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Aaron previews the 2023 Pegasus World Cup (G1) from Gulfstream Park, then gives his top picks & long shots. Multiple Grade 1 champion Cybernknife takes one final stab at victory in his career bow. Will the Brad Cox trainee get the job done before retiring to stud? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
Gold Square LLC’s Cyberknife is scheduled to make the final start of his racing career Saturday at Gulfstream Park, where the multiple Grade 1 stakes winner has been installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite for the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) presented by Baccarat at Sunday’s post-position draw.
The Pegasus World Cup will headline a stellar 13-race program also featuring the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) presented by Qatar Racing, the $500,000 TAA Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G3) presented by Pepsi, and four other graded stakes. Eight total stakes will be contested for $5.3 million in purses.
Win or lose in the 7th running of the 1 1/8-mile stakes for 4-year-olds and up, Cyberknife, who drew Post No. 10 in the 12-horse Pegasus field, will be retired to begin stallion duty at Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky.
Cyberknife’s sire, Gun Runner, ran the last race of his racing career in the 2018 Pegasus World Cup before retiring to stud at Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky. The son of Candy Ride went out in style with a 2 ½-length victory.
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Cyberknife’s trainer, Brad Cox, was victorious in the 2021 Pegasus World Cup with Knicks Go, who came back to finish second behind Life Is Good in last year’s renewal of the thoroughbred racing season’s first multi-million-dollar stakes.
Cyberknife established himself as one of the premier colts in the 3-year-old division last year while winning the Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn and the Haskell (G1) at Monmouth Park and Grade 1 placings in the Pennsylvania Derby and Travers. He finished his 3-year-old campaign with a photo-finish second behind Cody’s Wish in a most memorable edition of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Keeneland.
“It’s really amazing he’s been able to stay as good as he has physically and mentally. He’s improved a tremendous amount mentally over the last six, seven, eight months. Physically he looks amazing. He’s given us all the signs – and maybe even more so now, working better than he ever has leading up to this,” Cox said. “He is older. He’s stronger than he was throughout his 3-year-old season. And he’s going to need to be.”
Although Cyberknife has never run at Gulfstream, Cox, from his Gulfstream experience, is confident the versatile Kentucky-bred runner will be quick to adapt.
“It’s going to be a good group of horses. Obviously, we’re taking the show on the road; he’s never been to Gulfstream. But I’m very happy with the way he’s training,” Cox said. “I think as along as he can get away well and get involved in the race the early part, he’ll be effective. I think he’ll like the configuration of the mile-and-an-eighth at Gulfstream.”
Florent Geroux, who rode Gun Runner in his Pegasus World Cup victory, is named to ride Cyberknife.
Godolphin LLCs Proxy, who is rated second in the morning line at 9-2, enters the Pegasus World Cup off his first career Grade 1 victory in the Nov. 25 Clark (G1) at Churchill Downs. The Michael Stidham-trained 5-year-old son of Tapit pressed the pace before edging clear nearing the wire to win the first stakes of his 13-race career, during which he has had four runner-up finishes in Grade 2 stakes.
“Certainly, I feel like the Pegasus is going to come up tougher overall, a tougher race, so we have to pick our game up from the Clark,” Stidham said. “I don’t think we can run the same race we ran in the Clark and expect to win. I think we need to do a little bit better, and I’m hoping my horse will move forward from the Clark. That’s what we need to see.”
Joel Rosario, who rode Knicks Go for his 2021 Pegasus World Cup score, has the call on Proxy, who drew Post No. 1.
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Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr, who leads all trainers with victories during the current Championship Meet at Gulfstream in his quest to defend his 2021-2022 title, is represented in the Pegasus World Cup field by three horses: Daniel Alonso’s Skippylongstocking (5-1; Post No. 7), C2 Racing Stable LLC and La Milagrosa Stable LLC’s White Abarrio (10-1; Post No 4) and Fernando Vine Ode and Michael and Jules Iavarone’s O’Connor (10; Post No. 12),
Skippylongstocking, who finished third in the 2022 Belmont Stakes (G1) before winning the West Virginia Derby (G3), is coming off a sharp victory in the Dec. 31 Harlan’s Holiday (G3) at Gulfstream Park.
“He’s coming off a strong performance in the Harlan’s Holiday. He got a freshening after the Pennsylvania Derby, and he carried a lot of weight into the Harlan’s Holiday. He’s carrying the same kind of weight, so that’s very positive for him.,” Joseph said. “He’s filled out a tremendous amount. Obviously, it’s a much tougher race this time, but I feel like he’s close to where he was for his last race.”
