Epic match-up makes it well worth the Pegasus trip
By Dick Powell
The inaugural running of the Pegasus World Cup (G1) is Saturday and even though the event started out with more questions than answers, it is looking like the marquee race Frank Stronach envisioned.
Perfectly located on the calendar, its timing enables a horse to come out of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and still not miss any of the breeding season for stallions that begins around February 15. It also gives the starters two months to the Dubai World Cup (G1) so if an owner wanted to, they could take a top horse and run in the Classic for a $6 million purse, the Pegasus World Cup for $12 million and the Dubai World Cup for $10 million.
The top three finishers in this year’s Classic will be back as the Pegasus has attracted the winner, ARROGATE (Unbridled’s Song), runner-up CALIFORNIA CHROME (Lucky Pulpit) and third-place finisher KEEN ICE (Curlin). A full field of 12 will enter the gate at 5:40 p.m. (ET) but it is really a two-horse race.
California Chrome, at the age of six, is better than ever. His prep win at Los Alamitos was awesome and his training at Gulfstream Park since arriving from California has been terrific. He worked 58 and change as easily as he could and is sitting on a big race.
Bob Baffert kept Arrogate on the West Coast and after heavy rains hit there this winter, his prep race, the San Pasqual Stakes (G2) came up wet and Baffert scratched him. With time running out, Baffert was up against it but it was only two years ago when he was running out of time with AMERICAN PHAROAH (Pioneerofo the Nile) and got two prep races in Arkansas before showing up at Churchill Downs ready to go.
Arrogate had three workouts to get ready and despite rain the day before and the day after his scheduled works, all went well and he is training as good as any horse can, or has.
The post position draws complicated things when Arrogate drew the rail and California Chrome drew post 12. Both have enough tactical speed to overcome it but Chrome will most surely lose valuable ground on the first turn. Arrogate has to worry about getting shuffled back from the rail going into the first turn if NEOLITHIC (Harlan’s Holiday) and NOBLE BIRD (Birdstone) gun to the front and he winds up in traffic.
So neither post helped their chances but their game is so far above anybody else’s, I can’t see an upset. If Arrogate gets beat, it will be because he was stuck in traffic with nowhere to go. If California Chrome gets beat, it will be because he was forced to use too much energy on the first turn and lost ground.
One thing to remember about Arrogate is that even though he showed high speed in the Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga when he broke from post one, his stablemate, AMERICAN FREEDOM (Pulpit), broke fast from post two and gave Arrogate plenty of room going into the first turn. Won’t happen again as Arrogate will have a target on his back.
California Chrome reminds me of one of those French Trotters that used to ship to Yonkers for the big International Trot and race wide and still win. They preferred to be on the outside and run free and Chrome has won many big races without ever seeing the rail.
Trainer Art Sherman might have tipped his hand in Chrome’s final workout when he went out fast to sharpen his speed so I expect Victor Espinoza to be told to go to the front. Nine-furlong races at Gulfstream Park start close to the clubhouse turn and if anyone can win from the 12 hole, they have to have gate speed.
Somewhere along the line, probably midway around the far turn, the top two will hook up and the race will be on. A bunch of individual factors favor California Chrome. The shorter distance, the speed-favoring nature of the Gulfstream Park main track and a four-pound weight shift in his favor all point to California Chrome. Shipping in early and avoiding the bad weather back in California is also a plus.
But what I can’t get out of my mind is the sheer talent that Arrogate has. His Travers’ win was historically memorable and he overcame a deficit in the Classic that was next to impossible. California Chrome is an all-time great horse but Arrogate has another gear that few ever had.
Arrogate showed in the Classic that he can use his immense cruising speed and move when Mike Smith asks him. With only nine furlongs to negotiate, it means that it will come a bit sooner and some of the others might still be in the race at that point.
But, I think Arrogate will be indomitable and get the job done no matter what kind of trip he gets. I won’t be betting much since I am going down to Gulfstream Park at my own expense so that consumes a lot of bankroll. But to be there in person when these two hook up will be well worth the trip.