Race In Focus: Tom Collins previews Saturday’s Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup

26 January 2024

Almost four months have passed since the last Grade 1 was run on the east coast of the United States, but top level racing is now back and with a bang as Gulfstream Park hosts the Pegasus World Cup this Saturday. 

Over $5.85million is up for grabs on an exhilarating 13-race card, $3million of which is in the featured Pegasus World Cup alone. That number may seem staggering when you compare it to the richest races on British soil, but it is actually down 75% after an initial prize pot of $12million for the inaugural running back in 2017.

That year the brilliant Arrogate stole the show for trainer Bob Baffert, who also saddled Mucho Gusto to win in 2020. Other winners include Gun Runner (2018), Knicks Go (2021) and Life Is Good (2022), all of whom came into the race on the back of a victory at the Breeders’ Cup. Gun Runner won the Classic prior to his Pegasus success, while the latter-named pair took the Dirt Mile en route to Gulfstream.

Saturday’s renewal lacks a Breeders’ Cup winner, but Dirt Mile runner-up National Treasure is the next best thing and he is the Morning Line favourite at 9/5. He’s undoubtedly the horse to beat after pushing the now-retired Cody’s Wish all the way at Santa Anita in November, but I’m pretty confident he will drift to around 3/1 before the start due to the likely pace scenario and therefore he doesn’t represent good value.

National Treasure has been seen to best effect when he can dictate proceedings - both of his wins have come when employing those tactics - but it seems unlikely that he will make the front unchallenged in the Pegasus. That’s because there is brazen speed drawn both inside and outside in the form of Hoist The Gold, First Mission and Grand Aspen among others.  

There’s every chance that rider Flavien Prat will try to send him, but he will have to go quick to gain control. Due to his short price and an unfavourable pace setup, I have to be against him from a punting point of view. Those who may not share that view may point out his string of fast works and the lofty connections he represents in this spot, which are perfectly reasonable angles.

Oddsmakers believe his main challenger is the Brad Cox-trained First Mission, who is more unexposed with just five runs to his name. The Godolphin-owned four-year-old is yet to run at the top level and was narrowly denied in the Grade 2 Clark Handicap last time out, so has to prove that he has the talent to mix it with the best. 

However, he has always been very highly regarded and has pace at both ends of his races, which should allow him to figure in the finish no matter how the early fractions pan out. Jockey Luis Saez will look to adopt a stalking role if he cannot clear National Treasure, who is drawn directly inside of him in stall seven. He’s my idea of the most logical winner. 

First Mission’s Clark conqueror Trademark reopposes for Victoria Oliver, whose sole Grade 1 training success came courtesy of Personal Diary in the 2014 Del Mar Oaks. She’s booked Fernando De La Cruz, who is still seeking his first victory at the top level, to take the ride. It’s a big day for both trainer and jockey.

Trademark, like many of these, needs to prove that he has the talent to win a race like the Pegasus. Prior to his aforementioned Churchill Downs victory, he had run in 11 Graded races without success and everything might have just clicked in place for him last time. Can he do it again? I have my doubts.

Skippylongstocking and O’Connor, who finished seventh and 11th in last year’s renewal, are no back numbers and they return for another go. The former finished just one place behind National Treasure in the Dirt Mile in November but has drawn terribly in gate 12, while the latter is in rip-roaring form after victories in the Hagyard Fayette and Harlan’s Holiday and gets the assistance of leading Gulfstream rider Paco Lopez.

Deep closers Senor Buscador and Crupi, who is the mount of that man Frankie Dettori, shouldn’t be overlooked if the pace heats up in the early stages. While Il Miracolo has form that ties in with some of the leading contenders and will be ridden by Javier Castellano, who outshone his counterparts in some of the biggest races in 2023.

First Mission gets the nod in an exciting renewal of the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup on Saturday. Make sure you tune in to watch at around 10.40pm.

If you want Tom’s tips for the Pegasus World Cup and other US contests, you can find him on Twitter @Tomptin.

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