2022 Pegasus World Cup Cheat Sheet: Get to Know the Horses

Knicks Go (left) and Life Is Good headline the sixth edition of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Jan. 29 at Gulfstream Park. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Saturday’s $3 million, Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes Presented by 1/ST BET at Gulfstream Park is one of racing’s success stories over the past several years. The 1 1/8-mile race for older dirt horses was introduced in 2017 – replacing the Donn Handicap – and since then has featured some of the sport’s most popular and accomplished runners (check out the best previous winners in this feature). It’s become one of the annual highlights of the racing calendar and a great way to kick off a new year of top-class horse racing.

This year’s sixth Pegasus promises to be more of the same. Two horses exiting overpowering wins at the 38th Breeders’ Cup World Championships – Longines Classic winner Knicks Go and Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile winner Life Is Good – are slated to run Saturday, setting up an exciting showdown for fans and bettors.

Gulfstream Park and The Stronach Group pull out all of the stops on Pegasus day, turning the racetrack and its surroundings into party central with dining and entertainment options galore. Check out ABR’s guide to Pegasus day to prepare if you’re planning to attend.

NBC Sports presents live television coverage of the Pegasus World Cup during a broadcast from 4:30-6 p.m. on NBC. America’s Best Racing will also provide the ultimate second-screen experience for Pegasus fans with “Pegasus Live,” a livestream hosted by Julie Stewart-Binks and Dan Tordjman along with Sarah Cline.

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Read on for information about the Pegasus contenders.

Ryan Thompson/Coglianese Photo

1. Knicks Go (6-5)

Jockey: Joel Rosario

Trainer: Brad Cox

Owner: Korea Racing Authority

Career record: 24 starts – 10 wins – 3 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $8,673,135

Earnings per start: $361,381

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 119

Pedigree: Paynter – Kosmo’s Buddy, by Outflanker

Age: 6

Color: Gray or roan

Running style: Pacesetter

Notable achievements and interesting facts: The overwhelming favorite for 2021 Horse of the Year is all systems go to close out his career with a repeat win in the Pegasus Saturday, and if not for the presence of one competitor he’d very likely to go off at odds of 1-5. But Life Is Good’s entry makes the 2022 Pegasus a fascinating race as it pits two of the most talented dirt horses in training against one another – and both share similarly dominant front-running styles. Knicks Go has not been challenged since trainer Brad Cox moved him back to two-turn races, posting four overpowering wins after he finished fourth twice in spring and summer 2021 racing around one turn. He made short work of a stellar field in his most recent start, taking the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic by 2 ¾ lengths after no horse challenged him early. That scenario played out in last year’s Pegasus as well, as he faced very light pressure from longshot Last Judgment early and shot clear in early stretch to easily defeat the late-running Jesus’ Team. It will be fascinating to see the chess game strategy between jockeys Joel Rosario (who has ridden Knicks Go in his last nine starts with seven wins) and Irad Ortiz Jr. as they position their horses after the break, with Knicks Go drawing the rail and Life Is Good nearby in post position 4. Knicks Go has never won a race when he wasn’t leading at the first point of call … but he’s only lost once in such a scenario since Cox took over training in 2020 (that being the one-turn Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap last June). He rattled off a swift final workout for Cox on Jan. 23 at Fair Grounds, and based on his current dominant form it would be very surprising to see Knicks Go finish worse than second in his career finale. In addition to his win last year, Rosario has finished third twice in the Pegasus, aboard War Story in 2020 and Accelerate in 2019.

Lou Hodges, Jr. /Hodges Photography

2. Chess Chief (10-1)

Jockey: Reylu Gutierrez

Trainer: Dallas Stewart

Owner: Estate of James J. Coleman Jr.

Career record: 30 starts – 5 wins – 4 seconds – 4 thirds

Career earnings: $810,338

Earnings per start: $27,011

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 108

Pedigree: Into Mischief – Un Blessed, by Mineshaft

Age: 6

Color: Bay

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Veteran campaigner Chess Chief was originally pointed to the Louisiana Stakes a week earlier at Fair Grounds (won by Mandaloun) but instead his connections decided to jump into deeper waters (and compete for a far more lucrative purse) in the Pegasus. At his best, he’s running for third on Saturday and is one of several closers who will be banking on a contested pace duel between heavy favorites Knicks Go and Life Is Good to set up his grinding rally. He enters the Pegasus off of the second stakes win of his busy career, closing late to edge Happy American by a nose in the 1 1/16-mile Tenacious Stakes Dec. 26 at Fair Grounds. Young jockey Reylu Gutierrez, who has been riding very well over the past few months, retains the mount, and Dallas Stewart (who also trains Title Ready) finished second in the 2019 Pegasus with iron horse Seeking the Soul. All that said, as mentioned above, Chess Chief has never made an impression in races above a Grade 3 level, and filling out the trifecta should be considered a success – with a very nice payday – in the Pegasus.

Eclipse Sportswire

3. Stilleto Boy (20-1)

Jockey: Jose Ortiz

Trainer: Ed Moger Jr.

