HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – The $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) will be inaugurated Saturday at Gulfstream Park with the distinction of providing a stage for the most highly anticipated high-stakes showdown in Thoroughbred racing history.
The world’s richest horse race, for which 12 stakeholders each put up $1 million to participate, will provide two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome the opportunity to go out a winner while avenging the most resounding loss of an enduring career that is scheduled to come to a close Saturday. The Pegasus World Cup will also give Arrogate the chance to launch his highly anticipated 2017 campaign by proving that his half-length upset victory over California Chrome in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita Nov. 5 was hardly a fluke.
At Monday’s post position draw at Frankey’s Sports Bar in the Village at Gulfstream Park, California Chrome LLC’s California Chrome was installed as the 6-5 favorite in the morning line after being assigned Post 12.
“We can’t make any excuses. The only good thing I thought about this is that he doesn’t have to be in the starting gate long,” Sherman said of the No. 12 post.” Chrome is Chrome. He’s got tactical speed. I was hoping that we would get closer inside. He will overcome all this, believe me.
Juddmonte Farm’s Arrogate was rated second at 7-5 after drawing Post 1 for the 1 1/8-mile spectacular that may be more accurately billed as a rubber match than a rematch.
Although Arrogate prevailed over California Chrome in their only meeting on the track, he was soundly defeated in the voting for the 2016 Horse of the Year title that was awarded to California Chrome at Saturday evening’s Eclipse Award Dinner at Gulfstream’s Sport of Kings theater.
“It will be emotional. I’d love to see him go out a winner,” California Chrome’s trainer Art Sherman said. “I know it’s going to be a tough race, but I’ll tell you I’ve never seen a horse train like him in a long time. It seems like each time I work him he gets a little bit stronger. I would have loved to have one more year with him. This year would have been a fabulous year for this horse. He amazes me on the way he’s just getting better. At 6 years old, you look at him and you say, ‘Wow, he hasn’t reached his peak yet.’”
While California Chrome’s exploits were the talk of the racing world throughout the 2016 racing season, the late-developing Arrogate made a sudden surge from relative obscurity to conclude his 3-year-old campaign with a record-setting triumph in the Travers (G1) and his stunning win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
Trainer Bob Baffert relishes the opportunity for Arrogate and California Chrome to meet again less than three months after their first clash, thanks to the Stronach Group’s role in establishing the innovative Pegasus World Cup, which is carded as the last of 12 races on Saturday’s program (First Post: 11:30 a.m.) and will be broadcast by NBC (4:30-6 p.m.).
“I think it’s thinking out of the box. It couldn’t have come at a better year when you’ve got the No.1 and No. 2 horses hooked up together,” Baffert said. “It’s very rare that you’ll get that type of a matchup. It’s like a Breeders’ Cup all over again. At this time of the year it’s usually really quiet, usually we’re just getting our horses ready for the spring and summer. I think everybody is going to be watching. The $12 million catches a lot of people’s attention. This is Frank Stronach’s dream and I’m proud of being part of it.”
California Chrome will attempt to become the world’s richest horse by adding Saturday’s record $7 million first prize to his long list of accomplishments that includes victories in the 2014 Kentucky Derby (G1), the 2014 Preakness Stakes (G1) and the 2016 Dubai World Cup (G1). The California-bred veteran, who is already the top earner outside Japan with more than $14.5 million in purses, will be ridden by Victor Espinoza.
“It’s hard to give Victor any instructions. He has ridden the horse so many times, so many graded races,” said Sherman, whose star tuned up for the Pegasus World Cup with a 12-length romp in the Winter Challenge at Los Alamitos Dec. 17. “I don’t think he will be looking around as much as he did in the Breeders’ Cup. I told him, ‘This is The Last of the Mohicans.’”
After witnessing the power of Arrogate’s stretch run of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Espinoza isn’t at all likely to ride California Chrome with overconfidence. Arrogate’s impressive narrow decision over California Chrome followed a monumental stakes-debut triumph in the Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga in August. The son of Unbridled’s Song devastated more battle-tested rivals, including Belmont Stakes winner Creator and Preakness victor Exaggerator, during a 13 ½-length victory, breaking General Assembly’s 1979 track record with a 1 ¼-mile clocking in 1:59.36 with Mike Smith aboard for the first time.
