Pugh: What we learned from the Pegasus World Cup

January 27, 2019 08:09pm

It’s never easy to see a champion, let alone a crowd favorite like Accelerate, fall as he did in Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup (G1). However, as a whole — and despite the conditions — North America’s richest race provided a thrill when “the other Breeders’ Cup winner” romped to an easy victory.

As the glow of City of Light’s win dimmed, I had conflicting feelings. Here’s what we learned from the Pegasus:

A retirement justified


Since last September’s Awesome Again Stakes (G1), I had seen a decline in Accelerate’s form. In that race and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he lost the potent punch that we saw on display in many of his races earlier in the season, namely the Pacific Classic (G1) win by a record 12 1/2 lengths.

In his three 10-furlong attempts before the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic, Accelerate’s final quarter mile averaged 25.19 seconds. And in his two nine-furlong starts before the Awesome Again Stakes, his average final furlong was 12.23 seconds.

Both numbers are solid, even excellent considering he wasn’t asked in a number of those races.

However, in the Awesome Again, the same spark wasn’t here. Accelerate struggled to win against a short West Coast, getting his last furlong in :13.68 seconds. The Classic ended similarly, with the final quarter mile in 27.03 seconds.

In that sense, Saturday’s Pegasus wasn’t too much of a surprise.

Accelerate ran back to his last two races, if not a little better. The only difference? This time he ran into a horse in City of Light that both trainer Michael McCarthy and jockey Javier Castellano agreed could have taken on any dirt runner in the world Saturday.

A bittersweet end


As much as I think Accelerate has tailed off, and that retirement maybe be the right course for him, I feel the exact opposite about City of Light. 

The son of Quality Road developed into a monster middle distance horse. He had a couple off performances during the late spring and early summer months, but he has been nearly unstoppable from seven to nine furlongs. 

City of Light ended 2018 with a dominant performance in a loaded Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, and then followed it up with another scintillating run in Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup against the best field he’s ever faced. Speaking to the form of that Dirt Mile, the runners directly behind him there, Seeking the Soul and Bravazo, also finished in the Pegasus’ superfecta.

The fact that this race was his last goes back to those arguments about what’s wrong with our sport. Here’s a horse at the top of his game — as a 5-year-old, ready to reach new peaks — and instead of capitalizing on that form and seeing just what this horse can do, he’s off to the breeding shed.

It’s a financial reality, but not one we have to like.

Hope for the future


So, that’s the last we’ve seen of City of Light. But there’s plenty to look forward to in this game. They go by Catholic Boy, McKinzie and Audible. 

It’s fair to think Audible is a plodder, especially after the Pegasus. However, I feel like Saturday’s race proved more than ever that he just doesn’t get ahold of sloppy tracks. I say that because in his last attempt over a fast track he won easily, closing in a snappy 12.48 seconds. The time before that, the Florida Derby (G1), he closed in :12.52.

If that still doesn’t make you a believer, his final splits in a breakout Holy Bull (G2) performance were a fourth quarter mile in :23.89 with a final 1/16 in :06.03.

In comparison, the final furlong Saturday went in nearly 13 seconds. That’s simply nowhere near as good as his closing splits on tracks rated fast. 

Yes, in 2019 I’m looking forward to seeing the best of Audible on a dry track. I’m looking forward to seeing McKinzie trounce the older male division in California, while enjoying watching the versatile Catholic Boy rack up more Grade 1 wins on both dirt and turf.

Despite a rash of retirements, both needed and premature, the Pegasus showed there’s plenty of potential for the upcoming season.



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Meet Laura Pugh

Laura Pugh got her first taste of Thoroughbred racing when she watched War Emblem take the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2002. At that point, she fell in love with the sport, reading every piece of news and information she could get her fingertips on.

Laura has a long history with horses in general, taking her first ride on her fifth birthday, with her first official riding lesson when she was eight years old. Both years she attended college, she joined her school’s equestrian team, first at Virginia Intermont College and then again at Delaware State University. Unfortunately, after back and shoulder injuries, she had to hang up her saddle. 

In 2010, Laura began writing for Horse Racing Nation and has also contributed to Lady and the Track, TwinSpires and USRacing. She currently works at a local newspaper as a community reporter.

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