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Aaron previews the 2024 Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) from Gulfstream Park, then gives his top picks.
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Irish-bred millionaire Warm Heart, a Group 1-winning filly in England and France that is also Grade 1-placed in the U.S. and Hong Kong, will wrap up her world tour as the favorite for one final start in the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) Invitational Saturday, Jan. 27 at Gulfstream Park.
The sixth running of the Pegasus World Cup Turf and the eighth renewal of the $3 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) presented by Baccarat on dirt, both at 1 1/8 miles, and the third edition of the $500,000 TAA Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf (G2) comprise Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup Championship Invitational Series at Gulfstream Park, headlining a blockbuster 13-race program featuring seven graded-stakes worth $5.2 million in purses.
First race post time is 11 a.m. EST. The Pegasus Turf will go off as Race 12, with a scheduled post time of 4:55 p.m. EST. NBC will provide live national television coverage from 4:30 to 6 p.m. EST.
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Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier, Derrick Smith and Westerberg Limited’s Warm Heart can become the first female to win the Pegasus Turf, where she was installed as the 9-5 program favorite during Sunday’s post-position draw at Gulfstream’s Carousel Club. The Coolmore connections, which bred the daughter of Galileo, ran second with filly Magic Wand in both 2019 and 2020.
“It’s a race that we enjoyed going over for back then, and it’s a race we’ve kept a close eye on since. It’s always a very good renewal and it’s a tough race to win,” said Chris Armstrong, racing secretary for Ireland-based trainer Aidan O’Brien. “It would be terrific to go out on a winning note.”
Armstrong said the plan following the Pegasus Turf is to retire Warm Heart, a winner of five of 10 starts and nearly $1.67 million in purses. It will be her second straight race facing males, having finished third in the Hong Kong Vase (G1) Dec. 10 after being beaten a neck by Inspiral in her U.S. debut, the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) Nov. 4 at Santa Anita.
Warm Heart broke her maiden last spring at Leopardstown in Ireland before going to England and winning the Fillies Trial Stakes at Newbury and Ribblesdale (G2) at Royal Ascot. Fifth in the Irish Oaks (G1) at The Curragh, the 4-year-old bay won the Yorkshire Oaks (G1) by a head at York and Prix Vermille (G1) by a neck at Longchamp in France leading up to the Breeders’ Cup.
“She’s covered a lot of miles,” Armstrong said. “She’s a very tough filly. She’s been on the go since early last season, and she’s come through the ranks. Warm Heart has done very well for us. She obviously had a good run at the Breeders’ Cup and then again in Hong Kong. She’s been training well since, and after Hong Kong Aidan thought this would be the perfect spot for her, so it’s all systems go.”
British champion jockey Ryan Moore, aboard for each of the last two starts and five overall, will break from Post 9 in a field of 12 on Warm Heart, who has raced at 1 ¼ miles or farther in seven straight races.
“It is a little short. In an ideal world we would prefer a fraction further, but if there’s a good tempo in the race, it should suit her,” Armstrong said. “She’ll appreciate the track [and] she’ll appreciate the quicker ground. Ryan is looking forward to getting out there to ride her again. It’s just a race that comes up at a good time of year before she’s retired to stud.”
Three other millionaires are set to line up against Warm Heart – defending champion Atone, Grade 1 winner Shirl’s Speight and Grade 2 winner Webslinger.
Three Diamonds Farm’s 7-year-old Atone will be making his third straight start in the Pegasus Turf, having run fourth by less than two lengths in 2022, and can join Colonel Liam (2021-22) as a two-time and successive winner.
“This race was always in the back of our mind. This time of year long-distance turf races are few and far between, especially one with this kind of purse, so that always makes you think about it,” Nolan Ramsey, assistant to trainer Mike Maker, said. “His form wasn’t quite what it was last year, so he really needed to tell us that he was ready to tackle this kind of race.”
Atone (20-1 ML) tuned up for his title defense running third by a length as the favorite in a one-mile optional claimer Dec. 2 at Gulfstream. Paco Lopez is named to ride from the rail.
