Handicapping the Pegasus World Cup(s)

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

An exciting Saturday of racing awaits at Gulfstream Park. An action-packed card featuring seven stakes is highlighted by the Pegasus World Cup (G1) and Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1).

This is a day of racing you don't want to miss, so let's examine the feature events and plan out some picks:

Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1)

The fourth edition of the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf looks slightly different than the first three renewals. The distance has been shortened from 1 3/16 miles to 1 1/8 miles, the same as when the Pegasus World Cup Turf was a less lucrative prize known as the Gulfstream Park Turf S.

Decreasing the distance by one-sixteenth of a mile might not seem like a big change, but the difference could have a meaningful impact on the outcome of the Pegasus World Cup Turf. Specifically, it could help the chances of #12 Never Surprised (7-2), a brilliant speedster who will attempt to win the Pegasus World Cup Turf on the front end.

Never Surprised hails from the barn of Todd Pletcher, who won the 2021 Pegasus World Cup Turf with #6 Colonial Liam (3-1). Colonel Liam is back to defend his title, but the talented five-year-old hasn't run since June and might have benefited from a prep run.

In contrast, there are no concerns about fitness for Never Surprised. Never out of the exacta in seven starts, Never Surprised showed promising form against graded stakes company last season, placing second in the Kitten's Joy S. (G3), Saranac S. (G3), and Hill Prince S. (G2) while facing some quality rivals.

But Never Surprised has been in stronger form than ever this winter. On Nov. 26, he wired the 1 1/16-mile Gio Ponti S. at Aqueduct, powering clear with authority to beat Queen's Plate S. winner Safe Conduct by 6 1/4 lengths. And on Dec. 26, Never Surprised posted an identical margin of victory in Gulfstream's 1 1/16-mile Tropical Park Derby, leaving no doubt about his superiority over Kent S. (G3) winner Yes This Time.

The ability to finish strongly off a fast pace is Never Surprised's greatest weapon, giving him an often-insurmountable tactical advantage. Hot jockey Luis Saez (a staggering 47% winner when teaming up with Pletcher over the last two months) put that speed to good use in the Tropical Park Derby, and he'll likely do so again in the Pegasus World Cup Turf.

Saturday's field isn't overly stuffed with speed, so a typical performance from Never Surprised should be sufficient to secure the early lead. From there, I believe Never Surprised will prove difficult to catch, especially over the shortened 1 1/8-mile trip.

Pegasus World Cup (G1)

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the most exciting race of the weekend is the sixth edition of the $3 million Pegasus World Cup (G1). Nine horses have been entered in the lucrative 1 1/8-mile prize, but two—#1 Knicks Go (6-5) and #4 Life Is Good (7-5)—rank a cut above the rest in terms of accomplishments and speed figures.

Their credentials are formidable. Knicks Go won the 2021 Pegasus World Cup and enters off a dominant victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1). Meanwhile, Life Is Good is a neck away from being undefeated in six starts, including a 5 3/4-length romp in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1).

There are many reasons to support Life Is Good. The Todd Pletcher trainee is arguably the "now" horse after his terrific Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile triumph, where he posted fast fractions of :21.88, :44.94, and 1:08.76 before drawing off easily down the homestretch. And Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winners have performed well in the Pegasus World Cup.

But underestimating Knicks Go could be a mistake. In terms of Beyer and Brisnet speed figures, Knicks Go is meaningfully faster than his younger rival. Knicks Go is also thoroughly proven running 1 1/8 miles or longer, whereas Life Is Good has never run farther than 1 1/16 miles.

It's also worth noting Knicks Go has beaten tougher competition than Life Is Good. In the Breeders' Cup Classic, Knicks Go led all the way to beat Kentucky Derby (G1) first-past-the-post Medina Spirit and Belmont S. (G1) winner Essential Quality with ease. And during the summer, Knicks Go smashed the 1 1/8-mile Whitney S. (G1) by 4 1/2 lengths, counting Clark S. (G1) winner Maxfield and Metropolitan H. (G1) hero Silver State among his beaten rivals.

To Life Is Good's credit, he did defeat Medina Spirit on a couple of occasions last winter. But the 2021 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile didn't draw the toughest field, and squaring off against Knicks Go is bound to be a tougher ballgame.

I've been a fan of Life Is Good since his debut and believe he's sitting on a terrific 2022 season. But I have to favor the battle-tested Knicks Go in Saturday's sensational showdown.

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.

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