HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – The Pegasus World Cup took a big hit Thursday when the top two horses scratched from the race, leaving a wide-open field of 10 to compete for the $3 million purse.
Morning line favorite Omaha Beach, who was to wrap up his career over the Gulfstream Park track, was scratched mid-afternoon on Thursday by trainer Richard Mandella, citing swelling in his right hind fetlock. Earlier in the day, Dirt Mile winner Spun to Run scratched due to a skin disease, according to trainer Juan Carlos Guerrero. Those two also were the top two finishers in November’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
For the first time in its history a Breeders’ Cup winner won’t be crowned as the winner. The first three winners, Arrogate (Classic), Gun Runner (Classic) and City of Light (Dirt Mile), were all coming off Breeders’ Cup wins.
So the defections move West Coast invaders Mucho Gusto and Higher Power into the roles of race favorites.
The Pegasus purse has been restructured for the fourth time since the inaugural $12 million purse in 2017 to a record $16 million in 2018 to $9 million last year and down to $3 million in 2020. In addition, the pay for a starting gate model has been discarded. The entry fees were $1 million, $350,000 and $500,000, respectively for the first three years.
Also, all participants will race medication-free for the first time in the race’s history.
The Pegasus, in addition to the second annual $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf, will be part of a live 90-minute broadcast on NBC Sports (Ch. 2) starting at 4:30 p.m. ET. The Turf will go off at approximately 4:49 p.m. and the main event is scheduled to go to post at 5:34 p.m.
Trainer Bob Baffert will look to secure his second Pegasus with new morning-line favorite Mucho Gusto breaking from an outside post. On board will be 2019 Eclipse winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., who jumped off Spun to Run before knowing of the scratch to ride the son of the Florida-bred Classic winner Mucho Macho Man.
Baffert also hit the board in 2018 when West Coast finished second to Gun Runner and has earned $9.75 million since the race’s inception.
Off since September, when he finished fourth in the Oklahoma Derby, the 4-year-old colt will make his 2020 campaign debut in the second richest race on the calendar in North America. His works out of Santa Anita, in typical Baffert fashion, are impressive and he looks fit to run his race Saturday.
He’s been on or near the lead in all 10 starts and has hit the board in all three of his Grade 1 efforts, but still seeks his first Grade 1 victory. The softened field and his early speed puts him in the catbird seat with the only potential detriment being the outside post with the short run to the first turn at Gulfstream.
Mucho Gusto gave Maximum Security a race in last year’s Haskell and was on the lead in the Travers Stakes before giving way to Code of Honor in the late going at Saratoga Rae Course.
Higher Power comes into the race for trainer John Sadler off a third-place finish in last year’s Classic at Santa Anita. The 5-year-old son of Medaglia d’Oro also has posted solid works at Santa Anita and travels east for the first time in 10 months since the owners made a trainer change to Sadler.
His big win in his 4-year-old year was at Del Mar where he bested a Pacific Classic field by more than five lengths in the mile-and-a-quarter race. One of two Grade 1 winners in the race -- 7-year-old Seeking the Soul is the other -- the cut back in distance to nine furlongs could be the answer for a trainer who likes to take big swings in big races.
A horse who should be a decent price and looks to show his maturity is Tax. Breaking from the 2-hole, the son of Arch should be able to use his tactical speed to gain early position as they round the clubhouse turn. Last year’s Grade 2 Jim Dandy winner held his own against some of the best sophomores last year and has top jock Jose Ortiz in the irons for trainer Danny Gargan.
His outside post compromised him in last year’s Travers, but he recovered to finish second in the Discovery last November at Aqueduct, posting a 101 Beyer. Gargan has lamented publicly that he should have passed on the Travers from the outside post and run in the Pennsylvania Derby three weeks later. The horse skipped the Breeders’ Cup Classic due to a fever.
His solid run in the Discovery after the layoff has Tax poised for a big 4-year-old campaign. Horses can make big strides from ages 3 to 4, and he should show vast improvement in 2020. He is also the only horse in the race who has won medication-free, winning a maiden claimer in his 2-year-old season at Keeneland.
One of his owners, Reeves Thoroughbreds, is competing in their fourth consecutive Pegasus, looking to recoup some of the $1 million of net entry fees paid after subtracting winnings of approximately $800,000. With two wins at the distance, Tax should give Reeves his chance at redemption at the South Florida track.
A potential longshot play is Diamond Oops, a 5-year-old gelded son of Lookin at Lucky who is stretching out for the first time. He is 5-for-6 lifetime at Gulfstream and should savor the likely speed-favoring track from the rail. Trainer Patrick Biancone will have Julien Leparoux in the saddle. He could be in the mix in the stretch and could hold on for a piece underneath in the exotics.
The Thursday scratches have presented quite the handicapping puzzle in this year’s Pegasus and Tax is the Post Time play to pull the upset.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Tax; 2- Higher Power; 3 – Mucho Gusto; 4 – Diamond Oops
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.
SEE POST POSITION CHART BELOW
|Race 12||$3 M Pegasus World Cup Invitational - 1 1/8-miles||5:34 ET|
|4||Seeking the Soul||Stewart||Velazquez||30-1|
|9||Spun to Run||Guerrero||Castellano||SCR|
|10||Mucho Gusto||Baffert||Ortiz, Jr.||9-2|