Who Will Be King of the Pegasus?

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 Haskell.

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 circle.

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 scale.


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?


Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contest page—there's a new challenge every week! (Please note: older contest entries can be found here.)

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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