Playing Favorites in the Pegasus World Cups

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 years.

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, right?

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...

Let's begin!

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) winner Charlatan.

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

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