By Bill Finley
The Stronach Group has announced a major overhaul to the format for the GI Pegasus World Cup and the GI Pegasus World Cup Turf at Gulfstream Park, races which will now be run for much smaller purses than previously announced and in which horses cannot compete with Lasix.
The purse for the Pegasus World Cup has been cut from $9 million to $3 million and the Pegasus World Cup Turf will drop to $1 million after being run for $7 million in 2019. However, owners will not have to pay the $500,000 fee that was required to guarantee a spot in the races when they were run in 2019. The 2020 Pegasus races will be held Jan. 25.
The purse reduction could cost the Pegasus what would be its biggest star, Maximum Security (New Year’s Day).
“Cutting the purse to $3 million is an absolute game-changer,” owner Gary West told Blood-Horse. “I wasn’t thinking about the Saudi Cup, but why should I run for $3 million when I can run for $20 million four weeks later? That’s a substantial change, and we don’t know what we’re going to do. There’s now a better than 50/50 chance we’ll go to the Saudi race. You don’t get a horse like Maximum Security that often, and when you have a chance to be one of the favorites in the richest race in the world, you have to consider it.”
Rick Porter, who owns likely Pegasus World Cup starter Omaha Beach (War Front), said the changes will have no impact on his plans.
“The only thing I can think of is that they got in touch with the owners and trainers of all the horses they thought might be running in the Pegasus under the old format and they found out they didn’t have nearly enough,” Porter said. “If that’s true then I think they made the right move to let people know ahead of time that there will be a race, it will be called the Pegasus and that it’s for much less money. Even though this won’t be as big, it will still be an exciting race. Some people are probably disappointed the purse is smaller but some people are probably happy they don’t have to put up $500,000 to run.”
Chad Brown, who won the 2019 Pegasus Turf with Bricks and Mortar (Giants Causeway) and could have one of the favorites for this year’s race in Instilled Regard (Arch), said he still expects to compete in the turf race. But Brown added that in light of the changes, he won’t make any decisions until consulting with his owners.
“I’m disappointed we won’t have the big purses [from 2019] when I was lucky enough to win it,” he said. “We’ll just have to adjust. I’ll discuss things with my clients to see if they still want to run under the new format. In addition to Instilled Regard, I had some other horses I was considering for the race. With the new Lasix rules, I’m going to have to go back and evaluate which horses we will be running and which ones we will not.”
In a press release announcing the changes to the Pegasus, Stronach Group Chairman and President Belinda Stronach said the strict medication rules were part of the Pegasus’s history of being an innovative event.
“We are investing in the future of our sport by creating new opportunities for horsemen and horses to run without medication,” she said. “The Pegasus World Cup Invitational Series has always been about innovation.”
“Running the Pegasus World Cup Invitational and the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational medication-free is a stepping stone to what will be the eventual phase-out of the use of race-day medications for all graded stakes races by 2021 and puts this event squarely in line with the changing culture of our sport,” Dr. Dionne Benson, Chief Veterinary Officer, The Stronach Group said in the same statement. “The health and safety of our athletes, equine and human, are our top priority.”
The Stronach Group also announced that 2% of the total purses for the Pegasus, or $80,000, will be donated to Thoroughbred aftercare.
“The new and exciting medication-free format, along with giving back to horse care, showcases the leadership our industry is taking together to evolve beyond past achievements to create a more modern, sustainable and safer sport,” Stronach said in the release.
With just under six weeks to go before the Pegasus card, the fields for both races remain in flux. One horse who will not be running is GI Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Spun to Run (Hard Spun). Owner Bob Donaldson said he was not planning to run his horse in the Pegasus and had not changed his mind after Sunday’s announcement from Gulfstream. He added that the first major goal for Spun to Run in 2020 could be the G1 Dubai World Cup.
The Pegasus races will also be held under several new rules The Stronach Group has been in the process of implementing after a series of breakdowns earlier this year at Santa Anita. An expanded team of veterinarians will monitor all horses, including those entered on the undercard races, in the barns, during training and on race day. In addition to stringent out-of-competition testing and enhanced medication protocols, including a 14-day stand down on intra articular injections and a 48-hour stand down of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory injections, the complete transparency of veterinary records for the 14-day period leading up to the Pegasus World Cup Championship Invitational Series races will be required for all horses.
The Pegasus races will be broadcast live on NBC from 4:30-6:00 p.m. ET.