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
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.