The $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park lost much of its luster Thursday when 7-5 morning line favorite Omaha Beach and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Spun to Run were scratched.
Omaha Beach was withdrawn from Saturday’s race after X-rays showed a small fracture in his right hind leg, trainer Richard Mandella told reporters at the Hallandale Beach, Florida, track. The Pegasus was to have been the 4-year-old son of War Front’s final start before being retired to stand at stud at Spendthrift Farm in Lexington, Kentucky.
Earlier Thursday, trainer Juan Carlos Guerrero announced that Spun the Run, the 7-2 second choice, was out after developing a case of the hives.
The departure of Omaha Beach is especially disappointing, given the brilliance he has shown throughout his career.
Among his five victories in 10 starts were the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes and Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, both at Oaklawn Park, and the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship and the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita.
It takes a special horse to win Grade 1 races at 6 furlongs and 1⅛th mile, and he could have added an even rarer feat in last year’s Kentucky Derby. But the 4-1 early favorite had to be scratched in the days leading up to the race after suffering an entrapped epiglottis, a throat problem that makes it difficult for a horse to breathe.
If there’s a silver lining to the scratches, it’s that the 1⅛th-mile Pegasus World Cup is suddenly a wide-open betting affair with the top two choices out. I expect Bob Baffert-trained Mucho Gusto will inherit the favorite’s role, though he won’t be anywhere near as short a price as Omaha Beach would have been.
There’s another new twist that will add to the handicapping challenge: For the first time, administration of race day medication is prohibited in the main event and the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitation immediately preceding it, meaning most of the starters will be making the first start of their careers without the anti-bleeding medication Lasix.
That could lead to horses suddenly being pulled up during the race if they begin to bleed into their airways and experience difficulty breathing.
But despite the uncertainty and loss of the marquee names, the card is still worth betting, as it features nine stakes, capped by the Pegasus races.
#RJhorseracing featured races
Disappointed as they are, the #RJhorseracing handicapping crew is soldiering on and tackling both Grade 1 Pegasus races, the World Cup and the Turf.
In the Turf, a 1 3/16th-mile affair for 4-year-olds and up, the handicapping crew was barely siding with the well-traveled European mare Magic Wand, the 7-2 morning line favorite, over Mo Forza (5-1), who ships in from California riding a four-race win streak. They have Without Parole (4-1) as a distant third pick.
Magic Wand obviously fits at this level and is the only horse in the field we know runs well without Lasix, but she also has a habit of running second. So I’m going to count on her doing that and use the Chad Brown-trained Without Parole on top based on his solid closing third in the Breeders’ Cup Mile in his U.S. debut. I’ll go with Arklow (6-1) to show.
In the Pegasus World Cup, the crowd ’cappers were deadlocked between Mucho Gusto, 9-2 on a morning line that will need to be revised, and Higher Power (6-1). They have Diamond Oops (15-1) close behind in third.
I’ll break the tie and go with Mucho Gusto, who has been freshened for this by trainer Bob Baffert and working lights out at Santa Anita. Adding to my confidence is the presence of the brilliant Irad Ortiz Jr. in the saddle. I’m calling an audible and using Bodexpress (30-1), who might get an easy lead with the scratch of Spun to Run, to place and Tax (8-1) for third.
Ellis Starr’s Pegasus World Cup analysis
Note: Omaha Beach was withdrawn after this article was published. Previous to that, Spun to Run was withdrawn.
There is absolutely no reason Diamond Oops can’t win the Pegasus World Cup Invitational in an upset. First, he’s only raced 12 times and he’s won five of those, including four stakes races, with all five wins coming over the Gulfstream Park main track. His 4-year-old campaign last year was stellar, starting with a win in the Smile Sprint Stakes in June, followed by a bang-up second behind top sprinter Imperial Hint in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Stakes at Saratoga in July, a race in which Diamond Oops earned a career best 117 Equibase Speed Figure. Entered to run in the Phoenix Stakes, a sprint on dirt, on opening weekend at Keeneland last October, trainer Patrick Biancone had also entered Diamond Oops in the tougher Shadwell Turf Mile although the horse had never raced around two turns or on turf. Choosing the latter race, Diamond Oops nearly pulled off the 12 to 1 upset with a valiant effort, finishing second and beaten under a length. One month later in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Diamond Oops lunged at the start and broke poorly to be away eighth, the same position he finished in after never showing any spark. Proving that race to be an exception, last month Diamond Oops duplicated his best figure of 117 when winning the Mr. Prospector Stakes back on the surface he loves, rallying from fifth of six in the early stages. With it very likely Bodexpress will go for the lead from the start as he usually insists upon from the extreme outside and with it just as likely Mucho Gusto and Mr Freeze will be in hot pursuit from outside posts, Diamond Oops can bide his time in the early stages. Likely to put in a strong late run as he did last month in the Mr. Prospector, and with three excellent workouts since last start to show he is in excellent physical condition, Diamond Oops could surprise a lot of bettors and racing fans by winning this race.
Omaha Beach, likely to be the prohibitive betting favorite at post time, has no knocks. Never worse than second in nine races since his third place debut, Omaha Beach might be entering the Pegasus World Cup seeking his seventh straight win if not for being defeated by Spun to Run in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in November. As a newly turned 4-year-old, Omaha Beach may not have run his best but on the other hand his speed figures for all three of his two-turn victories have been 112. This was the same figure earned winning the Malibu Stakes at the end of December, although it must be noted he did earn a career-best 116 figure winning the Santa Anita Sprint Championship in October. Like Diamond Oops, Omaha Beach is stretching out from 7 furlongs to 1 1/8th mile, which is of no concern. Mike Smith, who has been in the saddle in the colt’s last five races including wins in the Arkansas Derby and Malibu, retains the call and should have Omaha Beach in mid-pack in the early stages as they allow the pacesetters and pressers to tire each other out. As such, Omaha Beach has every right to win.
War Story is a “War Horse,” now with 38 races under his belt and nearly $3 million in earnings including the Monmouth Cup Stakes at the distance of the Pegasus last summer. He enters the race off a win in the Harlan’s Holiday Stakes over the track with a 108 figure and he has the right late running style for the likely faster-than-average early pace scenario for this race. When second, beaten a head, in the 2018 Charles Town Classic Stakes at this 9-furlong trip, War Story earned a 118 figure and as it appears he hasn’t lost a step since then. With Joel Rosario taking the call for the first time, we could be kicking ourselves after the race for ignoring his chances at likely double digit odds.
The rest of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Field, with their best Equibase figures, are Bodexpress (116), Higher Power (115), Mr Freeze (115), Mucho Gusto (107), Seeking the Soul (111), Tax (110), Tenfold (105) and True Timber (113).
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.