The Pegasus World Cup caused a stir in the racing world when it was introduced in 2017 with a record purse of $12 million. It surpassed the Dubai World Cup as the richest horse race in the world and this rocketed to $16 million the following season.
With prize money of $9 million for this year’s race on January 26th, it has now been eclipsed by both the Dubai World Cup and The Everest. However, that does not tell the full story with the $16 million now divided between the World Cup and the inaugural $7 million World Cup Turf Invitational. The new Turf race replaces the Gulfstream Park Handicap and will be run over 1 and 3/16 of a mile, just fractionally further than the dirt race. The organisers have set out to attract the top turf performers in the world to form the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Series. There is the added incentive of a $1 million bonus for any owner who can win both races.
The controversial entry system requires 12 shareholders to pay $1 million to reserve a place in the field. They then have the option to race an unspecified horse, share a starter or lease or sell their entry. This format has been adopted by The Everest, currently the richest turf race in the world. NBC have secured the rights for live coverage of the two races at Gulfstream Park this year in a 90-minute programme starting at 4.30pm.
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The inaugural running of the Pegasus World Cup saw 2014 and 2016 American Horse of the Year, California Chrome, clash with Arrogate, officially the top rated racehorse in the world. The pair had met in the Breeders’ Cup Classic the previous year, Arrogate wearing down California Chrome to win by half a length. They finished more than ten lengths clear of Keen Ice in third place so there was tremendous anticipation ahead of the re-match.
Arrogate started 9-10 favourite with California Chrome as short as 6-5 as punters struggled to separate them. Unfortunately, the great duel failed to materialise with California Chrome looking unhappy from the outset and trailing home a remote ninth under Victor Espinoza. Some fluid was found on his right knee after the race but nothing serious came to light and he was immediately retired to stud.
Mike Smith rode Arrogate with confidence and moved on with three furlongs to travel, eventually being able to ease him down to beat Shaman Ghost by four and three-quarter lengths. Arrogate beat Gun Runner in sensational style on his next start in the 2017 Dubai World Cup at Meydan.
Gun Runner would never be beaten again, winning five consecutive Grade 1 races including the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He made all the running at Del Mar to beat Collected and West Coast with Wart Story back in fourth place. All four horses featured among the 12 entries for the 2018 Pegasus World Cup with Gun Runner starting a heavily backed 11-10 favourite.
He was travelling so comfortably that Florent Geroux allowed him to ease to the front three furlongs out. West Coast tried to go with him but could never land a blow in second with Gunnevara running on to finish a distant third. It was the perfect send-off for Gun Runner who was named American Horse of the Year 2017.
There is no shortage of quality again this year with Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Accelerate set to clash with Dirt Mile winner City Of Light. They fought out a memorable battle for the Oaklawn Handicap in April last year, City Of Light emerging victorious by a neck. Accelerate would gain his revenge next time in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita. City Of Light loomed up with a furlong and a half to travel but his effort petered out, fading into third place.
The Turf International features Yoshida, the winner of the Woodward Stakes in September. He then finished fourth to Accelerate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. His main market rival is Japan’s Mainichi Okan winner Aerolithe, disappointing when beaten in the Mile Championship at Kyoto in November. Further International interest is provided by unbeaten Mexican Champion Kukulkan in the World Cup and Ireland’s Magic Wand in the Turf.
Photo by Gulfstream Park