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Mike previews the 2023 Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) from Gulfstream Park, then gives his top picks & long shots. After making 8 of his last 9 starts at this Grade 1 level, trainer Paulo Lobo’s classy Ivar is favored to win a wide-open affair on the grass. Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
Stablemates have occupied the top two spots in the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) presented by Qatar Racing for two years running and, if the local prep for one of the richest grass races in North America is any indication, a third year is not out of the question.
The fifth running of the Pegasus World Cup Turf and the seventh renewal of the $3 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) presented by Baccarat on dirt, both at 1 1/8 miles, and the second edition of the $500,000 TAA Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf (G3) presented by Pepsi comprise Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup Championship Invitational Series at Gulfstream Park, headlining a blockbuster 13-race program featuring eight stakes, seven graded, worth $5.3 million in purses.
First race post time is 10:50 a.m. EST. NBC will provide live national coverage from 4:30 to 6 p.m. EST.
The Jan. 19 retirement of two-time defending champion Colonel Liam with an ankle injury means the Pegasus Turf will have a new winner this year. Colonel Liam beat Never Surprised in 2022 after defeating Largent in 2021 – all three horses trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher.
Despite the absence of Colonel Liam, Todd Pletcher can win a third straight Pegasus Turf with Repole Stable, St. Elias Stable and Gainesway Stable’s Wit. A two-time graded-stakes winner on dirt, the 4-year-old Practical Joke colt won the Better Talk Now, was second in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame (G2) and Bryan Station (G3), and third by less than a length to Speaking Scout in the Hollywood Derby in his four turf tries.
Jose Ortiz has the assignment on Wit from the rail at morning-line odds of 8-1.
Also among the dozen contenders are multiple graded-stakes winners City Man and Decorated Invader, both trained by Christophe Clement, who respectively ran 1-2 in Gulfstream’s Dec. 31 Fort Lauderdale (G2).
Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Peter and Patty Searles’ City Man is a 6-year-old New York-bred son of Mucho Macho Man, the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner also campaigned by Dean and Patti Reeves. City Man enters the Pegasus Turf riding a three-race win streak, all in stakes.
“We’re looking forward to it. This is a tough group of horses in there, but I think we’re up to the challenge,” Dean Reeves said. “I would love to get a Grade 1 for him. That would really, really be nice.”
Needing less than $13,000 to become a millionaire, City Man made his Gulfstream debut in the Fort Lauderdale, where he overcame an early bump to get an ideal inside stalking trip under Joel Rosario before finding room late and scooting through to win by 1 ½ lengths. Rosario returns to ride City Man, who was assigned outermost Post 12 Sunday and was made the 4-1 second choice on the morning line during Sunday’s post position draw. Rosario has won six stakes on City Man.
“The ride by Joel was fabulous to set him up really well and give him a chance. Even for him to get a Grade 2 win, that’s important. That was just a big, big effort. I think it showed us that we can run him the rest of this year in some other Grade 1 and Grade 2 races,” Reeves said. “I think he showed winning the Grade 2 that he likes the track and he’s good enough to compete in this group.”
West Point Thoroughbreds, William Freeman, William Sandbrook and Cheryl Manning’s Decorated Invader drew outermost Post 12 in the Fort Lauderdale but was able to get into a pressing position in second and stayed there, yielding late but holding off Street Ready by a neck for the place.
The 6-year-old Decorated Invader earned Grade 1 credentials as a 2-year-old in the 2019 Summer (G1) at Woodbine, his third career start. Fourth by less than two lengths following a troubled trip in the Breeders’ Cup, he reeled off three straight wins to start his 2020 campaign – the Cutler Bay at Gulfstream and back-to-back Grade 2 stakes in New York.
Decorated Invader has a win and two seconds from four starts this year since coming back from a 16-month break between starts in a one-mile optional claiming allowance Sept. 24 at Pimlico, where he closed to within a nose of winner English Tavern.
“He’s got all the attributes you’d want in a racehorse. He’s a big, strong, good-looking thing, he has tactical speed and a great turn of foot. Seeing get back to that level has really been monumental for us,” West Point executive vice president Tom Bellhouse said. “To have a chance to run in the Pegasus is quite a dream.”
Decorated Invader will have Junior Alvarado aboard from Post 9.
2023 Pegasus World Cup Picks and Wagering Guide
The narrow 5-2 program favorite for the Pegasus Turf is Bonne Chance Farm and Stud RDI’s Ivar, a Brazilian-bred multiple Group 1 winner in Argentina that has won three of 12 starts in the U.S. topped by the 2020 Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) at Keeneland. He has run in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) each of the last three years, running third in 2021 and fourth in 2020 and 2022, the latter to Eclipse Award finalist Modern Games. Ivar’s total margin of defeat in those races was 4 ½ lengths.
“I think his [last] race was very good,” trainer Paulo Lobo said. “He lost to a very top horse. Javier Castellano was riding him for the first time. He rode a very good race, and since then we’ve pointed for the Pegasus Turf and we’ve never missed a day and never had a bad day. Everything that we planned is happening, no problems.”
Hall of Famer Castellano will climb back aboard Ivar from Post 10.
Third choice at 6-1 in the Pegasus Turf is Charles Fipke’s Grade 1-winning homebred Lady Speightspeare, entered to face males for the first time. The 5-year-old daughter of champion Speightstown owns seven wins from 13 career starts, six of them in graded-stakes including the 2020 Natalma (G1) at Woodbine second time out. Last time out she had a three-race win streak snapped when third by 1 ½ lengths at odds of 32-1 in the 1 3/16-mile Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1).
Luis Saez, up in the Breeders’ Cup, returns from Post 6 for Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield.
