he 2016 Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings appear to have carried over well into January as its choice Arrogate proved again to be the best racehorse—at least on Jan. 28—with his overpowering victory in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1).
There were plenty of doubters whether Frank Stronach could pull off his innovative Pegasus idea with racehorse owners putting up the prize money to create the richest race on the planet, but it came off better than expected.
While an aerial view of Gulfstream Park during NBC’s coverage just prior to the start of the race showed the crowd was not shoulder to shoulder, the wagering on the event more than doubled that of the race day it replaced—the Donn Handicap—and the day’s handle was a non-Breeders’ Cup record for Gulfstream. For a national audience, the race drew the two most recognizable North American horses.
The $7 million payday to the winner brought to mind other lucrative milestones in racing history. While the Dubai World Cup (G1) was the first to cross the eight-figure purse threshold in 2010, the Arlington Million (G1T) was the first seven-figure horse race, in 1981. In addition to the backing and drive of Dick Duchossois and Joe Joyce to make it come to fruition, John Henry’s dramatic win over The Bart did more than anything else to put the race on the map. The statue commemorating the finish that overlooks the paddock at Arlington International reminds us of its magnitude.
In 1984 the Breeders’ Cup took racing to another level with the indelible image of Wild Again and Gate Dancer putting the squeeze on Slew o’ Gold in the stretch of the inaugural Classic (G1), a touchstone moment.
Twelve years later Cigar traveled half way around the globe to the desert of Dubai for the first running of the $4 million Dubai World Cup and held off a determined Soul of the Matter in a thriller.
While the Pegasus failed to deliver the stretch run we’d hoped for with Arrogate and California Chrome, the spectacle had a buzz on track and brought a sufficient tingle of anticipation as the horses entered the starting gate.
With the first Pegasus behind us, we can say Stronach and CEO Jack Wolf delivered the goods, as did the other 10 owners who put up the dough for the show. It just goes to show what industry stakeholders can do with a concerted effort to promote the sport.
However, those outside the Coolmore crew, who “partnered” with Juddmonte on Arrogate’s starting slot, may not have sufficient appetite to sign on for a second tour of duty after losing most of their $1 million buy-in, and it remains to be seen how many others are waiting on the also-eligible list to join the party next year. After all, beyond the winner, runner-up Stronach (his Shaman Ghost was second), and Wolf (his Starlight Racing’s Neolithic ran third), the others had a pretty unprofitable day.
Should the Pegasus survive, and thrive, perhaps an international Grand Slam—or Grand $lam—of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Pegasus, and Dubai World Cup could be considered like the tennis world’s Grand Slam of the Australian Open, Wimbledon, French Open, and U.S. Open. The five-month series certainly fits in with today’s training mind set with a nice gap between starts. The winning prize money—in excess of $15 million—should be incentive enough.