The $3 Million, Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes Presented by 1/ST BET Saturday at Gulfstream Park has been touted for nearly three months as a matchup between Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Knicks Go and Grade 1 Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Life Is Good. Combined, these two powerful horses won nine of 12 races in 2021, and Knicks Go kicked off his campaign with a victory in this race one year ago.
Seven other horses are entered and none are slouches, though it’s also true that none are as accomplished as the top pair. Sir Winston has won six of 19 career starts including the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes in 2019, and he most recently won the Grade 3 Valedictory Stakes last month. Chess Chief won the Grade 2 New Orleans Classic Stakes last March at the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Pegasus World Cup and also enters the race off a win in the Tenacious Stakes at Fair Grounds in late December. Title Ready won the Grade 3 Louisiana Stakes a little over a year ago and has only raced three times since then, most recently finishing sixth in the Tinsel Stakes in mid-December. Endorsed was a fast closing second in the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector Stakes last month at Gulfstream and is approaching the half-million mark in career earnings, but his last victory was in May of 2020. Empty Tomb finished second in the Queens County Stakes in his most recent race but he has never won a stakes race. Similarly, Commandeer won his final two races of 2021 but this will be his first try in a stakes race in his 11th career start. Stilleto Boy rounds out the field, with a two-for-12 record including a win in the Iowa Derby last July.
Considering both Knicks Go and Life Is Good have earned each and every one of their 15 combined career wins when leading from the start, the first question to ask ourselves is whether this is a case of the irresistible force versus the immovable object. One potential scenario is that both horses hook up from the start and go so fast in the first portions of the race they are out of gas by the time the field hits the home stretch, with the race won in an upset by one of the other seven. Certainly after about an eighth of a mile has been run we will know if that is the case.
I believe that will not be the case, because Knicks Go is faster than Life Is Good when push comes to shove, and also considering the fact Knicks Go gets the rail whereas Life Is Good will break from the four post. Those factors should give Knicks Go the edge. Whether Life Is Good can relax in second position in the early stages then pass Knicks Go late is a question to be answered as the race is being run. My belief is that will not happen. Additionally, since Empty Tomb comes into the race off the two best races of his career, having led through the opening half-mile in both, that leads to more early pressure on Life Is Good. Since not leading in the early stages is foreign to Life Is Good, he can be passed late by one of a couple of horses who will be far back in the early stages.
Contenders to win:
In terms of total speed, as measured by Equibase Speed Figures, Knicks Go has an advantage in that department as well, earning a 117 figure in last year’s Pegasus World Cup which came after a break following his win in the 2020 Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (which Life Is Good won in 2021). Following the Pegasus, Knicks Go earned a 119 figure winning the Cornhusker Handicap (at the distance of the Pegasus), a 118 figure winning the Whitney Stakes (at the distance of the Pegasus) and a 119 figure winning the 1 ¼-mile Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic. Although Life Is Good posted a 120 figure in his Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile win, he has never run this mile and one-eighth trip where Knicks Go has won four of five times at the distance. Life is Good’s other top figures last year were 115 in the San Felipe Stakes and also when beaten by a neck in the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes last summer. Additionally, the second- and third-place finishers (Ginobili and Restrainedvengence) defeated by Life Is Good in the 2021 Dirt Mile aren’t up to the same standards as the next two behind Knicks Go (Medina Spirit and Essential Quality) in the 2021 Classic. Therefore Knicks Go appears to be the one to beat by far in this years’ Pegasus World Cup Invitational, and as stated earlier I am taking the stand that Life Is Good can be beaten for second as well.
The horse with the best "counter-energy” profile appears to be Endorsed, and it is not totally improbable he could post the upset if Knicks Go does not win. Although his 10 starts last year were all in one-turn races – and although he did not win any of them, Endorsed ran very well in his two most recent starts, earning 104 and 101 figures respectively. He ran especially well in his last race when he missed winning the Mr. Prospector Stakes by a half-length when rallying from last of seven in the early stages. Earlier in his career, Endorsed was successful in two-turn races, such as when winning at Gulfstream Park in January 2020 then finishing second in the Grade 3 Westchester Stakes at Belmont Park that spring. He’s posted very strong morning workouts at Gulfstream Park leading to this race, and since he has a late-running style and can thus benefit from a probable fast early pace, Endorsed could get into the top two for the 11th time in his 23rd career start on dirt.
Another horse that has the potential to lag back early and close to get second is Chess Chief. This hard-knocking 6-year-old has earned over $800,000 in his career and enters the race off a win last month in the Tenacious Stakes with a 106 figure. That equaled the 106 figure earned when rallying from last of seven to win the New Orleans Classic Stakes last March, which was the biggest win of his career. Now that he’s back in winning form, another “A” effort is certainly not out of the question.
The rest of the field – all who have the ability to compete effectively in this race – with their best Equibase Speed Figures is Commandeer (99), Empty Tomb (113), Sir Winston (109), Stilleto Boy (108), and Title Ready (114).
Contenders for the exacta: