HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – His Royal Highness Prince Faisal Bin Khaled’s Mucho Gusto made his first start both for his new owner and as a 4-year-old a successful one, taking command off of the far turn and crushing his competition in the stretch to take Saturday’s $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes Presented by Runhappy (G1) at Gulfstream Park.
Breaking swiftly from post 10 as the 3/1 second choice under Irad Ortiz, Jr., Mucho Gusto blitzed ahead to an early lead out of the gate, a critical maneuver due to the short run-up to the clubhouse turn. However, his lead was short-lived because Mr Freeze quickly shot ahead of him along the outside midway through the turn to set the pace.
Under Luis Saez, Mr Freeze posted opening fractions of :23.77, :47.78, and 1:11.84. while Bodexpress pressured him and a stalking Mucho Gusto kept closest watch down the backstretch and into the far turn. Midway through the far turn, Bodexpress began to fade between foes while Mucho Gusto re-bid three-wide with a big effort.
At the top of the stretch, Mucho Gusto stole command away from the pacesetter and quickened his pace immediately, holding a sudden lead by multiple lengths. Mr Freeze and the rest of the 10-horse field attempted to keep pace, but their efforts proved futile.
Drawing clear under a drive in the stretch, Mucho Gusto crossed 4 1/2 widening lengths the best in a final time of 1:48.85 for the 1 1/8-mile event over the fast main track.
“I had a great trip,” said Ortiz, Jr. “He got a great start and felt good. He relaxed so well and we were able to save ground. At the 3/8 pole, I tipped him out and he took off. He was much the best. I think he just took off and opened up easy. He’s a nice horse.”
Despite proving no match for the eventual winner, Mr Freeze refused to give up in the stretch and dug in gamely to fend off a late-rallying War Story to secure second by 3/4 of a length.
“He never gave up,” Saez said. “He was brave. He was trying very hard. I thought we were going to win for a second. He missed the break a little, but then when he saw the clear, he went pretty nice. I felt like he was very comfortable.”
It was the same gap back to fourth-place runner Diamond Oops, a graded stakes-winning sprinter who was stretching out to the farthest distance of his career to date.
“We had a good trip,” said Julien Leparoux, who rode Diamond Oops for the sixth straight time. “We sat right behind the winner, actually, and he made a big run. He ran a good race, first time going 1 1/8 miles, so that was a pretty good race for him.”
Bodexpress faded to fifth after pressing the early pace. Tenfold, Seeking the Soul, True Timber, Tax, and Higher Power – the 5/2 favorite – completed the order of finish.
“We had a good trip,” said Higher Power’s jockey Flavien Prat. “I thought I was in a good position, and when the race started to develop by the 1/2-mile pole, he just dropped the bit and sat back. I don’t know why.”
The two original morning line favorites for the race, Omaha Beach and Spun to Run, were both scratched on Thursday morning for various health concerns.
Mucho Gusto’s win was his first since taking the Lazaro Barrera (G3) and the Affirmed (G3) last summer at his home base of Santa Anita Park. The 4-year-old son of Mucho Macho Man had been sidelined for a freshening after finishing off the board for the first time in the Oklahoma Derby (G3), where he finished fourth, beaten just 2 lengths.
Trained by Bob Baffert and making his first start since Prince Faisal Bin Khaled privately purchased him, Mucho Gusto improved his record to 11-6-2-2 with $2,579,800 earned. The hope now is that he will receive an invitation to the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup next month.
“He has just been training so well,” said Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes, who was onsite taking care of the colt while Baffert remained in southern California. “After that freshening, he really seemed to grow and get back to the way he was when we first got him. Did I think he was going to crush them like that? No. That was impressive.”
Mucho Gusto returned $8.80 to win, $5 to place, and $3.80 to show. Mr Freeze brought back $7.60 to place and $5.20 to show, while War Story paid $6.80 to show.