip.
Can anyone catch Knicks Go?
I have my doubts. He's fast enough to shred any pace rivals who dare oppose him,
and he's strong enough down the lane to keep deep closers at bay. Breeders' Cup
Dirt Mile runner-up #5 Jesus's Team (8-1)
and the consistent stretch runner #10
Code of Honor (8-1) can come charging late to round out the exotics, but by
the time they hit top gear, I suspect Knicks Go will be long gone.
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the Pegasus World Cup and Pegasus World Cup Turf?
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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.