Analysis: In-form Mucho Gusto a Pegasus World Cup contender

January 14, 2020 05:21pm
Analysis: In-form Mucho Gusto a Pegasus World Cup contender
Photo: Benoit
As of Sunday, Gulfstream Park officials updated the list of invitees for the Grade 1, $3 million Pegasus World Cup, removing the likes of Maximum Security, Gift Box, Roadster and Bravazo after their connections made it clear there's no intention to run.

The European mare Magic Wand received a downgrade to the reserve list, as she is more likely for the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1), while Diamond Oops, War Story and True Timber moved up to the main body.

One name that stayed right in place is Mucho Gusto, who remains the first preference should any horse defect from the prospective field. And with Bob Baffert stablemate McKinzie said to be targeting the Feb. 29 Saudi Cup (G1) rather than the Pegasus, it appears to be only a formality for newly turned 4-year-old Mucho Gusto to make the field.

Now, if Mucho Gusto's connections opt to run, can he win? That depends on whether he builds on the top-quality form shown in the Haskell Invitational (G1) and Travers Stakes (G1), or if he emulates the poor Oklahoma Derby (G3) effort that finished his 2019 season.

Look back at the Haskell, when Mucho Gusto gave his best career effort. The only problem is that he ran into a likely champion in Maximum Security.

Mucho Gusto opened by stalking Spun to Run, another top horse in the making, as well as the eventual race winner Maximum Security.

When Maximum Security turned up the heat, Mucho Gusto followed alongside him, and the duo began the stretch run together. Maximum Security inched away as they neared the wire and won by 1 ¼ lengths.

But notice how hard he needed to be ridden in order to hold off Mucho Gusto. Jockey Luis Saez shook the reigns on Maximum Security multiple times and used the whip because Mucho Gusto ran a stubborn race. 

Mucho Gusto lost the Haskell, but he did put eight lengths on the third-place Spun to Run. Later in the year, of course, Spun to Run's form progressed as he won the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and finished second to Maximum Security in the Cigar Mile (G1).

About a month later, Mucho Gusto turned in another strong effort in the Travers with different tactics. He set the pace with Tacitus and Tax following.

Approaching the far turn, Tacitus made an early move and took the lead on the inside, while Mucho Gusto fought back. The two of them battled.

Unfortunately, they set the table for Code of Honor, who gobbled up both of them. Mucho Gusto could only manage third, losing by 3 ½ lengths, while Tacitus held the runner-up position by half a length over Mucho Gusto. 

Mucho Gusto still ran well though after contesting the pace. Once again, he proved he could run with the best horses in his crop.

But the following month, Mucho Gusto turned in a clunker in the Oklahoma Derby. He only finished fourth by two lengths, which is not a poor placing at first glance. The problem is that he faced weaker horses as the 4/5 favorite.

Instead of chasing Maximum Security or contesting the pace with Tacitus, Mucho Gusto followed the pacesetter Sleepy Eyes Todd.

Mucho Gusto challenged on the far turn, but Chess Chief and Owendale ranged up alongside those two horses, and Owendale won.

As Owendale prevailed, Mucho Gusto kept fighting in between Sleepy Eyes Todd and Chess Chief. Mucho Gusto, however, failed to hit the board.  

If that version of Mucho Gusto shows up again in the Pegasus, he won't contend. The Oklahoma Derby is a Grade 3 race, and he threw up a clunker.

But it is possible the break afterwards helped Mucho Gusto, and most horses are supposed to peak in either their 4 or 5-year-old season. As of late, his last three workouts at Santa Anita Park have all been bullets at five and six furlongs.

Mucho Gusto's early speed helps, too, as the Pegasus winner will likely either set the pace or sit close to the front. Mucho Gusto is proven at both trips, and he could use his early speed to make sure the expected leader Spun to Run does not slip away.

With most of the wagering dollars expected to fall toward Omaha Beach and Spun to Run, it is not the worst idea to bet on an improved Mucho Gusto. Watch the post positions, as Mucho Gusto would greatly benefit from a spot outside of Spun to Run rather than begin inside and force a speed duel in the short run up to the first turn.

Considering Spun to Run is questionable at the nine-furlong distance, the outside pressing position is the best chance for Mucho Gusto to upset the Pegasus, as he can keep the pacesetter within range and possibly get first jump on Omaha Beach, or at least move when Omaha Beach moves on the turn.

Again, though, it depends on what version of Mucho Gusto shows up.


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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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