Saturday’s $3 million, Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes is the biggest jewel on a crown studded with fantastic stakes races at Gulfstream Park this weekend, bringing together a stellar field of 12. Leading the field in recent accomplishments is Knicks Go, last seen winning the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in the eye-opening time of 1:33.85. Knicks Go has a running style in which he goes to the front and dares anyone to take him on in the early stages, so we know where he will be as soon as the gate opens in the Pegasus. Code of Honor is an accomplished runner best known for winning the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers Stakes as a 3-year-old in 2019. He enters off of a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Clark Stakes Presented by Norton Healthcare in November and must be respected. Math Wizard earned his biggest win when taking the Grade 1, 1 1/8-mile Pennsylvania Derby as a 3-year-old in 2019 but is winless in seven races since.
After those three, there are a number of horses entered in the Pegasus who have not yet proven to be capable of winning at the Grade 1 level but who are in exceptional form. Sleepy Eyes Todd is one of those, having won the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic at the Pegasus’ 1 1/8-mile distance last August and in his most recent start winning the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector Stakes at Gulfstream in December. Similarly, Last Judgment won the Sunshine Classic Stakes just one week prior to Saturday’s Pegasus, racing 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream. Harpers First Ride has won four of his last five, including the Grade 3 Pimlico Special in October and the Native Dancer Stakes at the end of 2020.
Mr Freeze finished second in the 2019 Pegasus and last fall won the Grade 2 Hagyard Fayette Stakes at Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile distance. Another strong contender is Jesus’ Team, who closed from seventh to second behind Knicks Go in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and who recently won the Claiming Crown Jewel Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Tax enters the Pegasus World Cup off a win in the Grade 3 Harlan’s Holiday Stakes over this track last month. Similar to Code of Honor and Math Wizard, he was a top 3-year-old in 2019, his campaign highlighted by a win in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes. Kiss Today Goodbye earned the biggest win of his career last month in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes and is yet another contender that is potentially on the brink of breaking through to this top level. Independence Hall was a strong 2-year-old in the fall of 2019 and continued to shine early in his 3-year-old season in 2020, winning the Jerome Stakes and finishing second in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes before taking time off. He most recently finished fifth in the Grade 1 Runhappy Malibu Stakes. Coastal Defense rounds out the field, coming into the race off a pair of non-threatening fourth place finishes in stakes.
Knicks Go changed trainers to start his 2020 campaign, moving to the barn of Brad Cox, and went three-for-three last year, earning a career best 120 Equibase Speed Figure when winning the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in wire-to-wire fashion. He had lost 10 races in a row before the first of his 2020 wins, but his turnaround was not out of the clouds as Knicks Go had been a top 2-year-old in 2018, winning the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity with the same running style as all three wins last year. He improved from a 104 figure earned last February to a 116 and then to a 120 in the Breeders’ Cup, and coming back off a 2 ½-month rest it is highly likely Knicks Go will be fresh and able to easily establish the early lead he prefers. Any horses that try to take on a frontrunner of his nature could find their chances compromised, and that makes Knicks Go the one to beat in this year’s Pegasus World Cup. Furthermore, he’s been working out steadily (every six to seven days) for his comeback and although he has never run the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Pegasus, Knicks Go has the breeding to succeed at the trip as a son of Paynter, who finished second in the 2012 Belmont Stakes at the distance of 1 ½ miles.
Last Judgment, Harpers First Ride and Sleepy Eyes Todd all must be considered contenders to win the Pegasus World Cup, although they have less probability to win than Knicks Go based on the projected pace scenario where Knicks Go controls the tempo from the start. Nevertheless, since all three have a chance to go off at high odds come post time, I would not hesitate to bet them.
I’ll start with Last Judgment, who has won six of 14 races including his only try at 1 1/8 miles. That win came in his most recent start just last weekend when he dominated in the Sunshine Classic Stakes by 6 ½ lengths. He tied his career best 107 Equibase Speed Figure in that effort, and he has won while racing on the lead or from off the pace. He could be finishing very well in this race.
Harpers First Ride is another horse who knows where the finish line is, having won 10 of 17 career starts. He’s finished first or second in his last six races, including the Pimlico Special last fall at the distance of 1 3/16 miles. Harpers First Ride earned a 109 figure in winning the Native Dancer Stakes, his most recent race.
Sleepy Eyes Todd earned the biggest win of his career in the Charles Town Classic Stakes last August at 1 1/8 miles. He ran poorly when shipped to California for the Awesome Again Stakes a month later but has won both starts since then, including the Mr. Prospector Stakes at Gulfstream. The 119 figure earned in the Charles Town Classic was a career best and the highest figure any horse other than Knicks Go (120 in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile) has ever earned, so if he can repeat that effort Sleepy Eyes Todd could give Knicks Go a run for the winner’s share of this $3 million purse.
The rest of the field – all who have the ability to compete effectively in this race – with their best Equibase Speed Figures, is Coastal Defense (108), Code of Honor (115), Independence Hall (108), Jesus’ Team (114), Kiss Today Goodbye (108 on turf, 107 dirt), Mr Freeze (115), Math Wizard (121), and Tax (115).
Win contenders, in preference order:
Harpers First Ride
Sleepy Eyes Todd