“I wasn’t completely disappointed with his prep in the allowance. I don’t think it was necessarily the ideal spot, and the way the race unfolded really wasn’t to his advantage,” Ramsey said. “But just the way he came out of the race and being able to have that little bit of extra time from the allowance coming into this race, he showed us he’s ready.”
Charles Fipke’s Shirl’s Speight (15-1 ML), a 7-year-old homebred son of late champion Speightstown, is winless in 10 starts since earning Grade 1 credentials in the 2022 Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland. He has placed in three subsequent stakes, including seconds in the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at odds of 55-1, beaten less than a length, and the Woodbine Mile (G1) last September.
Luis Saez will be in the irons from Post 15.
D.J. Stable’s Webslinger (15-1 ML), trained by Hall of Famer Mark Casse, was third or better in eight of nine starts last year with three wins topped by the 1 1/16-mile American Turf (G2) on the Kentucky Derby (G1) undercard. The 4-year-old Constitution gelding was also second by a head over yielding turf in the 1 3/16-mile Saratoga Derby Invitational (G1) and by a neck in the 1 1/8-mile Hollywood Derby (G1) at Del Mar in his 2023 finale.
“Quite frankly, we were going to give him time off between that race in California and the start of his 4-year-old campaign, but he’s sound and he’s busting the doors down,” D.J. Stable general manager Jonathan Green said. “We want to just continue with that momentum.”
Edgard Zayas has the riding assignment from Post 5.
West Point Thoroughbreds and Woodford Racing’s Integration has the least experience among the Pegasus Turf field but is undefeated through three starts for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey and is a strong second choice on the morning line at 3-1.
By Quality Road, the 4-year-old colt debuted with a win over his elders last August at Colonial Downs, where he was a 1 ¼-length winner of the 1 1/8-mile Virginia Derby (G3) in his second start. A $700,000 Saratoga yearling in 2021, Integration ended his rookie season with a decisive five-length victory in the 1 1/8-mile Hill Prince in mid-November at Aqueduct.
“It’s a big step up. I think we all understand that, but we’ve got to get him going, get him started somewhere and this was kind of the next step. If we can be competitive in here, it can kind of tell us where we need to go,” McGaughey said. “At Aqueduct he broke and he laid about third the whole way, but he could have laid wherever he wanted to. I’m hoping he’ll break like that and put himself in position. Tyler knows this turf course so I’ll leave it up to him. You can’t let yourself get out of position.”
Tyler Gaffalione, aboard for Integration’s 6 ½-length debut triumph, returns from Post 3.
Trainer Chad Brown won the inaugural Pegasus World Cup Turf in 2019 with Bricks and Mortar, who would go on to win each of his next five starts and complete an unbeaten season as Horse of the Year. Brown is represented this year by Irish-bred Grade 1 winner Adhamo and two-time Grade 2-placed I’m Very Busy.
Louis Lazzinnaro, Madaket Stables, Michael Caruso and Michael Dubb’s Adhamo (12-1 ML), approaching the $1 million mark in career purse earnings, was a Group 3 winner in Europe before making his U.S. debut in the winter of 2022. His lone win from nine domestic starts came in the 1 3/8-mile United Nations (G1) in August 2022 at Monmouth Park, though he has run second or third in four other Grade 1 events including last year’s Arlington Million and Canadian International, both at 1 ¼ miles. Most recently he was 10th after pressing the pace in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).
“It was a bit of a jump,” Brown said of the Breeders’ Cup. “He had a nice race coming into it, a couple nice races in a row, and it was just a little too much for him. He’s come out of that, and he’s trained well. He’s another one that really is only effective on very firm ground which he should get at Gulfstream. He’s a bit of a temperamental horse. If he ships down there and behaves himself, I think he can get a piece of it.”
