Somewhere in the seconds it took the field to enter and exit the far turn Jan. 26 at Gulfstream Park, Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano put his faith in City of Light and let the three-time Grade 1 winner do his thing.
Moving with momentum that, for the average runner, would have been impossible to maintain in the midst of a torrential rainstorm, City of Light made it look effortless.
Pounding the sloppy (sealed) track at the top of the stretch, the 5-year-old turned back a late challenge from Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Accelerate and put serious distance between himself and the rest of the pack to win the $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes by 5 3/4 lengths.
“The way he did it today, you don’t really see too many horses that have the speed, the pounce, and the dimension,” Castellano said. “The horse did everything today. I just enjoyed the ride to be honest with you. I think anyone could have ridden the horse.”
It was a jaw-dropping end to a career that spanned barely more than 18 months and 11 starts for owners William K. Warren Jr., his wife, Suzanne, and trainer Michael McCarthy, and the tears flowed just as freely as the rain.
“We’ve been in business five years and we started with one horse,” McCarthy said, turning away from the microphone in the post-race press conference to stymie his tears. “To have a horse like this come into your life … I can’t describe the emotions that go along with something like this.”
One of the two favorites in the field for the third running of North America’s richest race, City of Light broke well from post-position three and Castellano punched the gas to send City of Light to the front. Guided to the outside behind early leader Patternrecognition, Castellano settled in to stalk the pace but put the brakes on City of Light hoping to save energy for the battle to the finish.
But if the downpour of rain and the condition of the track had been a worry before the race, any doubts were soon put to rest when Castellano realized City of Light was actually enjoying the slop and toying with his competition.
“First of all, I think we were lucky the way we drew,” Castellano said. “I used my horse enough to get my position, let him get a little break. The way he kept the rhythm and the momentum … I think he loved the way he performed on the sloppy track. He was like a little kid who wanted to play and splash in the puddles and I said ‘Keep going, keep going.’
“Turning for home we were very focused. They way he did it, I asked for a little bit going for home but he took off again. What a feeling you feel in that moment.”
Approaching the stretch, the John Sadler-trained Accelerate tried to challenge for the lead and came within a length and a half of City of Light before the leader found his final gear and kicked for home. All Castellano had to do was flash the whip at his mount but the gesture was unnecessary. City of Light was well clear and showed no signs of slowing down. Final time for the 1 1/8-mile race was 1:47.71.
“It was so thrilling to watch Javier ride a masterful race,” William Warren said. “He knew exactly what he wanted to do and he executed the plan beautifully. I was filled with emotion for my trainer, Michael McCarthy, and for Javier. They got us here.”
It was Seeking the Soul who emerged from last in 12-horse field to take second, crossing the finish line 1 1/2 lengths ahead of 3-2 favorite Accelerate. Bravazo took fourth followed by Audible in fifth.
Having never finished worse than third in his career, City of Light’s victory in the Pegasus was a bittersweet moment for the Warrens and McCarthy. It was announced last year that the son of Lane’s End Farm stallion Quality Road would join his sire and retire to stud duty at Versailles, Ky. farm following his Pegasus foray.
In addition to the Pegasus, he earned Grade 1 wins in the Malibu Stakes, Triple Bend Stakes, and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. City of Light leaves the sport with six wins, four seconds, and one third for 11 starts with earnings of $5,662,600.
McCarthy, who broke out on his own five years ago having worked as an assistant trainer to Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, credited the Warrens for much of his success and for their unwavering faith in his abilities as a trainer.
“I would like to thank the Warrens,” McCarthy said. “They’ve done a lot for me personally. They’ve done a lot for my family and to come here for a day like today, I thought the Breeders’ Cup was almost like an out-of-body win but to be able to go ahead and follow it up with something like this ... I don’t know if it will happen again. If it doesn’t, I’m probably OK with it.”
“A horse like this — a once in a lifetime horse — watching him run through the lane, I don’t think there was a horse in the world who could have beaten him today,” McCarthy said. “He’s just a gift to everybody. Everybody that touches him, walks him, feeds him, bathes him. ... I wish I had a better way with words but I’m speechless right now.”
City of Light was named by the Warrens as an homage to Paris, France, one of the couple’s favorite vacation destinations.