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Analysis: The Top 5 early Pegasus World Cup contenders

Analysis: The Top 5 early Pegasus World Cup contenders
Photo: Bee Buck Photography
Studying a race that is a month away might seem strange to some handicappers, but it is what people do every year with the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup with people calling off various statistics and patterns for those memorable races over the years. 

With the $9 million Pegasus World Cup approaching on Jan. 26 at Gulfstream Park, drawing off history to predict the next winner is more difficult, as there are only two editions to study. Yet, there is one common denominator between the only two winners Arrogate and Gun Runner. Both horses were special talents who previously ran monster races.

Off the current probables list, the only two horses to come close to that description are City of Light and Accelerate, the winners of the recent Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and Breeders’ Cup Classic. In addition, Gunnevera, Audible and McKinzie hold the potential to turn in top performances, and all three runners are possible Pegasus entries too. 

Therefore, the list below will cross-examine those five horses, and explain why bettors should keep a close eye on them leading up to America's richest race.

City of Light

The 4-year-old Quality Road colt returned to his best form in the Dirt Mile last month, taking the race in sparkling wire-to-wire fashion at Churchill Downs.



In fairness, City of Light received a huge break when Catalina Cruiser came out at the start and failed to get into his usual front-running position. This left City of Light with a comfortable enough half-length margin early on before he turned away the challenge from Firenze Fire and Catalina Cruiser on the turn and kept Seeking the Soul at bay.

City of Light earned a 130 TimeformUS rating for the Dirt Mile score, only a few points below the 133 he posted when capturing the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) over Accelerate in April. The Oaklawn race came at nine furlongs, too, the same exact distance as the Pegasus.

With City of Light set to retire, there is no reason for the connections to leave anything in the tank. He should fire a big race next month.

Accelerate

With some reservations, Accelerate fits near the top of this list as a horse capable of firing big numbers. This year, he matched City of Light’s 133 twice in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) and Oaklawn Handicap (G2), while also posting a 137 en route to winning the Pacific Classic (G1) by over 12 lengths. On his best day, he is sharp.

As exciting as those wins appear, the numbers did drop off afterwards when posted a 122 in the Awesome Again Stakes (G1) and 127 when taking the Breeders’ Cup Classic. His Breeders’ Cup TimeformUS figure is odd because one would assume most horses go into a championship-deciding race cranked up, yet he failed to break 130.

To counter that point, though, Accelerate did start from the widest post and went three-wide around the first turn through a fast pace.



Accelerate also went wide around the final turn, although the collapsing pace helped him pass the tired leaders. He only won by a little over two lengths.

If Accelerate can run back to his Pacific Classic figure, he will win the Pegasus. Even a repeat of his Santa Anita Handicap or Oaklawn race will make him tough. But if Accelerate repeats his Breeders’ Cup number at Gulfstream, he will get a challenge in the Pegasus.

For what it is worth, Arrogate ran an excellent 139 in the 2017 Pegasus, while Gun Runner posted a mind-blowing 141 earlier this year when he outdueled West Coast.

Gunnevera

Past the current Top 2, it becomes difficult to find a horse capable of breaking 130 on the TimeformUS scale. Gunnevera is one option, as he actually ran a 130 when finishing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year. Ironically, Gunnevera only ran a 125 when second in this year’s Classic after closing late into the noted fast pace.

Gunnevera also ran a distant third in Gun Runner’s Pegasus, finishing over 13 lengths behind the winner while earning an average 124 TimeformUS Speed Figure. What happened? Gun Runner was simply too good.

While City of Light and Accelerate are capable of performing the same kind of show, Gunnevera can capitalize on anything strange happening to those two horses.

At least this closer likes Gulfstream and owns mildly successful experience facing large fields and quality horses. His closing running style is a negative, but he can win.

Audible


Out of the remaining 3-year-old dirt horses in training, Audible holds the most promise. Even though Todd Pletcher seems untrustworthy with talented 3-year-olds who come back the following year, there are always exceptions to any trend.

Remember Palace Malice? He won the 2013 Belmont Stakes for Pletcher, and a year later captured the Metropolitan Handicap (G1) before starting to lose form.

Audible ran third to eventual Triple Crown champion Justify in the Kentucky Derby, and then he went on the shelf for mysterious reasons, skipping the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. Perhaps the long break is a blessing.

Last month, Audible returned in the Breeders’ Cup undercard, when he circled an overmatched field in the Cherokee Run Stakes at seven furlongs. He looked good winning the race.

While his preferred running style is closing, Audible does own some tactical speed if necessary. Look at the start of the Florida Derby (G1), when he broke well and started in third behind the suicidal pace set by Strike Power and Promises Fulfilled.

In the Harlan’s Holiday Stakes (G3) later this month, he needs to move forward off his comeback race to show himself capable of taking on City of Light and Accelerate. Given horses run their best in the second or third start off the bench, he should fire a good race in his next start and become one of the leading Pegasus contenders.   

McKinzie

If McKinzie points to the Pegasus, this 3-year-old Street Sense colt gets a pass for the Breeders’ Cup Classic flop given he chased Mendelssohn through blitzing fractions. McKinzie earned a low 97 TimeformUS Speed Figure at Churchill, but in September he scored an impressive 129 for his Pennsylvania Derby (G1) victory.



McKinzie showed good early speed at Parx while running slightly wide around the first turn (although it looks like Mike Smith brought him wide on purpose), flanked Trigger Warning on the far side and continued on gamely to hold off Axelrod in the stretch run. 

Axelrod ran a disappointing ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic from off the pace, and also-rans Hofburg and Bravazo lost their next starts, too. But McKinzie could move forward in early 2019 under Bob Baffert as West Coast initially did in 2018.

If McKinzie shows up next month, it's because Baffert feels he's ready. The colt is back on the work tab following the Breeders' Cup, with the San Antonio Stakes (G2) on opening day at Santa Anita a sensible pre. Without an Arrogate or Gun Runner present, McKinzie may need to only repeat the Pennsylvania Derby figure, or improve slightly from that performance. His early speed will help at Gulfstream. 

 

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Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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