Owner: Steve Moger

Career record: 12 starts – 2 wins – 3 seconds – 4 thirds

Career earnings: $540,675

Earnings per start: $45,056

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 106

Pedigree: Shackleford – Rosie’s Ransom, by Marquetry

Age: 4

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Stalker/closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: California shipper Stilleto Boy has been competitive in major stakes races against top-flight opponents since his breakthrough win in the Iowa Derby last August. He changed owner and trainer after that race and moved west, and subsequently has hit the board in three out of five stakes races, including a runner-up effort at 54.80-1 odds behind Medina Spirit in the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes. It must be noted, however, that he’s not finished closer than 2 ½ lengths out of first in those starts, and that makes this gelding a longshot in Saturday’s Pegasus. He comes into the race after a third-place effort behind budding superstar Flightline in the Runhappy Malibu Stakes at seven furlongs on Dec. 26 at Santa Anita Park, a race in which he was defeated by 12 ½ lengths but only a length by runner-up Baby Yoda. Stilleto Boy should appreciate stretching out to two turns again in the Pegasus and will be closing from midpack and trying to pick off enough tiring horses to fill out the trifecta in a best-case scenario. Jose Ortiz was aboard Stilleto Boy for his Iowa Derby win; the jockey has ridden in every Pegasus World Cup, and his best finish came in the first Pegasus back in 2017 aboard runner-up Shaman Ghost.

Eclipse Sportswire

4. Life Is Good (7-5)

Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owners: China Horse Club International and WinStar Farm

Career record: 6 starts – 5 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $1,059,200

Earnings per start: $176,533

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 120

Pedigree: Into Mischief – Beach Walk, by Distorted Humor

Age: 4

Color: Bay

Running style: Pacesetter

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Life Is Good joins Knicks Go in making the 2022 Pegasus a marquee early season event featuring two of the top horses in training … and, unlike his chief foe, this lightly raced, newly turned 4-year-old may just be scratching the surface of his talent. Ten months ago, he was the leading contender for the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve following two prep wins at Santa Anita Park, but he was sidelined in late March with a hind-end injury. After missing all of the Triple Crown races, he was transferred to trainer Todd Pletcher over the summer, and when Life Is Good came back he posted a game runner-up effort behind Jackie’s Warrior in the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes Aug. 28 at Saratoga, losing by a neck after setting the early pace. Life Is Good has been even better since then, romping in the one-turn mile Kelso Handicap in September and then stretching back out to two turns for the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile Nov. 6 at Del Mar and dominating by 5 ¾ lengths. He earned a 120 Equibase Speed Figure in the Dirt Mile, tops in the Pegasus field, and now will be called on to test his speed against a competitor in Knicks Go who has a more accomplished résumé as a front-runner around two turns. Life Is Good has led at the first and second points of call in all six of his starts, and only failed to seal the deal once, that coming in the Jerkens when he was returning from an injury and a nearly six-month break. If he’s able to outrun the probable 2021 Horse of the Year Saturday and hand Knicks Go a career-ending defeat, Life Is Good will be well on his way to vying for the same honor in 2022. Todd Pletcher-trained Neolithic and Keen Ice finished third and fourth, respectively, in the inaugural 2017 Pegasus. Irad Ortiz Jr. won the 2020 Pegasus on Mucho Gusto and finished second to Knicks Go aboard Jesus’ Team in last year’s renewal.

Adam Coglianese/NYRA

5. Empty Tomb (20-1)

Jockey: Paco Lopez

Trainer: Robert Falcone Jr.

Owner: John Grossi’s Racing Corp.

Career record: 24 starts – 5 wins – 5 seconds – 5 thirds

Career earnings: $358,306

Earnings per start: $14,929

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 113

Pedigree: Speightstown – Sure Peg, by Arch

Age: 6

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Pacesetter/press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Empty Tomb comes into the 2022 Pegasus in good form, having won an allowance optional-claiming race last November at Aqueduct by overcoming a contested pace and then finishing second in the Queen’s County Stakes on Dec. 19 at the same track. He earned his two career-best Equibase Speed Figures in those starts, topped by a 113 in the Queen’s County. Overall, though, he’s facing a huge class test in the Pegasus and his forwardly-placed running style may also work against him when he attempts to match strides with Knicks Go and Life Is Good. He’s had a solid career racing mainly in the allowance ranks with a few stakes tries and would have to run a career-best race to hit the bottom reaches of the board Saturday. Empty Tomb figures to get his name called early on in the Pegasus with aggressive jockey Paco Lopez in the irons, but it would be a surprise to see him among the leaders in the homestretch.

