Hallandale Beach, Fla.
It was not the first time Brad Cox would be asked about it, and it certainly would not be the last.
“Yeah, I mean it’s fine,” Cox told Horse Racing Nation on Thursday morning outside the Gulfstream Park barn where Cyberknife and his rivals have been stabled for Saturday’s Grade 1, $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational.
“It” is post 10, which Cyberknife drew in the field of 12 for what will be his last race before going to stud. Conventional wisdom has said for years that is far from desirable to draw that wide for a 1 1/8-mile race on the main track.
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“Hopefully, we break well, break running and get a good position,” Cox said. “Not lose too much ground in the first turn. We’ll see how it goes.”
Despite the bad luck of Sunday’s draw, Cox does have reason to be buoyed. Since 2015, there have been 26 nine-furlong races with at least 10 starters on the Gulfstream dirt. Five were won by horses who broke from posts 10-12, including three out of the 10 hole. That was exactly where Cyberknife’s sire Gun Runner started when he won the 2018 Pegasus.
That does not mean Cyberknife (5-2), the morning-line favorite, gets to just show up Saturday and have jockey Florent Géroux mail in his valedictory.
“He’s sharp,” Cox said. “I expect him to break well and put himself in a good spot. He showed in the Breeders’ Cup (Dirt Mile) he can sit off a pretty hot pace and still finish up.”
That was Cyberknife’s most recent race. Géroux took him from post 7 into stalking trip in the three path on the Keeneland backstretch. He put a nose in front with a furlong to go only to be caught by Cody’s Wish, who won by a head.
Cox said he would love to have Cyberknife repeat what he did in his most recent victory July 23, when Géroux bided his time and then pounced along the rail to overtake Taiba and win by a head in the 1 1/8-mile Haskell (G1) at Monmouth Park. That was from a rail draw last summer, not post 10 this weekend.
“He showed the ability to set down inside,” Cox said. “You can set him down on the inside like he did in the Haskell, but probably with the post we’re not going to see that trip.”
Cox said he and Géroux have been on the phone talking about how they want the Pegasus to be run, especially with Defunded (6-1) and Art Collector (10-1) likely to flash early speed inside of Cyberknife.
“We’ve kind of got a little bit of an idea of where some of these horses are going to be placed,” Cox said. “You try to form an opinion and an idea as to how things may go. But once again, once the gates come open, it’s pretty much up to the jocks and what they want to do.”
If nothing else, Cox hoped Cyberknife would show the desire he displayed in the Haskell to get into high gear late in the race.
“At the quarter pole he looked like he was full of run and was ready to fire,” he said. “That’s what he did. He fired that day.”
Last year Cox geared Cyberknife to peak for the Kentucky Derby, where he withered against the early pace and finished 18th, and then for Breeders’ Cup. Now off a 12-week break, the $400,000 colt who has earned $2,087,520 for owner Al Gold has been prepared for this one, final target.
“We’ve had a little bit stronger gallop-outs,” Cox said. “A little bit further works. We worked in a good three-quarters (in 1:12.6) and out in a good seven-eighths two weeks ago. Three weeks ago he was three-quarters out (from a bullet five furlongs in 1:00.0). So a little bit longer works. Steadier. Stronger gallop-outs and stuff leading up to one (race) off basically a three-month layoff.”
At this time last year, Cyberknife had just finished a flat sixth in the Lecomte (G3). Then he came back to win four of his next five races, including the Arkansas Derby (G1) and the Haskell. Cox said this is a more well-rounded colt who learned a lot since losing to Call Me Midnight by 10 lengths last winter at Fair Grounds.
“Totally different horse, mentally. And physically,” he said. “He was still learning. He wasn’t quite ready for graded-stakes company. Obviously, the winner of that race was very, very good. Now he’s a completely different horse. He was a good horse in January of last year, but he’s a very good horse now. That’s why he was 5-1 in the Lecomte, and it looks like he’s going to be favored in the Pegasus. That tells you a lot about how he’s changed.”
Posted for 5:40 p.m. EST, the Pegasus is the last race on a 13-horse card Saturday at Gulfstream Park. The National Weather Service predicted a mostly cloudy afternoon with a high near 76 and an east wind blowing from the ocean toward the casino grandstand at 13-15 mph with gusts to as much as 20 mph.