Pegasus World Cup (Grade 1)
WHEN a feature race is won in some style by four and half lengths you don’t expect it to be a surprise winner that very few had mentioned in the pre-race build up.
Add in a famous trainer like Bill Mott and that the horse had previously won a prestigious race in the 2021 Grade 1 Woodward Stakes, then how did he start neglected at near 16/1?
Firstly, with some of US racing’s biggest names off to retirement, the $2,944,00 Pegasus World Cup Invitational was a wide-open affair. And secondly, those to the head of the betting underperformed.
With Junior Alvarado aboard, Bruce Lunsford’s homebred Bernardini horse Art Collector let Defunded, one of the more fancied runners, push pacesettering outsider Stilleto Boy through the early furlongs. The six-year-old then came along strong in the stretch to pick up the pieces.
Favourite Cyberknife never got into contention and was well back in sixth on his final start before retiring to stand the 2023 season at Spendthrift Farm.
Defunded (Bob Baffert) took second, followed by 45/1 shot Stilleto Boy and the Frankie Dettori-ridden 51/1 shot Last Samurai. Proxy lost touch before the bend but ran on late for fifth.
Bill Mott explained the quieter path to success. “We were going to target the Harlan’s Holiday earlier in the meet but I felt he wasn’t quite ready for that, and Bruce said he was okay with waiting for the Pegasus.
“His former rider selected another horse and Junior rode him just the way it was scripted. It’s all about saving energy. He had something left turning for home.
Alvarado added: “Sometimes, when you open the gates, plans change but everything worked out today. He gave me a hell of a run from the quarter pole.”
Art Collector won for the 11th time on his 21st start. He had been an impressive winner of the Blue Grass Stakes in Keeneland as a three-year-old beating the filly Swiss Skydiver but that season tailed away despite a fourth in the Preakness.
He has won the last two renewals of the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic Stakes from the front so the ability is still there. The Pegasus purse pushed his earnings over $4 million.
Lunsford gave his trainer credit for a change in tactics. “Bill and I go way back. We talked about it and I give Bill full credit for this. He said, ‘Let’s try something different. Let’s lay off and see what happens.’ And he just got better and better.”
Lunsford said he will defer to his trainer in deciding what’s next for Art Collector. Last year he finished 12th in the $20 million Saudi Cup in February in his first start after finishing sixth in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Atone, a six year-old Into Mischief gelding relied on late speed to rally in the stretch and edge past Ivar for a three-quarters-of-a-length victory under Irad Ortiz Jr. in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Turf Invitational Stakes.
“I’ve been bragging on the horse for a while and he finally backs me up today,” trainer Mike Maker said. “Since we’ve had him, he’s been a cool horse and he’s trained fabulously. He doesn’t quite get there (all the time), but he got a perfect ride. He was a hard luck horse last year and today was his day.”
Saturday’s nine-furlong turf test was the gelded son of Into Mischief’s first graded stakes win, he had been knocking on the door with graded placings for the past year.
As the leaders began to falter in the stretch, it was Ivar and Javier Castellano who had first run and they grabbed a lead at the two-furlong pole.
Ortiz bided his time with Atone until the top of the stretch when he swung him out and took flight after Ivar. Sixth with a furlong to go, Atone kicked into top gear and passed Ivar in the final strides.
“It was perfect,” said Ortiz, winning the Pegasus Turf for the third straight year. “Every step of the way, I was so happy. I waited and was able to tip out without checking, and when I got clear, my horse was right there.”
In the fillies’ highlight, Queen Goddess raced just off the pace early in the Grade 3 $500,000 Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf Invitational Stakes before rallying on the far turn and taking command in the stretch to deliver a length and a half victory for trainer Michael W. McCarthy, jockey Luis Saez and Eclipse Thoroughbreds and Gary Barber, holding off a stretch challenge from fellow Grade 1 winner Shantisara.
At Oaklawn, some early Kentucky Derby preps got under way and the Bob Baffert-trained Arabian Knight impressed in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes over a mile and half a furlong
The Uncle Mo colt won by five and a half lengths for Zedan Racing Stables under John Velazquez,
Arabian Knight was ineligible though for Southwest Kentucky Derby qualifying points because of Baffert’s two-year suspension by Churchill Downs.
Back home at Santa Anita the Grade 2 San Vincente over seven furlongs, also went to Baffert with Havnameltdown, a colt by Uncaptured.