Saturday’s $3 million dollar, Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Stakes at Gulfstream is one of racing’s big success stories over the past several years. The 1 1/8-mile race for older dirt horses was introduced in 2017 and since then has featured some of the sport’s most popular and accomplished runners.
It’s become one of the annual highlights of the racing calendar and a great way to kick off a new year of top-class horse racing.
1. KNICKS GO [ML 6-5] Jockey: Joel Rosario. Trainer: Brad Cox. The overwhelming favorite for 2021 Horse of the Year is all systems go to close out his career with a repeat win in the Pegasus Saturday. KNICKS GO has not been challenged since Cox moved him back to two-turn races, posting four overpowering Wins after he finished 4th twice in spring and summer 2021 racing around one turn. He made short work of a stellar field in his most recent start, taking the Breeders’ Cup Classic by 2 ¾ lengths after no horse challenged him early. KNICKS GO has never Won a race when he wasn’t leading at the first point of call … but he’s only lost once in such a scenario since Cox took over training in 2020.
2. CHESS CHIEF [ML 10-1] Jockey: Reylu Gutierrez. Trainer: Dallas Stewart. He was originally pointed to the Louisiana Stakes last week at Fair Grounds but instead his connections decided to jump into deeper waters (and compete for a far more lucrative purse) in the Pegasus. At his best, he’s running for 3rd on Saturday and is one of several closers who will be banking on a contested pace duel up front. He enters the Pegasus off of the second Stakes Win of his busy career, closing late to Win the 1 1/16-mile Tenacious Stakes December 26th at Fair Grounds. CHESS CHIEF has never made an impression in races above a Grade 3 level, and filling out the trifecta would be considered a success (with a very nice payday) in the Pegasus.
3. STILLETO BOY [ML 20-1] Jockey: Jose Ortiz. Trainer: Ed Moger Jr. This California shipper has been competitive in major stakes races against top-flight opponents since his breakthrough Win in the Iowa Derby last August. He changed owner and trainer after that race, moved west, and subsequently has hit the board in three out of five Stakes races. It must be noted, however, that he’s not finished closer than 2 ½ lengths out of first in those starts, and that makes this gelding a longshot in Saturday’s Pegasus. STILLETO BOY should appreciate stretching out to two turns in the Pegasus and will be closing from mid-pack and trying to pick off enough tiring horses to fill out the trifecta in a best-case scenario.
4. LIFE IS GOOD [ML 7-5] Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr. Trainer: Todd Pletcher. Unlike KNICKS GO, this lightly raced, newly turned 4-year-old may just be scratching the surface of his talent. Ten months ago, he was the leading contender for the 2021 Kentucky Derby following two prep Wins at Santa Anita Park, but he was sidelined in late March with a hind-end injury. After missing all of the Triple Crown races, he was transferred to trainer Todd Pletcher over the summer. He romped in the one-turn mile Kelso Handicap in September at Belmont, then stretched back out to two turns in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Del Mar and dominated by 5 ¾ lengths. He earned a 120 speed figure in the BC Dirt Mile, that being the highest in the Pegasus field.
5. EMPTY TOMB [ML 20-1] Jockey: Paco Lopez. Trainer: Robert Falcone Jr. EMPTY TOMB comes into the 2022 Pegasus in good form, having Won an Allowance optional-claiming race last November at Aqueduct by overcoming a contested pace and then finishing 2nd in the Queen’s County Stakes on December 19th at the same track. He’s facing a huge class test in the Pegasus and his forwardly-placed running style may also work against him when he attempts to match strides with the top two. He’s had a solid career racing mainly in the Allowance ranks with a few Stakes tries and would have to run a career-best race to hit the bottom reaches of the board Saturday. EMPTY TOMB will get a couple calls early on in the Pegasus with aggressive jockey Paco Lopez in the irons, but not in the homestretch.
6. SIR WINSTON [ML 12-1] Jockey: Edwin Gonzalez. Trainer: Mark Casse. The 2019 Belmont Stakes Winner rebounded after a sub-par 4-year-old season in 2020 to post four consecutive 100-plus speed figures in his 2021 starts, Winning half of them including the Valedictory Stakes at Woodbine on December 5th. Aside from KNICKS GO and LIFE IS GOOD, SIR WINSTON has the most class in the field, and 1 1/8 miles is certainly in his wheelhouse. Look for Gonzalez, who will be riding SIR WINSTON for the first time, to settle him in a stalking spot behind the leaders and in position to sweep into contention as the field hits the stretch. If one of the two favorites falters and SIR WINSTON can maintain his strong form on the surface switch, he could complete the exacta at a solid price.
7. TITLE READY [ML 20-1] Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione. Trainer: Dallas Stewart. This 7-year-old, has earned more than $670,000 by consistently picking up minor awards in Stakes races with rare trips to the Winner’s Circle. His breakthrough Stakes Win actually came early last year, a 1 ¼-length score in the Grade 3 Louisiana Stakes, and it was his only Victory in four 2021 starts. TITLE READY usually makes up some late ground in his races but he does not have a particularly swift turn of foot and, in his two prior starts against elite competition – a 7th-place finish in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Classic and an 11th place finish in last spring’s Dubai World Cup – he was completely overmatched.
8. ENDORSED [ML 20-1] Jockey: Umberto Rispoli. Trainer: Mike Maker. He’s assembled a solid career through four seasons on the racetrack, winning rarely but usually running well enough to pick up a check in allowance races and occasionally in stakes. He’s come in second twice in Grade 3 races, including his last start, where he closed late but came up three-quarters of a length short in the seven-furlong Mr. Prospector Stakes at Gulfstream on December 11th. He’s only made two starts in two-turn races since August 2020, and was well beaten in both of them, but ENDORSED ran well several times in routes before that, including a two-length score in a Gulfstream Allowance race just over two years ago.
9. COMMANDEER [ML 30-1] Jockey: Julien Leparoux. Trainer: James Toner. This guy makes his Stakes debut Saturday in a very difficult spot, coming into the Pegasus off of two consecutive Wins in 1 1/16-mile Allowance races at Laurel Park and Churchill Downs, respectively. He rallied from off of the pace in both Victories and figures to try the same tactics in the Pegasus, and he clearly prefers racing around two turns. Overall, though, his speed figures are way below what will be needed to finish in the top three (or four or five) when all is said and done.
SUMMARY: KNICKS GO enters this race as the Breeders’ Cup Classic Champion. He also Won last year’s edition of the Pegasus World Cup, as well as the Whitney Stakes (G1) in August to make himself the probable Horse of the Year.
LIFE IS GOOD Won only one Grade 1, the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. He looked great doing it though, when dominating by 5 3/4 lengths.
Earlier in the season, LIFE IS GOOD lost the H. Allen Jerkens Stakes (G1) by a neck to JACKIE’S WARRIOR. Besides those Grade 1 efforts, he also Won the Sham Stakes (G3), San Felipe Stakes (G2) and Kelso Handicap (G2).
Not a lot of Value here folks- it happens. So use both KNICKS GO and LIFE IS GOOD in horizontal wagers and find some Value in other legs of the Pick 4 and 5.
Best of luck no matter how you play it.