We briefly detour off the road to the Kentucky Derby this week to consider a little contest in Florida coming up next week that carries the distinction of being the richest horse race in the world.
The Pegasus World Cup (Grade 1) still isn’t familiar to many general sports fans, despite what this year will be an astronomical $16 million purse. But in its second year of existence, it’s beginning to generate the sort of hoopla that its creator, auto parts magnate and racetrack owner Frank Stronach, envisioned when he announced the new race in May 2016.
For starters, this year’s 1 1/8-mile race Jan. 27 at Gulfstream Park will be the swan song of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Gun Runner, who also is all but a cinch to win Horse of the Year honors when the Eclipse Awards are handed out Jan. 25. It’s also expected to attract 11 other runners who will try to spoil the 5-year-old’s going-away party as he heads to the breeding shed.
Among the other runners expected to run are the other top finishers in the Breeders’ Cup Classic — Collected, West Coast, War Story and Gunnevera — as well as Cigar Mile (Grade 1) winner Sharp Azteca, Giant Expectations, triumphant in the San Antonio Stakes (Grade 2), Seeking the Soul, upset winner of the Clark Handicap (Grade 1), and the multiple graded-stakes-winning mare Stellar Wind.
We’ll handicap the Pegasus in next week’s column, but first a bit more about some unique aspects of the offspring of Stronach’s fertile mind:
The Pegasus is like no other race in that 12 “shareholders” pay $1 million apiece for a position in the starting gate, which they can then use, lease, sell, trade or otherwise transfer to a horse owner who wants to run but doesn’t have a spot. The Stronach Group, which owns Gulfstream Park, is putting up the other $4 million in the purse.
The other twist is that each starter in the race, which will be broadcast by NBC Sports, will receive at least $650,000, no matter where it finishes. That still leaves a $7 million jackpot for the winner and lesser but still lucrative paydays for the other top finishers.
#RJhorseracing featured races
When there’s an ebb in stakes racing, the #RJhorseracing handicapping corps simply turns to the competitive meat-and-potatoes sort of winter racing offered by venues such as Oaklawn Park.
That’s what’s on the table for Saturday, as we tackle the sixth and seventh races at the Hot Springs, Arkansas, oval.
In the sixth, a mile race for older $30,000 claiming horses, the crowd ’cappers narrowly prefer 4-1 morning line favorite Eton Ridge over Matrooh (9-2), with Snickerboxer (10-1) and Pilot House (12-1) tied for third.
I’m almost in agreement with the gang, but I’ll go with Matrooh over Whole Lotta Luck (8-1).
In the seventh, a six-furlong allowance/optional $40,00 claiming race for older horses, the crew makes no bones about backing Guns Loaded, the 4-1 second choice in the race if second-pick Rocking the Boat (5-2) doesn’t draw in from the also-eligible list. Long Station (6-1) got the nod for third.
“Santa Anita invader for O’Neill/Maldanado; stealing @ 4/1?,” wrote Mas Yoshinaga of the group’s pick.
I’m on board with this one, but I also fear Got Even (9-2) if he draws into the race.
Join us next week as we test our wits on the Pegasus World Cup and one of the great stakes races on the Gulfstream undercard. Email me or follow me on Twitter and let me know you’d like to get involved.