The Week in Review: How to Fine Tune the Pegasus

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Mucho Gusto | Lauren King

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When The Stronach Group came up with the concept of the Pegasus World Cup, it wanted nothing less than a  race that would immediately become the richest and one of the biggest in the world. It was a commendable try, but now, after four runnings, it's clear that what The Stronach Group was trying to pull off is no longer feasible. The Pegasus, with its reduced purse, might have to settle for being a very good, very rich race.

That doesn't mean that the current format can't be improved upon. The answer is not to throw more money into the purse. That's not going to happen and it probably wouldn't help that much. What they should do is relocate the race on the calendar.

In last week's TDN Writers' Room podcast Gulfstream Park Vice President of Racing Operations Mike Lakow said that moving the races back one or two weeks was under consideration. Why stop there? The Pegasus should be held on the last Saturday in December. The timing would be ideal and a late December Pegasus could give some horses a meaningful last shot to topple their contenders in tight Eclipse Award races.

Normally, all the divisional championships are wrapped up at the conclusion of the Breeders' Cup. The Breeders' Cup was designed to be a championship event, but that doesn't mean that the sport can't have some meaningful events over the last seven weeks on the calendar.

Had the latest Pegasus been run on Dec. 28, 2019, it wouldn't have had any impact on Horse of the Year, which was going to go to Bricks and Mortar (Giant's Causeway) no matter what. But there are years where Horse of the Year and divisional honors aren't so clear cut after the Breeders' Cup. One such division was the Filly and Mare Turf, where Sistercharlie (My Boy Charlie {Ire}) was second in the voting to Uni (GB) (More Than Ready). Owner Peter Brant made no secret of the fact that he badly he wanted an Eclipse Award for his mare. Had the GI Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational been run in 2019, would Brant have entered Sistercharlie against the boys? You never know.

There will be other Sistercharlies, horses that, with one last big Grade I win on their records, would move past their competitors and wrap up a championship. That's exactly the type of scenario that would give the Pegasus the sort of electricity that wasn't there this year.

Even if you take the Eclipse Award argument out of the equation, moving the race to December makes sense. These days, you can't give trainers enough time between races. That's one of the reasons so many top horses weren't pointed to this year's Pegasus. With such a huge purse, the $20-million Saudi Cup became the first priority for several trainers and owners. They didn't want ro run five weeks beforehand in the Pegasus and then ship across the globe to Riyadh.

With the December date, the Pegasus would be seven weeks after the Breeders' Cup and nine weeks before the Saudi Cup. That's exactly the type of schedule most top trainers want these days for their horses.

This was easily the weakest Pegasus run yet, which makes it necessary for The Stronach Group to go back to the drawing board once more to try to find ways to improve the races. One change that is highly unlikely is to bring back the massive purses of 2017 ($12 million) and 2018 ($16 million). The original idea was that the owners would be the ones generating the purse dollars by paying a hefty fee to enter, as much as $1 million. That was never going to work in the long run as the formula made sense only for those who had the favorites. The Pegasus was always going to have a bunch of 30-1 and 40-1 shots and what owner in his right mind would pay $1 million to enter a horse in a race where they had little chance to recoup their investment?

That's why the purses were reduced this year. Obviously, they were having problems attracting horses under the old system. And The Stronach Group is in no position to put up $12 million or $16 million of its own money for a single race. A $3 million race is not as sexy as a $16-million race or the $20 million being offered in Saudi Arabia. But it's still a huge pot, the biggest in the U.S. outside of the Breeders' Cup, and should be enough to attract most of the top horses in training.

With a $16-million purse no longer a realistic option and with the Saudi Cup's massive purse having the effect it has had on the sport, The Stronach Group can only do so much with the race. Move the date back, make all announcements regarding dates, purses, etc. sooner than later and the Pegasus can be a very good, very rich race. There's nothing wrong with that.

The Aidan O'Brien Mystery

Aidan O'Brien may be the best trainer in the world, which is why it is so surprising that he is struggling to win races in North America. O'Brien had two starters on the Pegasus card and two losers as Magic Wand (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) was second in the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational and Simply Beautiful (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) was seventh in the GIII La Prevoyante S. Going back to the start of 2018, O'Brien is 1 for 59 in North America. He was 0 for 28 last year and 1 for 29 in 2018. His last North American winner was Athena (Ire) (Camelot {GB}) in the July 7, 2018 GI Belmont Oaks Invitational.

Would Mucho Gusto Have Beaten Omaha Beach?

The Mucho Gusto (Mucho Macho Man) who came into the Pegasus was a bit of an underachiever. He ran well to be third in the GI Travers S. and second in the GI Haskell Invitational, but didn't get the job done either time. His biggest wins were three victories in Grade III races.

A very different horse showed up Saturday at Gulfstream. With a powerful move, he stormed to the lead nearing the top of the stretch and drew off to win by 4 ½ lengths. Never before had he shown that sort of explosiveness.

That he faced a modest group of opponents that did not include Omaha Beach (War Front) or Spun to Run (Hard Spun) has to be taken into consideration when evaluating hie effort. But he turned in such a big race that it may be that no one could have beaten him in the Pegasus. His winning Beyer number of 107 is better than any number put up by Omaha Beach and in the ballpark of Spun to Run, whose best Beyer was a 110.

Lasix Ban Not a Factor

While two races is an inadequate sample size, the fact that the two Pegasus races went off without a hitch despite the Lasix ban means something. It showed that you can take the drug out of the mix and the world won't come to an end. There were no reports of any Pegasus horse having bled and the races were formful.

If Lasix is banned, here is what is going to happen–nothing. The sport did fine without the drug for 200 years or so and will do just fine without it.

Magic Maker

Mike Maker continues to amaze. He claimed Zulu Alpha (Street Cry {Ire}) Sept. 14, 2018 for $80,000 and the gelding has gone on to win five graded stakes races, including the Pegasus World Cup Turf. Along with the GIII Kentucky Turf Cup, that was his second win in a $1-million race.

Maker has claimed 15 horses that have gone on to win graded stakes races. Each one was claimed for somewhere between $35,000 and $80,000.  Saturday's win was the first in Grade I company for Zulu Alpha, Maker has also win Grade I races with former claimers Al's Gal (English Channel) Bigger Picture (Badge of Silver) and King David (Hat Trick {Jpn}).

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