The second annual Pegasus World Cup delivered again with increased handle, a crowning moment for a thoroughbred champion and smiles all around.
Some backdrop after having a week to digest the made-for-TV event in year two…..
Frank Stronach definitely knows how to throw a party. With stars from the music world like Ludacris, Pharell and Post Malone (really, I’m not sure who that is) attending and entertaining after the race, the diversity of the crowd was noticeable.
Celebrity aside, it was the stars of the four-legged nature that stole the show, in particular one making his swan song at the South Florida track. Sent off like the champion he is, Gun Runner delivered a bang up performance on his way to a 2 ½-length victory.
The result was an emotional roller coaster for his jockey, Florent Geroux, who rode the son of Candy Ride for the last time, a horse that comes around maybe “once in a lifetime.” Amidst all of the highs experienced aboard Gun Runner, this one had to be one of the highest, collecting a $7 million check before riding off into the sunset, or breeding shed, to be exact.
Geroux obtained his U.S. Citizenship last Thursday before the race, missing the Eclipse Awards ceremony where his 5-year-old won the Horse of the Year and older male honors for 2017. He lost his father, a man who would show up at all of his son’s big races, so missing out on this final one on Gun Runner had to be difficult on the jockey.
Unfortunately, the race had a 1.1 rating and 1.50 million viewers on NBC last Saturday, flat in ratings and down 5% in viewership from last year (1.1, 1.58M) according to the Sports Media Watch website. But that maybe had more to do with last year’s big matchup between California Chrome, who may have drawn more of the casual fan due to his Triple Crown trail success and Arrogate.
As far as the on-track success, the betting was up and the track was comfortable to move around in. The race will be held for a third time next January at Gulfstream, who is the perfect host for this type of event.
South Florida will support horse racing based on the handle figures that Gulfstream accumulates annually and last Saturday was no different.
The undercard had full fields and exciting racing. What was nice is they didn’t try to jam 100 Grade 1’s into the same day of racing. They’ll have enough big days later in the meet with the Holy Bull, Fountain of Youth and Florida Oaks/Derby to keep the momentum.
After year two, I’m still a fan of the Pegasus concept and would love to see them tie it into a Classic-Pegasus-Dubai World Cup triple with a bonus if you win all three (sorry Arrogate). I’m as dead set against the distance at 9-furlongs as I was last year. The thinking being that the 10-furlong distance will scare off a potential miler stepping up and trying the distance (see Sharp Azteca). The Sharp Azteca entry was intriguing and a handicapping challenge to determine if he could stay the extra furlong with his speed.
Lastly, who from Buffalo doesn’t like a few days in the Florida sun?
The Derby trail runs from coast to coast with the Withers (Aqueduct), Holy Bull (Gulfstream) and Robert B. Lewis (Santa Anita) all providing valuable Derby points to the top four finishers at a 10-4-2-1 clip.
The Grade 3 Withers drew six competitors looking for valuable Derby points at the Big A. Firenze Fire (9-5) topped BC Juvy winner Good Magic last fall in the Champagne at Belmont, but didn’t fire in the Juvenile. He rebounded at the Big A in the Jerome last time out. Marconi (3-1) is your typical Todd Pletcher Derby horse and a son of the super stallion Tapit. He’s lightly raced, but could step up big here. Avery Island (8-5) is your favorite and could run off the page for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, but we’ll try and beat him at a short price.
The Grade 2 Holy Bull drew a much bigger field, with 11 colts trying the 1 1/6-mile trek over the Gulfstream oval. Again, we’ll look for an upset and call an Audible (4-1) on Super Bowl Sunday weekend, with Javier Castellano in the irons for Pletcher. He won convincingly on an off-track last out and the son of Into Mischief sports a couple nice works at Palm Meadows. We’ll look for an Into Mischief exacta with Tiz Mischief (4-1) in the place spot. He just missed getting to the favorite at the same distance last time out at Churchill Downs, this time he gets him. The favorite, Enticed (3-1) drew the rail for McLaughlin and Godolphin.
The Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis has nine entrants and looks to be the most wide open of the three Derby preps. What’s not to like about Mike Smith aboard a 3-year-old in a big race. He’ll ride Peace (3-1), sired by Violence, who was dominating the Derby trail several years ago before injury caused an early retirement. Mandella puts the blinkers on which could move him forward on Saturday. Jerry Hollendorfer is always dangerous on the west coast circuit and Shivermetimbers (7-2) has progressed in each of his last three races. Pepe Tono (6-1) has a hot trainer/jockey combo and sneaks into the tri.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.