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Sharp Azteca, Collected Ensure Fast Pegasus World Cup Pace

by Brian Nadeau

January 11, 2018

While there’s still over two weeks before the second Pegasus World Cup is run January 27 at Gulfstream Park, the main protagonists have been confirmed, and while soon-to-be Horse of the Year Gun Runner rates an obvious odds-on favorite for the lion’s share of the $16 million purse, there’s no shortage of talent—or pace—signed on, so with that in mind, let’s take a look at how the richest 1 1/8-mile race figures to be run.

First off, let’s get a quick run down of the field, which is led by Gun Runner, who won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but will also consist of the first four he vanquished, in Collected, West Coast, War Story and Gunnevera. Also confirmed are Sharp Azteca, Seeking the Soul, Stellar Wind and Toast of New York. As of this time, three slots remain open, but figure to be filled by entry time.

The obvious big news is that Sharp Azteca, the best one-turn horse in the country, is coming and stretching out to 1 1/8 miles. And while he’s done the majority of his heavy lifting going that aforementioned one-turn, he has won at two turns before and the fact he’s coming out of some fast-paced one and two-turn runs say he’s going to be on the front end. And while Gun Runner has shown the ability to lay off horses a tad, there’s no doubt his best runs have come on the engine, and his tour-de-force in the Classic backs that up. So, right off the bat, it’s pretty obvious that nothing is going to be given away in the Pegasus and the pace is going to be hot.

But we’re not done, as Collected, who chased Gun Runner the entire way around in the Classic, will do the exact same thing in the Pegasus. If you’re skeptical, look no further than his dismal performance at odds-on when 3rd in the GII San Antonio last month, when he was taken well off-the-pace for some reason. His two works since have been blazing, and the it was obvious the rating didn’t work last time, which means it’s go-time early in the Pegasus.

West Coast is no slouch early either, and while he’s not likely to be in front, his tactical speed, especially cutting back to 1 1/8 miles, will put him close throughout. And don’t forget, he’s also entering the Pegasus fresh off his Classic 3rd, which was his first start against older horses, so not only does he have a ton of upside, but he’s got reason to be a bit keyed up early on too.

Heck, even the wildcard—the resurrected Toast of New York—won his return off over a three-year layoff on the front-end going 1 ¼ miles in Europe, and he chased Bayern the entire way around in 2nd in the 2014 Classic, so he’s not going to be too far off early either.

None of the other runners have the speed of the first four mentioned above, nor the winning chances, for that matter, but they could all benefit if things get too hot and bothered. That fact is emboldened a bit more when you consider said four horses will the most speed are all by far the best horses with the most speed, which says things could certainly get contested early, and maybe even a little out of hand.

The good news for handicappers is the Pegasus will be carded late in the day, after several dirt races have been run, which will allow you to properly scrutinize the track, and how it may be playing. Gulfstream can be very speed-favoring, but if the track is fair, it could put in-form stalker/closers like War Story, Seeking the Soul and maybe even Gunnevera and Stellar Wind into the picture late.

There’s little doubt that Gun Runner is the most likely winner of the Pegasus, but there’s also little doubt that his swan song isn’t going to be easy. So, when he’s sitting up on the board at 2/5, playing against someone who will really have to earn up front, with a bevy of stars either in front, pressing or chasing him, sounds pretty appealing.