Following the high-profile defections of Omaha Beach (War Front) and Spun to Run (Hard Spun) earlier this week, the GI Runhappy Pegasus World Cup appeared to be a wide-open affair. But apparently nobody told Mucho Gusto (Mucho Macho Man). Sent off the 3-1 second choice behind Higher Power (Medaglia d’Oro), who went off at 5-2, Mucho Gusto took over with consummate ease, strolling home an 4 1/2-length winner over pacesetting Mr Freeze (To Honor and Serve). It was 3/4 of a length farther back to War Story (Nothern Afleet).
“Those are the most exciting ones, when you don’t expect it,” said Baffert, speaking via telephone from California. It was Baffert’s second win in the race after taking the inaugural edition with Arrogate in 2017.
Mucho Gusto broke like a shot from post 10 and was hustled over to the inside by the piping-hot Irad Ortiz Jr. navigating the first turn. He was soon headed by Mr Freeze and Bodexpress (Bodemeister) through an opening quarter in :23.77, and Higher Power ranged up to the outside flank of Bodexpress following a :47.78 half. The two front runners spurted a length clear approaching the quarter pole, and while Mucho Gusto kept pace with the leaders, Higher Power began his backward retreat. Three-abreast with the pacesetters at the quarter pole, the chestnut quickly catapulted past those two, was clear at the top of the lane and was given a pair of left-handers and one on the right, but those seemed more for reassurance as he glided home a much-the-best winner.
“I had a great trip,” said Ortiz Jr., who earned his second consecutive Eclipse Award Thursday night. “He got a great start and felt good. He relaxed so well and we were able to save ground. At the three-eighths 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.”
Baffert was equally pleased with his charge’s performance.
“[Mucho Gusto] looked great in the warm up, and Irad Ortiz did a pretty masterful job,” he said. “He had me a little bit worried the way he was down inside like that, but he knew what he was doing. When he tilted out at the quarter pole, all I could say was ‘Damn I wish I would have flown down there!’. But it was pretty exciting.”
A graded stakes winner and Grade I placed at two, the chestnut took the Robert B. Lewis S. at Santa Anita in February before finishing third in the GIII Sunland Derby the following month. Victorious in the GIII Laz Barerra S. and GIII Affirmed S., he found subsequent 3-year-old champion Maximum Security (New Year’s Day) too tough in the July 20 GI Haskell Invitational S. Third in the 10-furlong GI Travers S. Aug. 24, he rounded out the season with a fourth-place finish in the GIII Oklahoma Derby Sept. 29. Given time some time off and purchased privately by HRH Prince Faisal bin Khaled in the interim, Mucho Gusto recorded three consecutive bullet breezes recently, including a five-furlong move in :59 4/5 (1/58) Jan. 4 (XBTV) followed by a six-panel work in 1:12 4/5 (1/4) Jan. 10 (XBTV).
“The horse shipped really well and I wasn’t really planning on taking him there, but he worked really well the other day,” said Baffert, explaining the decision to ship in for the race. “I was going to run in the [GII] San Pasqual next week, but after he worked so well, I thought you know what, I’m just going to take a shot at the mile and an eighth and maybe that will get him ready. He didn’t get an invite to the Saudi Cup, so I thought maybe if he runs well enough, he’ll get an invitation. Who would know that the race fell apart [with the scratch of Omaha Beach and Spun to Run], unfortunately.”
When asked about his pre-race instructions, Baffert added, “The way he broke, I told Irad to warm him up well so that he would get away from there and he did. He could have won from the 12 hole. He just showed up. We’ve always wanted to see him run a race like that, but he got beat by Maximum Security, he’s been chasing some really good horses. It was a different field today. I want give a shout out to Flavien [Prat]. He worked him for me and was going to ride him in the San Pasqual.”
The win was the first Grade I as a sire for Mucho Macho Man, who stands at Adena Springs. Purchased for $625,000 by Michael Lund Petersen at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale in 2018, he was the highest-priced offspring by the sire that season. He was also a $14,000 Keeneland January and $95,000 Keeneland September yearling. He RNAd for $55,000 at OBSMAR before his trip through the FTMMAY sale. This is one of two winners for the mare, Itsagiantcauseway, who is also represented by a Jack Milton colt of 2018 and an Alpha filly of 2019. She was bred to Curlin for the 2020 season.
PEGASUS WORLD CUP INVITATIONAL S. PRESENTED BY RUNHAPPY-GI, $2,940,000, Gulfstream, 1-25, 4yo/up, 1 1/8m, 1:48.85, ft.
1–MUCHO GUSTO, 124, c, 4, by Mucho Macho Man
1st Dam: Itsagiantcauseway, by Giant’s Causeway
2nd Dam: Countervail, by Seeking the Gold
3rd Dam: Strike a Balance, by Green Dancer
1ST GRADE I WIN. ($14,000 Ylg ’17 KEEJAN; $95,000 Ylg ’17
KEESEP; $55,000 RNA 2yo ’18 OBSMAR; $625,000 2yo ’18
EASMAY). O-HRH Prince Faisal Bin Khaled; B-Teneri Farm Inc.
& Bernardo Alvarez Calderon (KY); T-Bob Baffert; J-Irad Ortiz,
Jr. $1,800,000. Lifetime Record: 11-6-2-2, $2,579,800.
‘TDN Rising Star’ Werk Nick Rating: B+. Click for the
eNicks report & 5-cross pedigree.
2–Mr Freeze, 124, h, 5, To Honor and Serve–Heavenly Cat, by
Tabasco Cat. ($75,000 Ylg ’16 KEESEP). O-Bakke, Jim and
Isbister, Gerald; B-Siena Farms LLC (KY); T-Dale L. Romans.
3–War Story, 124, g, 8, Northern Afleet–Belle Watling, by
Pulpit. ($90,000 Ylg ’13 KEESEP; $58,000 RNA 2yo ’14
OBSMAR; $51,000 2yo ’14 EASMAY; $545,000 RNA 3yo ’15
FTKHRA). O-Imaginary Stables and Ellis, Glenn; B-Jack Swain
(KY); T-Elizabeth L. Dobles. $300,000.
Margins: 4HF, 3/4, 3/4. Odds: 3.40, 7.30, 15.60.
Also Ran: Diamond Oops, Bodexpress, Tenfold, Seeking the Soul, True Timber, Tax, Higher Power. Scratched: Spun to Run, Omaha Beach. Click for the Equibase.com chart, the TJCIS.com PPs or the free Equineline.com catalogue-style pedigree. VIDEO, sponsored by Fasig-Tipton.