One of the best racehorses in the world will try to end his career with a victory in the world’s richest horse race, the Pegasus World Cup Invitational, Saturday at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Florida.
Gun Runner, expected to be announced the 2017 Horse of the Year at Thursday night’s Eclipse Awards in Miami, will be heavily favoured in the $16.3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational, the second edition of Frank Stronach’s unique race.
The brilliant five-year-old horse has won six straight major races on this side of the world (he was second to the mighty Arrogate in the $10 million Dubai World Cup last March) and has stud duties already in place following Saturday’s race.
The Pegasus World Cup is race 12, with post time of 5:35 p.m., on a mouth-watering racing card featuring seven other stakes races, four of them graded. Race coverage on NBC begins at 4:30 p.m. and you can watch and wager on the big day through HPI (hpibet.com), at Woodbine or at any Champions teletheatre outlet.
Canadian content in the Pegasus comes in the form of Singing Bullet, owned by Aurora’s Stronach, who is taking a big step up in class from recent allowance races, and owner-breeder Charles Fipke, from British Columbia, who sends out improving stretch runner Seeking the Soul.
Gun Runner is blessed with powerful early speed and plenty of stamina and his workouts leading up to the 1 1/8 mile Pegasus have been breathtaking.
Owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm and trained by Steve Asmussen, Gun Runner galloped a few of his Pegasus rivals into defeat in the Breeders’ up Classic at Del Mar in California in November. He is listed as just 4-5 in the morning line odds.
This will be Gun Runner’s first race at Gulfstream, which rarely holds races at the 1 1/8 mile distance. That is because the run to the first turn is brief, which means horses with wide posts will be at a distinct disadvantage. Gun Runner has drawn post 10.
While Gun Runner does have his great speed to use out of the gate, he will have the very quick Sharp Azteca and Collected to his inside. The early pace could be strong, but Gun Runner has proven he can handle pressure.
I will seek a bit of betting value, however, and pick West Coast to post a mild upset. This newly turned four-year-old son of Flatter won five consecutive races last summer and fall before a solid third-place finish behind Gun Runner and Collected in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Trained by Bob Baffert, who sent out Arrogate to win the first running of this race, West Coast has looked impressive in his California workouts.
Here are some short comments on the field by post position order:
1. Singing Bullet, Dale Romans, Robby Albarado, 30-1
– Frank Stronach’s colt is fast-improving but has never faced a field like this
2. West Coast, Bob Baffert, Javier Castellano, 8-1
– The top three-year-old colt of 2017 had a brilliant try in his only attempt against Gun Runner in the Breeders’ Cup Classic
3. Stellar Wind, Chad Brown, Joel Rosario, 30-1
– Lone mare in the field won four straight Grade 1’s against her own kind last year but these guys are too fast
4. Sharp Azteca, Jorge Navarro, Irad Ortiz Jr., 6-1
– Arguably the fastest horse in the field but pace pressure from Gun Runner and the distance are hurdles
5. Collected, Bob Baffert, Mike Smith, 8-1
– Battled Gun Runner all the way in the Classic; his December 26 return to the races was a bit flat
6. Gunnevera, Antonio Sano, Luis Saez, 15-1
– His biggest win as a three-year-old last year came at Gulfstream in the Florida Derby
7. Fear the Cowboy, Efren Loza Jr., Tyler Gaffalione, 30-1
– He has a love for Gulfstream and recent racing on his side
8. War Story, Jorge Navarro, Jose Ortiz, 25-1
– Has been fourth behind Gun Runner in three consecutive races
9. Toast of New York, Jamie Osborne, Frankie Dettori, 20-1
– Could be an amazing story; just about won the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic, went to stud duty, returned to racing and won a little race on synthetic in England
10. Gun Runner, Steve Asmussen, Florent Geroux, 4-5
– Only loss last year was to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup; simply dominated in his four Grade 1’s after that
11. Seeking the Soul, Dallas Stewart, John Velazquez, 25-1
– Improving horse just won the biggest race of his life in November’s Clark H. at Churchill Downs
12. Giant Expectations, Peter Eurton, Gary Stevens, 30-1
– Upset Collected in San Antonio on December 26 but got away with a slow, early pace
Also eligible (will only run in there is a scratch)
13. Giuseppe the Great, Nick Zito, Nik Juarez
– He has not been close in his stakes race attempts
14. Game Over, Jorge Navarro, Jose Ortiz
– Only five career races, well beaten by West Coast
1 – WEST COAST
2 – GUN RUNNER
3 – SHARP AZTECA
4 – COLLECTED
PEGASUS WORLD CUP INVITATIONAL:
When: Saturday, Jan. 27
Where: Gulfstream Park, Hallandale Beach, Florida (near Miami)
Distance: 1 1/8 miles on the dirt
Purse: $16.3 million; $7 million of that to the winner
Watch: Coverage starts at 4:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports
Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup card is chock full of Canadian content from start to finish. Some notable Woodbine-connected runners to keep an eye on include:
Neepawa, a Chiefswood Stable homebred trained by Mark Casse, finished fifth in the Cup and Saucer and second in the Coronation Futurity, will look to break his maiden in the fifth race over 1 1/16-miles on the Gulfstream Park turf. The Ontario-bred son of Scat Daddy is out of Eternal Search Stakes champ Niigon’s Touch.
Trainer Mike DePaulo will send out Code Warrior in the day’s sixth race, the Ladies’ Turf Sprint Stakes over five furlongs on the Gulfstream green. Owned by Robert Marzilli, Code Warrior arrives off a win in the Abundantia Stakes over the same surface and distance.
Pattison Canadian International champ Bullards Alley is the 2-1 morning line favourite in the Grade 3 W.L. McKnight, a 1 1/2-mile turf tilt slated for Race 8. The six-year-old Flower Alley gelding romped to a 10 3/4-length score in the International ahead of his good sixth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ cup Turf. To win the McKnight, Bullards Alley will have to topple the Roger Attfield-trained Final Copy.
In the Grade 3 Hurricane Bertie (Race 9), a seven furlong main track sprint, Josie Carroll will saddle the streaking Moonlit Promise, who was perfect through three starts in 2017 including scores in the Grade 3 Ontario Fashion and Grade 2 Bessarabian. Owned by Hill ‘n’ Dale Equine Holdings, Inc. (J. G. Sikura) and Windsor Boys Racing, the five-year-old daughter of Malibu Moon will be piloted by Gary Boulanger.
A pair of speedy turf stars with Woodbine form will battle in the Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint, a five furlong event for four-year-olds and upward including Conquest Enforcer and Tombelaine. Conquest Enforcer, Canada’s 2016 Champion grass horse, is trained by Mark Casse and will be piloted by the red-hot Luis Saez, who won seven races on Wednesday’s card. Tombelaine will be making his first start for Catherine Day Phillips for a partnership that includes superstar singer Jason Derulo. The six-year-old First Defence horse is a five-time winner from 15 starts and adds blinkers for his 2018 debut with Mike Smith up.
Race 11, the grassy 7 1/2-furlong South Beach, features a full field of 12 including Chiefswood Stable homebred Ghostly Presence. Trained by Roger Attfield, the four-year-old Ghostzapper chestnut posted a record of 3-2-1 from 10 starts in 2017 including wins in the Jammed Lovely at Woodbine and the Tropical Park Oaks at Gulfstream. Rafael Hernandez has the call.
Racing fans can watch and wager on all the action via HPIbet.com.