One year after Arrogate captured the inaugural edition of the Grade I, $12 million Pegasus World Championship Invitational at Gulfstream Park at the outset of a four-year-old campaign that ended in disappointing fashion, the Hallandale, Florida track will host the second edition of the Grade I affair on the main track – now worth $16 million – and features the horse expected to be named the 2017 horse of the year later that evening.
Saturday’s Pegasus Invitational is the last race of a stellar 12-race program that includes seven other stakes, including a pair of graded events, and it features three horses who won Grade I races in their previous start. Gun Runner, hero of the $6 million Breeders Cup Classic at Del Mar in his most recent start, one in which he solidified honors as 2017 horse of the year and champion older male, will face Seeking the Soul, hero of the Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs in his 2017 finale and Sharp Azteca, handy winner of the Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct in his most recent outing seven weeks ago.
Gun Runner, who won five of six starts and earned $7 million last year and heads into this event having won 11 of 18 career outings and banked $9 million for trainer Steve Asmussen, has won four straight Grade I events since finishing second to Arrogate in the $10 million Dubai World Cup last March. At the time, Arrogate looked well on his way to being horse of the year and perhaps horse of the decade, but the Bob Baffert trainee flopped in his last three starts and was usurped for numerous honors by Gun Runner last fall.
Seeking the Soul has won his last two starts for trainer Dallas Stewart, including the Grade I Clark Hcp at Churchill Downs, but the five-year-old Perfect Soul stallion appears overmatched in this group despite his sudden winning ways. Sharp Azteca ended his prior campaign by taking the Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct for trainer Jorge Navarro and the five-year-old Freud stallion has won three of his last four outings overall. But one-turn mile stakes have been his bread and butter to this point, so the two-turn event at nine furlongs may be beyond his reach.
While Arrogate is retired, Baffert will send out Collected and West Coast in the Pegasus after the tandem finished second and third, respectively, in the Breeders Cup Classic behind Gun Runner. Collected has since finished third as the 3-10 choice in the Grade II San Antonio at Santa Anita, while West Coast, the likely choice for champion three-year-old following a solid campaign when he won both the Grade I Travers at Saratoga and Grade I Pennsylvania Derby at Parx, has been firing bullet workouts at Santa Anita in preparation for his four-year-old debut on Saturday.
Also adding intrigue to the Pegasus is the talented, durable mare Stellar Wind, who flopped in the Breeders Cup Distaff last fall. The six-year-old Virginia-bred daughter of Curlin now trained by Chad Brown won three Grade I races for older fillies and mares last season before her dismal effort in the Breeders Cup Distaff. This will be her first try against male runners and she will obviously have to rebound from her poor effort last fall at Del Mar to have any chance of upsetting Gun Runner and the Baffert tandem.
Those looking to play the horse-for-course angle need look no further than Gunnevera, who sports three wins and $500,000 banked from just seven starts over the Gulfstream Park strip during his career. The four-year-old Dialed In colt won the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes over the track last spring, finished second in the Grade II Holy Bull and was third in the Grade I Florida Derby and later won the listed $100,000 Tangelo Stakes here before running second in the Travers and fifth in the Breeders Cup Classic.
Saturday’s Gulfstream Park card includes a bevy of lucrative stakes on both turf and dirt, but it also features a pair of very intriguing maiden special weight events on the main track, one each for three-year-old fillies and sophomore colts.
In the second race, keep close tabs on debuting runners Cache and Takechargedelilah, who will start alongside one another in posts two and three, respectively, in a seven-furlong maiden special weight event for three-year-old fillies. Cache is a daughter of Distorted Humor out of the Giant’s Causeway mare, Wait Til Dawn, and she fetched a hefty $500,000 at the Keeneland September sales as a yearling. She spent the fall at Belmont Park but has been training smartly for her debut at Gulfstream for trainer Mark Hennig.
Then two races later in a one-turn mile maiden special weight event for three-year-old colts, give Top Secret Indy a close look in his debut. A modest $20,000 Keeneland purchase, Top Secret Indy is a son of Take Charge Indy out of a Storm Cat mare and is trained by Bill Mott, who is no stranger to winning with first-timers at Gulfstream. Mr. Mac, Pendrell Moon and Numero Thirteen, who coincidentally drew post seven, also all make their respective career debuts in this spot and bear watching this weekend and beyond.