A fascinating collection of older horses race for $3 million in the popular Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Florida on Saturday, January 27. Inaugurated eight years ago when replacing the prestigious Donn Handicap, the World Cup is the headline race on a huge card of racing which includes two other Pegasus events.

These are a few of the storylines of the World Cup:

  • Noted trainer Bob Baffert (who has won two Pegasus World Cups) has shipped (#7) NATIONAL TREASURE cross-country from California and the four-year-old seeks his first win since he won the Preakness Stakes (G1) last May;
  • The tricky configuration of the Gulfstream track for the 1 1/8 miles of the race (very short run to the first turn) means horses with inside post positions are at a strong advantage;
  • Historically, the race has not been won by a stretch runner in its eight runnings;
  • But history aside, this year’s race has a ton of prospective early pace, possibly setting up for a result that bucks past trends.

Baffert Factor

When Baffert shipped Mucho Gusto from California to Florida for the 2020 Pegasus World Cup, the colt was making his first start as a four-year-old, was coming off a four-month layoff, and was meeting a modest fielding considering the race’s Grade 1 status. National Treasure comes in with a similar profile. The speedy son of Quality Road ran the best race of his career in his final outing of 2023, pushing the champion Cody’s Wish to the limit in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), missing by a nose after setting the pace. His 107 Beyer Speed Figure from Daily Racing Form, incidentally, matches that of Mucho Gusto’s Pegasus-winning Beyer.

National Treasure, off since Nov. 4, has had a litany of strong workout times at Santa Anita and this is his first run at Gulfstream. Said Baffert, “We’ve taken our time. We’ve spotted him right. I’ve let him really mature on his own. This is a perfect scenario for him, a perfect spot to come back.”

Dash to the turn

The jockeys on the 12 starters in Saturday’s Pegasus need to have their thinking caps on out of the gate as the first turn comes up quickly. Will they send their horse hard to avoid being floated out wide, or will they drop their horse back and tuck in?

The 1 1/8 miles on dirt distance is not run often at Gulfstream, but the data sets the scene simply: in the last decade, posts nine to 12 at the distance have an anemic four per cent win rate compared to other posts.

Good speed horses win

All eight previous winners of the Pegasus either led from start to finish or were stalking in second or third, within two lengths of the pace. It should be noted, however, that six of those winners were already champions, Grade 1 winners and/or true standouts in the field. Arrogate, Gun Runner, City of Light, Knicks Go and 2022 winner Life Is Good were odds-on (or close to it) winners.

This year’s field has just the one Grade 1 winner, National Treasure, but as he has not raced since May and has only won twice in his career, he will not be an overwhelming favourite in this large field.

Could there be too much pace?

Trying to project how a race will be run is difficult; we don’t know what the trainer’s instructions are or how a jockey will ride a race.

However. it is hard to envision anything but a hot pace in this year’s Pegasus.

(#4) HOIST THE GOLD is a very fast horse who comes off a career-best outing when he won the Cigar Mile (G2) on Dec. 2 in the mud at Aqueduct. He led all the way through splits of 22.41, 44.88 and 1:09.4 on his way to a big win. A graded stakes-winning sprinter, he has been working fast at Fair Grounds for trainer Dallas Stewart.

(#8) FIRST MISSION, trained by Brad Cox (Knicks Go), is lightly raced and a colt who likes to mix it up on the pace. He battled on the lead throughout the Clark Handicap (G2) on Nov. 24 over a slow Churchill Downs dirt track and missed winning by a head. And (#12) SKIPPYLONGSTOCKING runs his best races on the pace and from his post position, he is likely to be hustled early. Toss in National Treasure, a front-runner to this point, and I am looking for the first off-the-pace winner of the Pegasus.

(#6) SENOR BUSCADOR should have the ideal set-up to be in the top three in this race and at 20-to-1 in the morning line (he won’t go off close to that, however), he is very appealing. He was recently a closing second behind Hoist the Gold in the one-turn Cigar Mile, and this son of Mineshaft has performed well in Grade 1 races. Jockey Junior Alvarado is an ace in big races, too.

(#3) DYNAMIC ONE is one of three in the race for top trainer Todd Pletcher and at 15-to-1 in the morning line, this six-year-old is worth a look. The son of Union Rags missed more than a year after a big 2022 campaign and his return outing on Dec. 22, 2023 was drab. But Pletcher (who recently won with a graded stakes filly with a similar profile) sent this guy out for a workout on Jan. 20 at Palm Beach Downs with Pegasus mate Crupi, and the result was visually outstanding (you can watch a lot of workouts from Florida here www.xbtv.com). Dynamic One has to have a career best effort to win, but with Irad Ortiz riding, he offers value.

Of the others, (#2) O’CONNOR comes off a big win in the Harlan’s Holiday at Gulfstream over Grand Aspen (also in the field), but jockey Tyler Gafflione has moved over to Skippylongstocking. Stretch runners (#10) IL MIRACOLO and (#11) CRUPI are only mildly interesting for superfecta wagers.

BETTING STRATEGY presented by bet365 –

$10 Win/Place #6 SENOR BUSCADOR
$3 Exacta Box 3 – 6 – 7 = $18.00

$3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational

1 1/8 miles; Gulfstream Park; race 13, Post time 5:40 p.m.

1. Nimitz Class 20-1
2. O’Connor 8-1
3. Dynamic One 15-1
4. Hoist the Gold 12-1
5. Trademark 15-1
6. Senor Buscador 20-1
7. National Treasure 9-5
8. First Mission 7-2
9. Grand Aspen 8-1
10. Il Miracolo 20-1
11. Crupi 20-1
12. Skippylongstocking 8-1
13. (ae) Castle Chaos n/a