White Abarrio brings an impressive record at Gulfstream into the Pegasus World Cup, having won all four of his starts, including a 1 ¼-length victory in the 1 1/8-mile Curlin Florida Derby (G1).
“He’s a horse for course. He’s 4-for-4 at Gulfstream, so it gives you a lot of confidence. Any time you can run on your homecourt, it’s always an advantage,” Joseph said.
White Abarrio is coming off a sharp third-place finish in the Cigar Mile (G1) at Aqueduct.
“He’s not an overly big horse, but what I like the most – he wasn’t a horse that was strong – is he’s gotten stronger as he’s matured,” Joseph said. “He’s a lot stronger than he was, which is good, because we can increase his training a little. Overall, that will help him develop. He’s definitely put on weight.”
O’Connor, a Group 1 winner in Chile, won his Oct. 16 U.S. debut in a stakes-quality optional claiming allowance by six lengths but disappointed when he finished an even fourth as the favorite in his return in the Harlan’s Holiday.
“Going into that last race, I thought he was giving all the right signals. It definitely makes you question things,” Joseph said. “Hopefully, he can redeem himself. I think the extra distance will help him.”
Jose Ortiz has the call on Skippylongstocking, while Tyler Gaffalione and Javier Castellano are named to ride White Abarrio and O’Connor, respectively.
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Trainer Bob Baffert will send Michael Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman’s Defunded to the Gulfstream Park track Saturday in search of his third success in the Pegasus World Cup. He was victorious with Arrogate in 2017 and Much Gusto in 2020.
Defunded (6-1; Post No. 5) is coming off back-to-back victories in the Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita and Native Diver (G3) at Del Mar.
“Basically, he’s a one-dimensional kind of horse, but he’s training really well. It’s going to be a tough race. You never know. The post. The break. Everything has to go right. Arrogate, everything went right for him. Mucho Gusto, everything went right for him,” Baffert said. “You’ve got to get a good trip. There is a short run to the first turn and there are fast horses in there, so we’re just going to go down there and see where he fits with those kind of horses.”
Irad Ortiz Jr. is scheduled to ride Defunded for the first time since their fourth-place finish in the Pat Day Mile (G2) in May 2021.
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has made a late change in jockeys for Willis Horton Racing LLC’s Last Samurai, who will be ridden by international superstar Frankie Dettori. The 5-year-old son of Malibu Moon (20-1; Post No. 9), who finished fourth behind Proxy in the Clark, won the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) last season.
Bruce Lundsford’s Art Collector (10-1; Post No. 6) will be one of six Grade or Group 1 winners in Saturday’s 12-horse field, having won the 2021 Woodward (G1) at Belmont Park. The Bill Mott-trained 6-year-old campaigner won his second straight Charles Town Classic (G2) last season.
Junior Alvarado, who celebrated his 2000th career victory Saturday at Gulfstream, is scheduled to ride Art Collector for the first time in the Pegasus World Cup. Art Collector breezed an easy half-mile in 50 seconds Sunday at Payson Park in his final tune-up.
Gary Barber’s Get Her Number (15-1; Post No. 8) enters the Pegasus World Cup off a sharp runner-up finish in the Cigar Mile, in which he finished a head behind victorious Mind Control and a half-length ahead of White Abarrio.
Defending Championship Meet titlist Luis Saez has the call on the 5-year-old son of Dialed In.
Tami Bobo and Tristan de Meric’s Simplification, who captured last season’s Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream and finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby (G1), made a menacing move coming off the turn into the homestretch in the Harlan’s Holiday before settling for third.
The Antonio Sano trainee (15-1; Post No. 2) will be ridden by Paco Lopez.
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Steve Moger’s Stilleto Boy (30-1; Post No. 11), who finished third in last year’s Pegasus World Cup, is coming off a second-place finish in the San Antonio (G2) at Santa Anita, where he ran his career-best while winning the Californian (G2) last March.
The Ed Moger Jr-trained son of Shackleford will be ridden by Hall of Famer Mike Smith.
Cash is King LLC and LC Racing LLC’s Ridin With Biden (20-1; Post No. 3) drew into the 12-horse field Sunday upon the defection of Super Corinto. The Butch Reid-trained 5-year-old gelding has won three of his last four starts, including a victory in the Greenwood Cup (G3) at Parx.
Emisael Jaramillo has the call aboard the son of Constitution.
Dream Team One Racing’s Hoist the Gold and Mark Breen’s Endorsed also eligible in the listed order.
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