The $3 million, Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes Presented by Baccarat is, as usual, a stellar event. This year’s race Saturday at Gulfstream Park features a field of 12 plus two also-eligibles and includes five Grade 1 stakes winners as well as one Group 1 winner from Chile and three Grade 2 stakes winners.
Leading the field in notoriety is Cyberknife, who comes into the Pegasus off a head defeat last November in the Grade 1 Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Earlier in 2022, Cyberknife won the Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Stakes, held at the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Pegasus. Art Collector is the money-earning leader in the field. He has banked over $2.3 million, much of it coming via wins in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes in 2021 and in the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic in both 2021 and 2022. Defunded won the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes in October at 1 1/8 miles and then won another stakes in California, and he is making his first start after two months off. Another winner at the Pegasus distance is Proxy, who captured the Grade 1 Clark Stakes Presented by Norton Healthcare last November in his most recent race. White Abarrio won the Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm at Xalapa last April over the track and is trying for his first win in his sixth start since then. O’Connor won nine races in his native Chile, including the Group 1 Gran Premio Latinoamericano Stakes last April, and he then won his North American debut last October before a posting a fourth-place finish in the Grade 3 Harlan’s Holiday Stakes on Dec. 31. The Harlan’s Holiday was won by Skippylongstocking, who also won the Grade 3 West Virginia Derby last summer at 1 1/8 miles. Simplification was third in the Harlan’s Holiday and is another contender with prior good form at Gulfstream Park, having won the Grade 2 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes last March. Get Her Number ships in from California and was last seen missing by a head in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap Presented by NYRA Bets, so he may be another horse to consider. Stilleto Boy, who finished third in this race last year, enters the 2023 Pegasus off a runner-up effort in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes, while Last Samurai just missed by a neck in the Tinsel Stakes last month and won the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap last April at the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Pegasus. Ridin With Biden has won seven of 20 career races, including the Grade 3 Greenwood Cup Stakes last fall at the distance of 1 ½ miles, but he is not proven at this level. Also-eligibles Hoist the Gold and Endorsed round out the field, the latter having finished fourth at odds of 85.50-1 in the 2022 Pegasus.
Defunded hasn’t been seen in two months, but the gelding been in steady training in California for Bob Baffert and his recent workouts suggest he is in tip-top shape. That’s notable because in each of his last six races, Defunded has been first or second after a quarter-mile has been run. His two best efforts came in his final two races of 2022, when he won the Awesome Again Stakes in October and the Native Diver Stakes in November, both held at the mile and one-eighth distance of the Pegasus. An old saying goes “Early speed is the ultimate bias,” and it is no more true in this race where many of the recent Pegasus winners were on the lead or within a length of the lead from the start. Baffert engages the services of 2022 North American leading jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., and interestingly enough these two have teamed up just one time in a graded stakes in the last five years. That was in the 2020 Pegasus, when they were victorious with Mucho Gusto. Although the 107 Equibase Speed Figures Defunded has earned in each of his last two races aren’t the highest among Saturday’s field, when considering the possible early advantage Defunded may have in this race, he is very likely to be the one to catch – and therefore the one to beat.
In spite of everything written above about Defunded, I have no doubt White Abarrio has the potential to post the upset. Early in 2022 as a 3-year-old, the colt proved to be top-notch when winning the Holy Bull Stakes and Florida Derby in succession, earning a then career-best 102 figure in the Holy Bull followed by a 100 figure in the Florida Derby. After a poor trip in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve when he finished 16th, White Abarrio seemed to get back on track with a runner-up effort (and 106 figure) in the Ohio Derby. But his next two races of 2022 resulted in poor seventh- and fifth-place efforts. Given a couple of months to mature, White Abarrio returned for his final start as a 3-year-old and ran very well when third in his first start against older horses. In that race, the Cigar Mile Handicap, he was beaten just a half-length for the win, and earned a new career-best 109 figure. What’s important to note is that the Cigar Mile was a one-turn mile, and White Abarrio had proven earlier last year he was much better around two turns. Returning to the distance of his Florida Derby triumph and making his second start off a layoff and first as a more mature 4-year-old, White Abarrio could certainly take another step forward and run well enough to win this year’s Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes.
Skippylongstocking is another recently turned 4-year-old and another with positive experience over Gulfstream’s track and at 1 1/8 miles. He showed some promise last March on this track and at the distance when he won an allowance race by 3 ¾ lengths and earned a then career-best 102 figure. After skipping the Kentucky Derby due to a lack of qualifying points, Skippylongstocking finished fifth in the Preakness and third in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, and in his next start he won the 1 1/8-mile West Virginia Derby with a respectable 101 figure. Next came a poor effort in the Pennsylvania Derby followed by a three-month layoff. Facing older horses for the first time in his career in the Harlan’s Holiday Stakes on New Year’s Eve, Skippylongstocking won fairly easily and earned a new career-best 107 figure. Similar to White Abarrio, as this contender matures there’s a likelihood for more physical improvement. If that indeed happens, Skippylongstocking has a shot to run well enough to win the Pegasus.
Cyberknife may be the most accomplished of the newly turned 4-year-olds, having earned over $2 million last year while winning four of nine races. After he won the Arkansas Derby (with a mediocre 95 figure), Cyberknife only managed 18th in the Kentucky Derby, but he rebounded to win the Matt Winn Stakes and Haskell Stakes in succession, earning 104 figures in both races. Although he was winless in his last three starts of 2022, Cyberknife ran very well, finishing second to Epicenter in the Runhappy Travers Stakes, third to Taiba in the Pennsylvania Derby, and finally, losing in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile by a head to Cody’s Wish after leading in midstretch. That effort was Cyberknife’s first against older horses, and he earned a 108 Equibase Speed Figure. If he can to improve upon that number in his first start as a 4-year-old, Cyberknife has a strong chance of winning on Saturday. Then again, it is likely he will go to post as the betting favorite, and since I feel any of the aforementioned three horses have as much probability to win the race as he does, they are better bets in this year’s Pegasus.
The rest of the field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures, is Art Collector (121, in 2021), Endorsed (113), Get Her Number (109), Hoist the Gold (105), Last Samurai (112), O’Connor (105), Proxy (116), Ridin With Biden (109), Simplification (103) and Stilleto Boy (117).
Win Contenders in preference/probability order: