By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Now that the Triple Crown is
over, it's time to turn our attention to handicapping the Pegasus.
No, we're not referring to
the Pegasus World Cup (G1). We're referring to the $150,000 Pegasus S. at
Monmouth Park, an ungraded stakes that nevertheless punches far above its
weight in terms of annual field quality.
Held over 1 1/16 miles, the
Pegasus serves as a local prep for the Haskell S. (G1), and it's not uncommon
for the race to draw Kentucky Derby (G1) alumni who passed on competing in the
final two legs of the Triple Crown. Examples include Verrazano, the two-time
Grade 1 winner who nabbed the 2013 Pegasus; Maximum Security, the champion
three-year-old male who ran second in the 2019 Pegasus, and Mandaloun, the 2021
Kentucky Derby winner who picked up the Pegasus on his way to winning the
The 2023 Pegasus has drawn
an eight-horse field, with #8 Kingsbarns
(8-5) looming as the obvious favorite. Conditioned by five-time
Pegasus-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, Kingsbarns won his first three starts in
decisive fashion, most notably wiring the Louisiana Derby (G2) by 3 1/2 lengths
over Disarm, who later ran fourth in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and first in the
Matt Winn S. (G3).
Kingsbarns was a popular
contender in the Kentucky Derby, starting at 11-1, but he got caught up in a destructive
pace duel (with fractions of :22.35, :45.73, and 1:10.11) that burned out the
three early pace players. Under the circumstances, Kingsbarns's 14th-place
finish is forgivable, especially when you consider how Derby pacesetter
Verifying bounced back from his 16th-place finish at Churchill Downs to run a
close second in the Matt Winn.
Drawing post six in the
Kentucky Derby may have forced Kingsbarns hand a bit, so landing the outside
post in the Pegasus should give him options for working out a favorable trip,
likely stalking the pace from third or fourth place. This switch in tactics,
coupled with the drop in class, can send Kingsbarns back to the winner's
The second choice on the
morning line is the other Pletcher trainee #1
Classic Catch (3-1), a Gulfstream Park allowance optional claimer winner who
finished fifth in the Wood Memorial (G2) and fourth in the Peter Pan (G3) in
his last two starts. The form of the latter race was flattered when the
victorious Arcangelo came back to win the Belmont S. (G1), but Classic Catch
was beaten 10 3/4 lengths and may need a step forward in the Pegasus. He's a
deep closer without much tactical speed, so without improvement a spot in the
trifecta or superfecta may be the ceiling for his potential.
A more intriguing contender
to emphasize for the minor awards is #4
Salute the Stars (9-2), whose trainer—Brad Cox—has won the last two
editions of the Pegasus with Mandaloun and Home Brew. Salute the Stars competed
twice against maiden special weight company on turf last year, rallying after a
troubled start to finish second in his debut before employing pace-tracking
tactics to nab a 1 1/16-mile contest at Ellis Park by three lengths.
Salute the Stars subsequently
went to the sidelines and didn't run again until May 14, when he switched to
dirt for a 1 1/8-mile allowance at Churchill Downs. Favored at just under 2-1,
the son of Candy Ride set the early pace, dropped back to third place in the
middle of the race, re-rallied to lead at the eighth pole, and then dug deep to
prevail by a neck.
Salute the Stars finished
fast in his dirt debut (running the final furlong in :12.16) and still has
upside for improvement. He can snag an exacta spot in the Pegasus and maybe
even vie for victory if Kingsbarns misfires.
#6 Subrogate (5-1),
a gate-to-wire maiden winner sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs at Belmont last month,
also has a chance to factor. The son of Arrogate has the pedigree to improve
while stretching out around two turns, and his early speed figures to land him
a favorable front-end trip while stretching out in distance.
#7 Howgreatisnate (6-1)
can't be dismissed either, not after battling to victory in the one-mile and
70-yard Long Branch S. at Monmouth last month. The three-year-old gelding has
won five of the six races he's finished (he lost his jockey in another), but he's
stepping up against tougher competition in the Pegasus and hasn't run as fast
as Kingbarns, Salute the Stars, and Subrogate on the Brisnet Speed rating
1st: #8 Kingsbarns
2nd: #4 Salute the Stars
3rd: #6 Subrogate
4th: #1 Classic Catch
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Pegasus?
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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.