Five Takeaways from Pegasus World Cup Day

The connections of Mucho Gusto were all smiles in the winner’s circle after he powered to a 4 ½-length runaway victory in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes presented by Runhappy Jan. 25 at Gulfstream Park. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Tom Pedulla presents five key takeaways from the Pegasus World Cup Championship Invitational Series Presented by Runhappy on Saturday at Gulfstream Park:

LAYOFF NO PROBLEM: Handicappers had to wonder about  Mucho Gusto’s readiness for the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes presented by Runhappy. He had not run since a fourth-place finish in the Oklahoma Derby last Sept. 29. Even Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert seemed to have his doubts, not committing to the Pegasus until nine days before, after the 4-year-old Mucho Macho Man colt drilled six furlongs in 1:11 3/5 at Santa Anita. The Pegasus certainly showed that a layoff, no matter how long, presents no obstacle for Baffert and his staff. “I think our stable on a layoff is just like no other,” said assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes. “We can get a horse ready quick.”

SMART CHOICE: Irad Ortiz Jr. knew what he was doing when he jumped off Spun to Run a week before the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes presented by Runhappy to ride Mucho Gusto for Baffert. Spun to Run was scratched with a case of hives; Mucho Gusto was much the best. “I’ve been for a long time trying to ride for him,” Ortiz said of Baffert. “He’s a special guy, one of the best around, one of the best I’ve ever seen. I want to ride for those kinds of trainers.” Ortiz figures to have an abundance of opportunities after winning a second straight Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey, an honor he received two days before the Pegasus. Ortiz was named Best Jockey of 2019 for the inaugural Fan Choice Awards.

EMOTIAL VICTORY: Owner Michael Hui could not help but think of Darren Bryant, his late brother-in-law, when 7-year-old gelding Zulu Alpha and jockey Tyler Gaffalione spurted free to take the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational presented by Runhappy in commanding fashion. “When that rail opened up,” said Hui, “I could feel he was with us.” Bryant died suddenly last August. He was so fond of Zula Alpha that he regularly checked a photo of the horse that he had stored on his phone.

ONE TO WATCH: Favored Without Parole is far better than his 11th-place finish in the Pegasus World Cup Turf would suggest. A tough trip and his first try at a mile and three-sixteenths in North America appeared to combine to cause him to fade for jockey Frankie Dettori. “[Without Parole] is not a big horse, and he was between horses. He was getting bumped the whole way and he resented it,” said trainer Chad Brown, the Fan Choice Awards winner as Best Trainer of 2019. “He wanted out of there.” Dettori is confident the 5-year-old son of Frankel, third in the Breeders’ Cup Mile in his North American debut, will have much better days. “The distance is fine for him,” he said. “I think he will do better when he has more experience around two turns.”

ANOTHER TO WATCH: Market Analysis, a buzz horse who has trained impressively, made an auspicious debut when he rated nicely for John Velazquez and held off fast-closing Attachment Rate in the fourth race at Gulfstream on Saturday. He completed seven furlongs in 1:24.13. “We were expecting a good debut. He had been training well, so we were happy with that,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “He’s a horse who should appreciate distance down the road.” According to Pletcher, an allowance race will most likely be the next step for the son of Honor Code before a possible all-or-nothing shot to gain enough qualifying points in the last round of Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve prep races.

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