HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Chapter two of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational is all about Gun Runner.
The second annual edition of Frank Stronach’s brainchild will be run Saturday afternoon in South Florida, with the 2017 Horse of the Year installed as the 4-5 heavy favorite.
The son of Candy Ride is hoping to ride off as the sun sets on the Gulfstream track, a winner in his final career race, one he missed last year to due a quarantine at his hometown Fair Grounds track.
He comes into the race hailing a four race win streak, all Grade 1’s, including the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar in November.
The Pegasus purse was beefed up by Stronach, who added an additional $4 million to last year’s $12 million purse. Saturday’s winner will walk away with a cool $7 million. The race will be run over 1 1/8-miles over the Gulfstream Park oval before a nationally televised audience on the flagship NBC network. Post time for the Pegasus is 5:40 p.m. ET.
Each of the 12 stakeholders paid $1 million for a gate in the race. The race is one furlong shorter than the Breeders’ Cup Classic and will be contested over a track that Gun Runner has never raced over.
Last year’s winner, Arrogate, is the last horse to defeat Gun Runner, in last year’s $10 million Dubai World Cup. That race previously donned the title of the world’s richest race before the Pegasus surfaced last January.
It won’t be clear sailing for the heavy favorite, however, as he’ll break from outside post No. 10, a tough draw considering the short run to the first turn at Gulfstream. Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen took his champion’s draw in stride on Wednesday afternoon. “I’ve always said, you don’t know to complain about the post position until after a race is run. It might work out perfectly for him.”
Jockey Mike Smith, who will ride West Coast in the Pegasus, discussed his challenge in facing Gun Runner in the big race. “Why it’s so hard to beat Gun Runner is that he’s not a one-dimensional horse. He’s not a horse that needs the lead. He’s a horse that if they go quick enough, we’ve all seen him lag, second, third, fourth, and still run just as well as when he’s had a comfortable lead. So he’s going to tough to beat.”
Smith, who won aboard Arrogate in the inaugural Pegasus is excited about Saturday. He discussed the thickness in the air during last year’s race and the magnitude of riding in a $12 million race. “I think you’re going to even see a more of a big race feel to it this year. Man it’s going to be incredible. I mean I’ve already got goosebumps just saying it,” said Smith.
Asmussen, the shaggy-haired trainer who could be a double for a fit Rob Ryan, compared Gun Runner to Curlin, his two-time Horse of the Year trainee on Monday during a national teleconference. “The similarities between Curlin and Gun Runner is the uniqueness of each of them and the fact that how in control of the situation they always seem to be. And, you know, I appreciate that about both of the horses,” said Asmussen.
Florent Geroux, who rode him brilliantly last year, will continue to have the mount for Winchell Thoroughbreds aboard Gun Runner.
The top five finishers in the Classic all return to challenge the reining Horse of the Year with hopes of preventing him from moving into second on the all-time earnings list with a victory.
One horse that will have his sights set on the champ is last year’s 3-year-old divisional champion West Coast (8-1) will make his 2018 debut for trainer Bob Baffert.
The son of Flatter will make his 4-year-old debut in the Pegasus and has rounded into a beautiful specimen as he matured through his sophomore year. His work tab suggests he’s ready to break out after a solid third-place finish in the Classic behind Gun Runner and Collected.
Interestingly, Baffert decided against having Hall of Fame rider Smith ride his Travers mount and put him on Collected (8-1). Javier Castellano, a 2017 inductee to the Hall of Fame, who rode West Coast in the Classic will stay aboard the 3-year-old champ. Smith confirmed on Monday, that it was Baffert’s decision to make the switch and he was happy to ride either of the trainer’s top two horses in training.
One reason the race has been contested at the 9-furlong distance is to attract milers. This year it certainly attracted a top notch one in Sharp Azteca (6-1), the Cigar Mile winner. The major question mark being the stretch out in distance for the son of Freud.
He should relish the likely fast Gulfstream strip for trainer Jorge Navarro. He’s experienced over the track with three wins in four career races and one second-place finish. Based on his morning workouts leading up to the race he’s had some strong gallop outs and has the talent to pull the upset if he can sustain his speed.
The pace scenario could favor Seeking the Soul (25-1), last year’s surprise winner of the Clark at Churchill Downs for trainer Dallas Stewart. Look for him to be picking up the pieces late to catch a slice of the exotics underneath.
With the outside post and pressure of a final race on a track he’s never raced over, we’ll try and beat the champ with West Coast in an upset in a ground saving trip out of the 2-hole near the lead.
Post Time Outlook: 1 –West Coast, 2-Gun Runner 3-Sharp Azteca, 4-Seeking the Soul
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.
POST POSITION CHART
$12 Million Pegasus World Cup Invitational – Gulfstream Park 5:40 p.m. ET
Post, horse, trainer, jockey, odds
- Singing Bullet, Dale Romans, Robby Albarado, 30-1
- West Coast, Bob Baffert, Javier Castellano, 8-1
- Stellar Wind, Chad Brown, Joel Rosario, 30-1
- Sharp Azteca, Jorge Navarro, Irad Ortiz Jr., 6-1
- Collected, Bob Baffert, Mike Smith, 8-1
- Gunnevera, Antonio Sano, Luis Saez, 15-1
- Fear the Cowboy, Efren Loza Jr., Tyler Gaffalione, 30-1
- War Story, Jorge Navarro, Jose Ortiz, 25-1
- Toast of New York, Jamie Osborne, Frankie Dettori, 20-1
- Gun Runner, Steve Asmussen, Florent Geroux, 4-5
- Seeking the Soul, Dallas Stewart, John Velazquez, 25-1
- Giant Expectations, Peter Eurton, Gary Stevens, 30-1
- Giuseppe the Great, Nick Zito
- Game Over, Jorge Navarro