An interesting news item appeared on BloodHorse.com the afternoon of Dec. 3 after the grand mare Stellar Wind had appeared on the Palm Meadows Training Center’s worktab. The champion 3-year-old filly of 2015, whom we assumed had ended her racing career Nov. 3 with an eighth-place finish in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) before selling for $6 million Nov. 6 at the Keeneland November mixed sale to Coolmore’s M.V. Magnier, went a half-mile in :50.
“She is in training with Chad Brown and is under consideration for the Pegasus. The plan is still for her to be bred in the spring,” Coolmore’s Scott Calder said.
Despite plenty of questions regarding January’s Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1), with a revamped projected $16 millon purse, the race clearly continues to stir the imagination.
The inaugural running pitted Horse of the Year California Chrome against champion Arrogate, and the 2018 version has the potential to draw Gun Runner, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1); Stellar Wind; Charles Fipke’s Forever Unbridled, another grand mare and the winner of the Distaff; and perhaps Sharp Azteca, clearly the best in the Dec. 2 Cigar Mile Handicap Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) at Aqueduct.
While the winner’s share of $7 million comes in pretty handy—helping to pay off those post-holiday bills—the Pegasus does have more going for it than money. The distance of nine furlongs, as opposed to the more “classic” 1 1/4 miles, opens the event for a horse such as Sharp Azteca, who obviously excels at a mile and might be able to stretch his speed another 220 yards over a Gulfstream Park surface that can be conducive tospeed.
Despite what we thought a year ago, the race’s date on the calendar has a certain appeal. The late January date gives runners plenty of time to recuperate from their efforts in the Breeders’ Cup, but allows them time not to miss the year’s breeding cycle.
While a novel idea last year, it proved doable as Taylor Made Stallions apparently had little trouble getting 145 mares bred to California Chrome for his first book by the end of breeding season.
Fillies and mares can certainly share in the fun as well, as breeding season doesn’t commence until mid-February. Perhaps that is what the Coolmore team has in mind with Stellar Wind.
Times might have changed since the dawn of the Breeders’ Cup in 1984. In the inaugural running there was plenty of speculation that Paula Tucker’s Princess Rooney should have been pointed toward the Classic. It has since been a talking point as the gray filly streaked to a 1 1/4-mile triumph in a track record 2:02 2/5 in the $1 million Distaff while Wild Again won the $3 million Classic two races later a full second slower.
Two years later Lady’s Secret was pointed toward a much easier spot in the Distaff rather than testing the boys in the Classic. She won and later cemented her Horse of the Year crown when both Turkoman and Precisionist finished behind Skywalker.
A filly or mare didn’t test the Classic until 1992 when Juddmonte Farms’ Jolypha was a surprising third behind A.P. Indy and Pleasant Tap at Gulfstream Park, of all places. Females running against males—while never a big concern elsewhere—has come of age in the U.S. The disparity between purses for males versus races strictly for females is a likely motivator.
The funding model for the Pegasus, the lion’s share of which comes from individual shareholders, appears to be a sticking point for those who lost money on the first event. The “world’s richest race” is certainly a headline-grabber, but we don’t think the race needs to be worth $16 million to keep going. The concept is solid, the scheduling is good, and it appears there are plenty of sportsmen with top horses considering the race to keep it going, even if this edition doesn’t draw a full gate.
Regardless of what happens after “Pegasus 2,” we still like the concept.