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The 2023 Preakness Stakes (G1) winner National Treasure arrived at Gulfstream Park from Southern California Tuesday evening to prepare for a start in Saturday’s $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) under the supervision of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s longtime assistant Jimmy Barnes.
National Treasure has been installed as the 9-5 morning-line favorite in a field of 12 older horses in the headliner of a 13-race program that will also feature the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1), the $500,000 Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf Invitational (G2), and four other graded stakes.
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National Treasure, who captured the 2023 Preakness in front-running fashion, came up just a nose short achieving a front-running triumph last time out in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Santa Anita, having to settle for second behind Cody’s Wish. The 4-year-old son of Quality Road will seek to give Baffert his third Pegasus World Cup win, following in the hoofprints of Arrogate (2017) and Mucho Gusto (2020).
Baffert has been one of the most enthusiastic, as well as successful, supporters of the Pegasus World Cup, in which he has been represented by two winners and two second-place finishers.
“Gulfstream, the Stronach Group, the 1/ST group, they put on a great show. It’s developing,” he said. “You’ve got that, you’ve got the Triple Crown series, the Breeders’ Cup. It’s good to have something like this to kick it off.
“Gulfstream has done a good job the way it’s marketed. it’s a good day and it’s fun. I remember going down there. I got beat, I ran second, but Post Malone was there. It’s always been a great party, a good atmosphere, making racing cool,” Baffert added. “It’s a cool sport. I think that’s what they’re trying to get across, and it is. It’s our time to shine down there in Florida.”
Baffert also credited the Pegasus World Cup as a ‘stallion maker’ while keeping older horses like National Treasure in training longer.
“I think he’s getting better, and you’re supposed to wait until they’re four, but unfortunately a lot of the good horses had to retire because they are so valuable. When they’re four, you’re going to have a big, stronger horse, a better horse,” Baffert said. “I think he’s the only one left that ran in those [Triple Crown] series. But he’s getting better. We’ve taken our time. We’ve spotted him right. I’ve let him really mature on his own. This is a perfect scenario for him, a perfect spot to come back.”
National Treasure will break from the No. 7 post position under Flavien Prat.
Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano enjoyed a career resurgence in 2023, winning the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Belmont (G1) for the first time to complete a personal Triple Crown, and enhancing his Saratoga record with a seventh victory in the Travers (G1).
The 47-year-old Venezuela native captured the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs with Mage, the third leg of the Triple Crown at Belmont and the Midsummer Derby at Saratoga aboard Arcangelo.
Though his number of overall wins (146) was less than half of his career high (362) set in 2013 – the first of four straight years that ended with an Eclipse Award – Castellano banked $19.5 million in purses, his best year since topping $25 million in 2019.
“I’ve been very fortunate and blessed in this business. A lot of trainers, a lot of owners give me the opportunity to ride the best horses on the grounds,” Castellano said. “We’re looking forward to 2024 and hopefully we keep the momentum from races like the Kentucky Derby, the Travers, the Belmont Stakes, all those big races … and the horses keep developing for the 2024 big races.”
Castellano will be a prominent player Saturday at Gulfstream Park with mounts on Il Miracolo in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) presented by Baccarat, Main Event in the $1 million 1/ST Bet Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) and Full Count Felicia in the $500,000 TAA Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G2).
This will be the fifth time for Castellano riding in the Pegasus World Cup, having won with City of Light in 2019 and finishing second with West Coast (2018), fourth with Keen Ice (2017) and 11th with O’Connor (2023).
Il Miracolo, based at Gulfstream with trainer Antonio Sano, comes into the Pegasus having won the Smarty Jones (G3), run second by a head in the Fayette (G2) and third in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) and Clark (G2) to cap his 2023 campaign.
“The Pegasus is a race we all look forward to. I was able to win a couple of years ago with City of Light. He was very impressive that day, and now this year, I have the opportunity to ride one of the best horses, and hopefully everything falls in the right direction,” Castellano said. “You’ve got to be there to win the Pegasus. It’s an exciting race. We’re all looking forward to 2024 and hopefully starting off on the right foot.”
Castellano has ridden in the Turf four times, his best finish a second aboard Ivar last January. This year he will be on Main Event, a front-running winner of Gulfstream’s Pegasus Turf prep, the Dec. 30 Fort Lauderdale (G2), by a head over late-running Kingmax, who also returns in the Turf.
“When he saw [Kingmax] coming on the outside he liked to engage a little bit and he finished strong. Going into the Pegasus Turf he’s going to be really comfortable,” Castellano said. “It’s going to be a step up a little bit. We all do the big races this time of the year you have to show up. I have a lot of confidence in my horse that he can do it.”
The Filly & Mare Turf will be Castellano’s second time riding Full Count Felicia and first since they ran second in a six-furlong maiden special weight on the grass in April 2022 for previous trainer Chad Summers. Moved that summer to Maryland-based Brittany Russell, who has a string at Gulfstream this winter, Full Count Felicia has won five of seven starts including the 1 1/8-mile All Along in September at Pimlico and one-mile Suwannee River (G3) Dec. 30 at Gulfstream.
“Pegasus World Cup is an amazing [day]. A lot of people show up, friends and family. A lot of people come to the races and enjoy the beautiful sunshine,” Castellano said. “This is one of the best times of the year to be here in South Florida and see some of the best horses on the grounds.”
Castellano, 46, has won 5,747 races and is approaching $400 million in purse earnings during a U.S. career that began in South Florida in 1997. The two-time Preakness (G1) winner remains as humble and genuine as when he was starting out.
“This game is very unpredictable. It seems to me that’s one of the things that’s really, really good about the sport. One day you can be on the bottom and one day you can be on the top,” Castellano said. “You have to be consistent. You have to be disciplined and detailed and show up every single day. You never know what door is going to open.
“You have to deliver. You have to be consistent. You have to be positive every single day. You never know what kind of horse you’re going to ride and what kind of horse is going to win the Kentucky Derby,” he added. “If somebody told me, ‘You’re going to win your first Kentucky Derby [and] your first Belmont,’ I wouldn’t have believed it. But I’ve been disciplined, been doing the right things and trying to find the right horses and do my homework. It paid off. I was very lucky.”
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