Early thoughts on betting the Pegasus World Cup

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

January 17th, 2018

As Kellie Reilly so ably covered earlier this week, there are a number of fascinating storylines heading into next weekend's $16 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream Park.

Last year the California Chrome vs. Arrogate rematch narrative pretty much devoured everything else simply because few people thought they would both lose. The result on the win end came as no surprise -- Arrogate won going away as the 9-10 favorite -- but California Chrome's poor performance was obviously unpredictable beforehand.

Presumptive Horse of the Year Gun Runner might be a similarly strong favorite in the 4-5 range unless he draws a disadvantageous post position. Whether he does or not, bettors will have some decisions to make on how to play the race.

All indicators at the moment suggest Gun Runner is more likely than not to follow-up on his convincing Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) score and retire to the stallion shed on a winning note. If that's you're thinking, the trick then is to find value underneath in, say, the Exacta pool.

A year ago, the capable multiple graded stakes winner Shaman Ghost, the 19-1 fourth choice in the field, finished second to Arrogate and helped produce a $2 Exacta that paid $33.80. The betting market figures to be tighter this time, but assuming the order of favoritism follows the results of Breeders' Cup weekend, we could be looking at either West Coast or Sharp Azteca as perhaps the value horse(s) to use underneath while trying to keep Collected out of the Exacta frame.

Collected's modest showing in last month's San Antonio (G2) can arguably be chalked up to an unexpected change in tactics as he's much more effective leading or pressing the pace. While most bettors will give him the benefit of the doubt and expect jockey Mike Smith to get him into contention sooner, the possibility also exists that perhaps he might not be as a good as he was last summer when he took the Pacific Classic (G1), thus potentially a false second favorite.

West Coast couldn't get by Collected for second in the Breeders' Cup, but the presumptive three-year-old champion figures to be one of the main players (if not the leading one) in the older male division this year and won't have to improve considerably to turn the tables on his stablemate.

I find it interesting Smith settled on Collected over West Coast following Arrogate's retirement considering the younger horse's dominating wins in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1), Travers (G1), and Easy Goer with Smith up. Or perhaps it was the case of Javier Castellano securing the mount for the Breeders' Cup and thereafter following Smith's choice of sticking with Arrogate. Whatever the case, it would be interesting to hear Smith's opinion on how those two Baffert-trained combatants match up.

With Sharp Azteca in the field, the potential pace dynamics might help a horse like West Coast, or perhaps the late-developing Seeking the Soul, who hit a new peak in taking the Clark H. (G1) in November.

Those are some early thoughts 10 days out from the race. There will be plenty more to chew on soon enough.