The third running of the Grade 1, $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park is an incredibly intriguing race from many perspectives, foremost among them the bragging rights and $4 million awarded the winner. Questions abound regarding some of the entrants’ ability to run one and one eighth miles at the top level, or to compete at this level at all.
Leading the field in terms of accomplishments is Accelerate. He was last seen winning the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic and is therefore attempting to repeat the feat of last year's Pegasus winner, Gun Runner, who took the Classic in the fall of 2017 before winning the 2018 Pegasus. Another horse who showed up at the top level last year is City of Light, winner of the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. City of Light is the only horse to defeat Accelerate in 2018, having done so at the distance of the Pegasus in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap last April. Patternrecognition won the Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap when last seen in December but is running in a two-turn race for the first time in his career. Gunnevera finished second behind Accelerate in the Classic and is one of three horses entering the Pegasus off runner-up finishes in Grade 1 races, the other two being Bravazo (second in the Clark Handicap) and True Timber (second in the Cigar Mile Handicap). Then there's the undefeated Mexican-bred Kukulkan, with 14 wins to his credit including the Caribbean Classic Handicap at Gulfstream Park last month. Tom's d'Etat was highly regarded two years ago but was on the sidelines from the summer of 2017 until last fall, winning two races since the comeback including the Tenacious Stakes last month. Something Awesome won the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic last spring, the same race Imperative won in 2017. Audible earned his biggest prize over the track last winter when easily winning the Grade 1 Florida Derby prior to a third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. The Pegasus follows a runner-up effort in the Grade 3 Harlan's Holiday Stakes last month and is his third start following six months away from the races. Seeking the Soul finished fifth in the 2018 Pegasus and was most recently third in the Clark Handicap, nearly three lengths behind runner-up Bravazo.
In handicapping this race, I started by eliminating (as win contenders) a trio of horses who don't appear to have much probability to win – Kukulkan, Imperative, and Something Awesome. Kukulkan, although undefeated, just isn't fast enough to compete with the top contenders in the Pegasus. He earned a 105 Equibase Speed Figure in the Caribbean Classic Handicap last month, whereas the top horses have consistently earned 115 or better figures. Imperative has not won a race since capturing the Charles Town Classic in April of 2017 and has been uncompetitive in top company since that time. Something Awesome won the Charles Town Classic last April with a 118 figure but I view that as a fluke as his other two best efforts in the past year earned 105 and 106 figures.
Next, there's the issue of the 1 1/8 mile trip. Patternrecognition earned a career-best 115 figure winning the Cigar Mile Handicap last month but is trying two turns for the first time in his 12th career start. STATS Race Lens statistics on his sire Adios Charlie paint a dim picture of Patternrecognition having the ability to run that well at this distance because over the last five years the sire's progeny have run 220 route races and only nine of those starts have been at nine furlongs. Furthermore, the only winning horse at the distance earned that win at Camarero Race Track in Puerto Rico. Additionally, Patternrecognition earned his last three wins leading from start to finish and from the extreme outside 12 post he would be forced to use a good deal of early energy to get the lead he needs to succeed. True Timber is winless in five tries around two-turns in his career. He is bred to succeed at the distance but has yet to prove it. However, unlike Patternrecognition, True Timber could be in a mid-pack position in the early stages and could be part of the exacta or trifecta, particularly as he's coming into the race off a career-best 113 figure earned when second in the Cigar Mile.
Now it's on to the three horses I think can win this year's Pegasus World Cup Invitational. Of the three, Tom's d'Etat interests me the most as he is very likely to be a longshot. Tossing out his debut in May 2016 on turf, Tom's d'Etat has done little wrong, winning six of eight races. He won three of four in 2017, culminating with a nine-length win at the nine-furlong Pegasus trip in the summer of 2017, earning a then-career-best 117 Equibase Speed Figure in the process. That figure is on par with nearly every one of the best figures earned by City of Light and Accelerate. Away from the races for 15 months, last November Tom's d'Etat picked up where he had left off with a 7 ¼-length win and 112 figure and followed that up with a win in the Tenacious Stakes. The pattern for improvement in his third start off the layoff is unmistakable and as he has a 2-for-2 record at the distance, there are many reasons to think Tom's d'Etat can post the upset win in this year's Pegasus. For good measure, there is perhaps one more thing going for this horse as he is owned by Gayle Benson's G M B Racing. The horse is named after the late Tom Benson, who (along with his wife Gayle) was the owner of the New Orleans Saints. Considering what transpired last weekend on the field, it would be fitting for Tom's d'Etat to succeed in this race.
City of Light is the only reason Accelerate did not have an unblemished 7-for-7 record last year. City of Light had won the Malibu Stakes and Triple Bend Stakes prior to beating Accelerate by a neck in the Oaklawn Handicap last April. Then after two defeats, he finished off his 4-year-old campaign with a powerful 2 ¾ length win in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, earning a career-best 126 figure. That figure is not only the best last-race figure in the field but also the best figure earned by any horse in the field, ever. Pointing for this race since resuming training in December, City of Light was working phenomenally at trainer Michael McCarthy's home base at Santa Anita but shipped into Gulfstream for a workout on Jan. 19 which can't be described as anything short of extraordinary as the horse worked a half-mile in 47.26 seconds, the best of 104 workouts at the distance on the day. Having shown versatility when earning two of his three wins last year from off the pace then dominating from start to finish in the Dirt Mile, City of Light should once again be very tough to beat particularly as the win against Accelerate last year was his only previous effort at this mile and an eighth distance.
Accelerate held top form last year from February through November, which is no easy task. He has three wins at this distance and his only defeat was when second to City of Light last April. Although Accelerate only earned a 115 figure winning the Breeders' Cup Classic, he earned a 120 figure in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita in May and followed that up with a 122 figure effort winning the Pacific Classic in August by a stunning 12 lengths. As such, there can be little doubt Accelerate has the ability to run well enough to win this year's Pegasus. I do have one concern though, and that is he does not have an official workout over the track compared to City of Light. On the other hand, Tom's d'Etat doesn't have a workout over the track either and one of the things which make a top athlete so good is the ability to adapt to different situations. As such, Accelerate must be strongly respected as a contender to win the Pegasus.
For consideration on exacta tickets, Bravazo, Seeking the Soul, True Timber, and Gunnevera fit the bill. Bravazo rallied for second in the Clark Handicap at the distance when last seen two months ago and could be passing a few of these late for the same result. Seeking the Soul rallied for second in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile last fall and gets the same comment as Bravazo. True Timber was second to Patternrecognition in the Cigar Mile and with Patternrecognition appearing unlikely to run this far and with a potential pace problem from his outside post, True Timber can possibly run the same kind of race. Gunnevera is likely to be last or nearly so in the early stages as he usually is and as a one-run horse will inevitably be passing many of the rest late.
The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, is Audible (109), Gunnevera (115), Imperative (104), Bravazo (115), Kukulkan (105), Patternrecognition (115), Seeking the Soul (122), Something Awesome (118), and True Timber (113).
City of Light
Additional exotic wagering contenders:
Seeking the Soul