Another pair of stablemates, Graham Motion-trained Speaking Scout and Hurricane Dream, are also entered in the Pegasus Turf. Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ Speaking Scout won two of his last three starts to end 2022, the Hawthorne Derby and Hollywood Derby (G1), both at 1 1/8 miles, the latter at Del Mar Dec. 3. In between, the 4-year-old Mr Speaker gelding was second by a half-length as the favorite in Santa Anita’s Twilight Derby (G2).
The Pegasus Turf will be Speaking Scout’s first race over older horses. Paco Lopez rides from Post 7 at morning-line odds of 8-1.
“He’s such a versatile horse. He’s gotten a lot of confidence in his last three races,” Eclipse founder and president Aron Wellman said. “He really broke through in the Hawthorne Derby. We sent him out to California and he just got tagged on the wire in the Twilight Derby and then came back and really validated his quality in the Hollywood Derby.
“Those are all against straight 3-year-olds and this will be is foray into the land of older horses, which is a whole different kettle of fish. But, there’s no telling where his ceiling is right now,” he added. “There aren’t that many options for him at present and he’s doing great, so with a million dollars on the line we figured there’s a whole lot to gain and not a whole lot to lose.”
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Bred in France, Hurricane Dream will be making its North American debut in the Pegasus Turf for Team Valor International. The 6-year-old gelding won six of 18 starts in Europe where he was group-stakes placed four times, most recently beaten a head when second in the one-mile Brunner Oettingen Rennen (G2) last September in Germany.
“I brought him over here because I think he’s a good horse anywhere between a mile and a mile and a half,” Team Valor founder and CEO Barry Irwin said. “He’s very competitive with the best middle-distance horses in France. He just can’t quite beat them. He’s been working with Highland Chief, who won the Man o’ War [G1] last year, and I think he could be that caliber of horse.”
European champion jockey Frankie Dettori rode Hurricane Dream in Germany and gets a return call from Post 4. They are 15-1 on the morning line.
Jordan Wycoff’s Atone, 12-1 on the morning line, will join an exclusive group as just the sixth horse to compete in the Pegasus Turf more than once. The others are Channel Cat (2020, 2022), Colonel Liam (2021-22), Cross Border (2021-22), Next Shares (2019-21) and Sacred Life (2020, 2022).
Trained by Mike Maker, who won the 2020 Pegasus Turf with Zulu Alpha and also had Cross Border, Atone has yet to win a graded-stakes but has placed four times including a second in the 2021 Fort Lauderdale at Gulfstream as a prep for his fourth-place finish in last year’s Pegasus Turf, when he was beaten 1 ¾ lengths. He followed up by running fourth by a length in the Maker’s Mark Mile (G1).
Atone will be making his first start since a font-running 3 ½-length optional claiming allowance triumph going 1 1/8 miles Nov. 10 at Aqueduct. Irad Ortiz Jr., favored to win his fourth Eclipse Award as North American’s champion jockey, rides from Post 3.
“He didn’t have the cleanest of trips last year. He had a little trouble, but he seemed to get over the surface fine and the distance was perfect. No serious excuses, just maybe got outrun a little bit. Hopefully a little bit cleaner trip this year will help,” Maker’s assistant trainer Nolan Ramsey said. “I think a little freshening, a little bit of time between races, probably helps him a little more this year.”
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Michael Iavarone and partners purchased Chilean-bred Master Piece following the Breeders’ Cup, where the 7-year-old gelding ran eighth in the 1 ½-mile Turf (G1) for 2021 Pegasus World Cup-winning trainer Michael McCarthy, with the Pegasus Turf in mind. A Group 2 winner in Chile, he won the 1 1/8-mile Eddie Read (G2) and was second by a head in the 1 3/8-mile Del Mar Handicap (G2) in his two efforts prior to the Breeders’ Cup.
“He came to us in great shape and we were thankful to get a horse like that. We were surprised to be able to buy a horse like that,” trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said. “He’s two-for-two at a mile and an eighth, and we feel like he goes into the race with a good shot. He’s a class horse, already proven, and we just hope he can run as good for us as he did for Michael McCarthy.”
Rated at 10-1 on the morning line, Master Piece will be ridden by 2020 Pegasus Turf winner Tyler Gaffalione from Post 11.
M Racing Group’s Who’s the Star (20-1) enters the Pegasus Turf off three consecutive graded-stakes wins over Woodbine’s all-weather surface for Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse – the Durham Cup (G3) and Autumn (G2) going 1 1/16 miles and 1 ½-mile Valedictory (G3). The 5-year-old Tonalist gelding is two-for-three on turf including a victory in the 1 ¼-mile Niagara last summer at Woodbine. Canadian champion jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson rides from Post 8.
California Racing Partners, Ciaglia Racing and trainer Ryan Hanson’s One More Bid (20-1) comes into the Pegasus Turf off back-to-back wins, a maiden special weight triumph over older horses at Del Mar and the Mathis Mile (G2) Dec. 26 at Santa Anita in his stakes debut. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, winner of the inaugural 2017 Pegasus World Cup on Arrogate, is slated to ride from Post 5.
Completing the field is Foxbrook Farm’s Good Governance (15-1), who drew into the main body following the defection of Colonel Liam. Bred in England, the 7-year-old was second by a neck in the 2019 Saranac (G3) and third in the 2020 Bernard Baruch (G2), and dead-heated for fourth by less than two lengths in the Fort Lauderdale, his first start for the new connections including trainer Anna Meah. Shaun Bridghoman rides back from Post 2.
On the also-eligible list, in order of preference, are Nice Guys Stables’ King Cause, winner of the 2022 Knickerbocker (G3) last fall at Aqueduct, and Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Steady On, back-to-back runner-up in the Gio Ponti at Aqueduct and Gulfstream’s Tropical Park Derby also trained by Pletcher.
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