The Santa Anita-based Arrogate is scheduled to arrive at Gulfstream Park Tuesday in advance of his second clash with California Chrome, who long ago won over Baffert as a fan.
“I always have total respect for the Derby winner. Everyone likes watching a Derby winner run, and he has been solid. That horse has run so many races and stayed healthy and sound. He’s a freak of nature,” Baffert said. “For him to show up in this race is what makes it – him and Arrogate.”
Although California Chrome and Arrogate are being geared up for another head-to-head clash in the Pegasus, thoroughbred racing’s brightest stars will be joined in the starting gate by a field of 10 rivals on an upset quest.
Trainer Todd Pletcher will saddle two, Keen Ice and Neolithic, while acknowledging the imposing challenge of facing both California Chrome and Arrogate.
“They’re two awfully good horses we’re competing against. I’ve been watching how they’ve been training on video or whatever and it looks like they’re on cue,” Pletcher said. “It will be a challenge for sure, but we’re awfully happy with the way our two horses are coming into it.”
Donegal Racing’s Keen Ice, who finished second in the Harlan’s Holiday (G3) at Gulfstream Dec. 17, pulled off a huge upset of Triple Crown champion American Pharoah in the 2015 Travers. Starlight Racing’s Neolithic, a late-developing 4-year-old son of Harlan’s Holiday, romped to a nine-length allowance victory at Gulfstream Dec. 14.
“I feel really good about where we are with our two. They have both had steady preparations for the race and they’ve both had races over the track here. Everything’s gone according to plan,” Pletcher said. “We’ve been able to work them when we wanted them to. We haven’t had to interrupt their schedules. It’s fun to be able to run at your home track without shipping for a change.”
Keen Ice, who is rated third in the morning line at 12-1, will be ridden by Javier Castellano, while John Velazquez is named to ride 30-1 Neolithic.
John C. Oxley’s Noble Bird (25-1) and Stronach Stables’ Shaman Ghost (20-1) are also set to bring Grade 1 credentials into the Pegasus World Cup.
Noble Bird, a 6-year-old with more than $1 million in earnings, won the 2015 Stephen Foster (G1) at Churchill Downs, as well as three stakes in 2016.
“I have the utmost respect for both horses [California Chrome and Arrogate] and their connections. I would say we are one of the outside contenders, it there really are any contenders outside Arrogate and California Chrome,” trainer Mark Casse said. “It’s a tall task, but we feel if they stub their toes and we run the race of our lives…. He holds a track record going a mile and an eighth. He’s never run here but I think this racetrack will suit him.”
Shaman Ghost, a 5-year-old homebred who has earned $1.3 million, was saddled by James Jerkens for a triumph in last year’s Whitney (G1) at Saratoga.
James McIngvale’s Eragon (50-1) will make his U.S. debut in the Pegasus World Cup as a multiple Group 1 winner in Argentina.
Multiple-stakes winners Breaking Lucky (25-1) and Prayer for Relief (50-1) are Grade 1-placed entrants in the Pegasus. Owned by Gunpowder Farms, West Point Thoroughbreds, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Randy Hill and Eric Young, Breaking Lucky finished second ahead of Shaman Ghost in the Clark Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs Nov. 25. Zayat Stables’ Prayer For Relief was third in the 2014 Woodward at Saratoga.
Rounding out the Pegasus World Cup field are: Reddam Racing’s Semper Fortis (50-1), who finished second in the 2016 Los Alamitos Derby (G2); War Story (50-1), a multiple graded stakes-placed 5-year-old gelding owned by Loooch Racing, Glen Ellis, Imaginary Stables and Daybreak Racing; and Ruis Racing’s War Envoy (50-1), a Group 2-placed runner in Europe who finished third in the 2016 Barbados Gold Cup (G1).
Source: Gulfstream Park