Team Hanley, Richard Schermerhorn and Paul Braverman’s I’m Very Busy (15-1 ML) exits a second to Integration in the Hill Prince. Second by a length as the favorite in the 2022 Pilgrim (G2) over a yielding Aqueduct course in his second career start, the 4-year-old son of 2017 Preakness (G1) winner Cloud Computing, he beat older horses in a one-mile allowance last fall at Aqueduct.
“This is a nice horse. He’s lightly raced. He didn’t have the beginning of his 3-year-old year as good as I hoped last year. It took him a while to get back into form. I lost my way with him a bit and he’s finally found his stride again,” Brown said. “He ran a distant second to a really good horse last time but it was a good race. I think getting on ground that’s a little firmer will help him. He has a huge gap to close on Integration, who’s just a top horse. It’s a big purse. I think the distance will suit him, and even if he got a piece of this race I’d be happy.”
Irad Ortiz Jr., who has won three consecutive runnings of the Pegasus World Cup Turf, has the call on I’m Very Busy from Post 4, while Flavien Prat rides Adhamo from Post 7.
The Pegasus World Cup Turf will also feature the top three finishers from its local prep, the Dec. 30 Fort Lauderdale (G2), in Main Event, Kingmax and Jerry the Nipper.
Harrell Ventures’ Main Event (10-1 ML), winner of the 2022 Kent (G3) at Delaware Park, led every step of the way in the 1 1/8-mile Fort Lauderdale and held off late-running Kingmax by a head under Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano, who gets the return call from Post 11.
“I really liked the horse, the way he did it last time. I was very impressed,” Castellano said. “He dictated the pace on the lead, and the way he galloped along on the lead I liked the way he did it and he finished very well. He’s a very competitive horse.”
AMO Racing USA’s Kingmax (12-1 ML), bred in Ireland and raced in Europe, debuted in the U.S. with a pair of wins at Monmouth Park for trainer Jorge Delgado. Fifth in the 1 1/16-mile Seagram Cup (G2) over Woodbine’s all-weather surface last summer, the 5-year-old returned to the turf for the Fort Lauderdale and added the services of British jockey David Egan, who rides back from Post 6.
“He’s actually doing better than he was going into the last race. He needed that race. There was a long time where he didn’t run,” Delgado said. “He was entered in Kentucky twice and it rained two times, so he couldn’t run. He needed the last race and I think it was a really good effort. He’s sharper now going into this one.”
Repole Stable’s Jerry the Nipper (20-1 ML) found traffic trouble and wound up beaten only a half-length in the Fort Lauderdale for Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher. The 7-year-old son of Liam’s Map – who also sired the Pletcher-trained Colonel Liam – is still seeking his first stakes victory after placing six times against fellow New York-breds.
“He had a tough trip last time and I think with a little smoother journey he could have won. He’s consistent, shows up and tries hard every time. I think if things fall his way he’s got a chance,” Pletcher said. “He’s just a really cool horse. He’s very straightforward. He doesn’t get too excited about the mornings. He’ll work well when you need him to but he kind of goes through his paces in his gallops. He takes care of himself, and it’s great to have him around.”
Regular rider Jose Ortiz will get a leg up for the ninth straight race, breaking from Post 2.
Susan and John Moore’s Catnip (15-1 ML), winner of the 1 1/8-mile Monmouth (G3) last June, ran second in the United Nations and has not raced since finishing eighth in the 1 ¼-mile Arlington Million (G1) at Colonial Downs.
International riding star Frankie Dettori gets the mount for trainer Mike Stidham from outermost Post 12.
The main body of the field is completed by Michael and Jules Iavarone, Nicholas Zoumas, Dino Baccari, Frank Argano and Ten Twenty Racing’s Master Piece (8-1 ML), a Chilean Group 2 winner that was seventh, beaten three lengths, in last year’s Pegasus Turf.
The 8-year-old went on to be third in Gulfstream’s 1 3/8-mile Mac Diarmida (G2) and 1 ½-mile Pan American (G2) last winter, and exits a rallying neck triumph in the Red Smith (G2) at Aqueduct.
Jose Lezcano rides from Post 8.
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