Should You Bet Deep Closers in the Pegasus World Cup?

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

January 13th, 2019

Question: Will deep closers who rally from the back of the pack have any chance to contend for a significant piece of the purse in the at Gulfstream Park? It seems like nine-furlong races at Gulfstream Park often receive special scrutiny since they start so close to the first turn and there’s always concern about horses drawn outside getting hung wide and losing all chance. But might the running style of each individual horse be just as important to consider?

Specifically, I’ve been wondering whether it makes sense to play closers in the Pegasus World Cup. At first, it might seem like a bad idea—after all, Gulfstream Park has a reputation as a speed-favoring track, and in twelve-horse field like the one expected for the Pegasus, aren’t late runners in danger of getting stopped in traffic?

Dig a little deeper though, and I see no reason to fear betting closers in the Pegasus, particularly in the trifecta or superfecta.

While it’s true that horses employing pace-tracking tactics (Arrogate and Gun Runner) have won the first two editions of the Pegasus World Cup, it’s also indisputable that they were the best horses on the day and might have won from anywhere in the field. And check out what was happening behind them—the closers Shaman Ghost and Keen Ice rallied to finish second and fourth behind Arrogate, while Gunnevera and Fear the Cowboy closed from far back to finish third and fourth behind Gun Runner. In other words, you weren’t cashing the trifecta or superfecta if you weren’t playing late runners.
2017 Pegasus World Cup won by Arrogate
2018 Pegasus World Cup won by Gun Runner

Similar support for closers can be found by examining the results of the Florida Derby (gr. I), the other major nine-furlong dirt race held each year at Gulfstream Park. The perceived speed-favoring nature of the track didn’t stop Audible (2018), Dialed In (2011), and Ice Box (2010) from winning with rallies from the back of the pack, and plenty of other closers have hit the board in the Florida Derby, including Hofburg (second in 2018), Gunnevera (third in 2017), Majesto (second in 2016), Fellowship (third in 2016), Ami’s Flatter (third in 2015), Pleasant Prince (second in 2010), and Dunkirk (second in 2009).

That’s not to say that horses with tactical speed aren’t much more likely to win the Pegasus World Cup than deep closers. Speed is the universal bias of North American horse racing, and if the best horse on paper has tactical speed and has drawn a good post position, you’re looking at by far the most likely winner.

But then again, deep closers who settle back early on don’t run the same risk of getting caught wide on the first turn, and if they can thread their way through the field after that, they’re more than capable of picking up the pieces and rounding out the top four, often at attractive prices.