Michael Burns/Woodbine

6. Sir Winston (12-1)

Jockey: Edwin Gonzalez

Trainer: Mark Casse

Owner: Tracy Farmer

Career record: 19 starts – 6 wins – 4 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $1,189,873

Earnings per start: $62,625

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 109

Pedigree: Awesome Again – La Gran Bailadora, by Afleet Alex

Age: 6

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Stalker/closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: 2019 Belmont Stakes winner Sir Winston rebounded after a subpar 4-year-old season in 2020 to post four consecutive 100-plus Equibase Speed Figures in his 2021 starts, winning half of them including the Valedictory Stakes on Dec. 5. He’s found new life as a synthetic surface runner, as all four of his races last year (two firsts, two close seconds) came on Woodbine’s Tapeta Footings main track. He was overmatched in his final two starts of 2020 on dirt, losing two stakes races by a combined 42 ¼ lengths, and that makes him suspect as a win contender in the Pegasus. On the other hand, aside from Knicks Go and Life Is Good, Sir Winston has the most class in the field, and 1 1/8 miles is certainly in his wheelhouse. Look for jockey Edwin Gonzalez, who will be riding Sir Winston for the first time, to settle him in a stalking spot behind the leaders and in position to sweep into contention as the field hits the stretch. If one of the two favorites falters and Sir Winston can maintain his strong form on the surface switch, he could complete the exacta at a solid price.

Coady Photography

7. Title Ready (20-1)

Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione

Trainer: Dallas Stewart

Owner: Charles Fipke

Career record: 28 starts – 5 wins – 6 seconds – 5 thirds

Career earnings: $673,480

Earnings per start: $24,053

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 114

Pedigree: More Than Ready – Title Seeker, by Monarchos

Age: 7

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: At age 7, Title Ready has earned more than $670,000 by consistently picking up minor awards in stakes races with rare trips to the winner’s circle. His breakthrough stakes win actually came early last year, a 1 ¼-length score in the Grade 3 Louisiana Stakes, and it was his only victory in four 2021 starts. He also ran a good third in an allowance optional-claiming race going a one-turn mile last November but disappointed in his most recent start when he checked in sixth, beaten by 9 ¾ lengths, in the Tinsel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Dec. 18. Title Ready usually makes up some late ground in his races but he does not have a particularly swift turn of foot and, in his two prior starts against elite competition – a seventh-place finish in the 2020 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic and an 11th place finish in last spring’s Dubai World Cup Presented by Emirates Airline – he was completely overmatched. Outside of Knicks Go and Life Is Good, the field for Saturday’s Pegasus translates roughly to a Grade 3-level stakes, which gives this veteran a chance at securing third or fourth behind those favorites and possibly Sir Winston. Anything more than that would be a surprise. Dallas Stewart, who also trains the similarly accomplished Chess Chief, finished second in the 2018 Pegasus with Seeking the Soul, who made three overall starts in this race. Tyler Gaffalione has ridden in all five editions of the Pegasus, with his best finish a fourth in 2018.

Coady Photography

8. Endorsed (20-1)

Jockey: Umberto Rispoli

Trainer: Mike Maker

Owner: Mark Breen

Career record: 23 starts – 4 wins – 6 seconds – 4 thirds

Career earnings: $474,975

Earnings per start: $20,651

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 113

Pedigree: Medaglia d’Oro – Dance Card, by Tapit

Age: 6

Color: Bay

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Endorsed’s career accomplishments are in the orbit of several other Pegasus contenders not named Knicks Go and Life Is Good. He’s assembled a solid career through four seasons on the racetrack, winning rarely but usually running well enough to pick up a check in allowance races and occasionally in stakes. He’s come in second twice in Grade 3 races, including his last start, where he closed late but came up three-quarters of a length short in the seven-furlong Mr. Prospector Stakes at Gulfstream on Dec. 11. He’s only made two starts in two-turn races since August 2020, and was well beaten in both of them, but Endorsed ran well several times in routes before that, including a two-length score in a Gulfstream allowance race just over two years ago. If he can replicate his Mr. Prospector effort in the 1 1/8-mile Pegasus, this Mike Maker trainee could pick up the pieces late to fill out the trifecta or superfecta at good odds; he has a little more upside, even at age 6, than proven grinders such as Title Ready and Chess Chief. California-based jockey Umberto Rispoli will make his first Pegasus appearance Saturday.

Coady Photography

9. Commandeer (30-1)

Jockey: Julien Leparoux

Trainer: James Toner

Owner: AJ Suited Racing Stable

Career record: 10 starts – 3 wins – 2 seconds – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $142,114

Earnings per start: $14,211

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 99

Pedigree: Street Boss – Gozlan, by Tiznow

Age: 4

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Commandeer makes his stakes debut Saturday in a very difficult spot, coming into the Pegasus off of two consecutive wins in 1 1/16-mile allowance races at Laurel Park and Churchill Downs, respectively. He rallied from off of the pace in both victories and figures to try the same tactics in the Pegasus, and he clearly prefers racing around two turns. Overall, though, his speed figures are way below what will be needed to finish in the top three (or four or five) when all is said and done. On the other hand, finishing fourth in the Pegasus would give this gelding the biggest payday of his career. Commandeer could be the longest shot in the field come post time. Jockey Julien Leparoux finished fourth in the 2020 Pegasus on Diamond Oops.

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