HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – In multiple graded-stakes winners West Coast and Collected, Bob Baffert has two chances to defend his title in the Grade 1, $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational, the world’s richest Thoroughbred race, to be run January 27 at Gulfstream Park.
Unlike last January, when he brought Arrogate to South Florida on a five-race win streak that included the Breeders’ Cup Classic over older horses, the Hall of Fame trainer enters the second running of the Pegasus under more relaxed circumstances.
A week after being crowned the 3-year-old male champion of 2016, Arrogate rolled to a 4 3/4-length victory in the inaugural Pegasus in a track-record time of 1:46.83 for 1 1/8 miles. Two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome, in his final start, was in striking position on the far turn before fading to ninth.
“I think last year was probably more pressure,” Baffert said. “Arrogate was coming off that brilliant performance in the (Breeders’ Cup) Classic and it was going to be the big showdown with California Chrome. We had a lot of bad weather last year. It was raining every day and I was sneaking works in and had to work on bad racetracks. This year, the weather has been good, and hopefully it’ll stay dry.
“It’s easier when you have those kinds of situations,” he added. “I don’t feel the pressure like I did last year. It was a new race. We didn’t know whether to go down early, and when it started raining, I started thinking maybe I should have gone down there. But, my horses run really well off the plane, so I feel confident doing it that way.”
Gary and Mary West’s West Coast is the favorite to follow Arrogate and be voted the 3-year-old male champion of 2017 after winning six of nine starts and more than $2 million in purse earnings, led by the Grade 1 Travers and the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby to cap a five-race win streak. He finished third behind Gun Runner and Collected in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Speedway Stable’s 5-year-old Collected won his first four starts of 2017, including the Grade 2 Californian, the Grade 3 Precisionist, and the Grade 1 Pacific Classic prior to the Breeders’ Cup. He ended the year a well-beaten third as the favorite under jockey Mike Smith in the Grade 2 San Antonio on December 26 behind Giant Expectations, whose connections are also pointing to the Pegasus.
“Mike Smith said he probably should have gotten a little aggressive leaving there; that horse likes to be put in the race,” Baffert said. “He came back well and got something out of it. We’ll just scratch that race out. He came back and worked really well.”
Collected went 5 furlongs in :59 seconds Wednesday at Santa Anita, the fastest of 57 horses at the distance. The same day, West Coast breezed 6 furlongs in 1:12, best of eight horses.
“He went really well; it was a good, solid work for him,” Baffert said. “We’re starting to step it up. He went an easy 3/4 last week, but he came back and galloped out strong, came back to the barn and was pretty happy, so he’s coming right along.”
Baffert said that West Coast and Collected will each have three more works at Santa Anita before tentatively shipping to Gulfstream on January 18.
“Both of them look like they’re right on schedule,” he said.