Mucho Gusto became a narrow second betting choice in Saturday’s Grade 1, $3 million Pegasus World Cup following high-profile scratches of Omaha Beach and Spun to Run. Then, away at 3-1 at Gulfstream Park, the newly turned 4-year-old lived up to it.
Mucho Gusto tipped out off the far turn, blew past the dueling Mr Freeze and Bodexpress and proved his class, galloping to win the 1 1/8-mile feature in 1:48.85.
Now campaigned by Saudi Arabian interests, the son of Mucho Macho Man gave the Bob Baffert barn its second Pegasus winner following Arrogate’s score in the inaugural 2017 running. He also provided the Hall of Fame conditioner plenty to look forward to in the Feb. 29 Saudi Cup, a new $20 million race.
Saturday marked Mucho Gusto's first start since a fourth-place run Sept. 29 in Remington Park's Oklahoma Derby (G3). Three Grade 3 wins and a second-place run to Maximum Security in the Haskell Invitational (G1) highlighted the colt's 3-year-old campaign.
“This horse was a fresh horse and had been training outstanding," Baffert's assistant trainer, Jimmy Barnes, told NBC. "We were expecting a big performance today.”
Mr Freeze held on for second after making an early run to the lead past Mucho Gusto, opening up in 23.77 and 47.18 seconds for the quarter and half mile. He then came under heavy pressure to the outside by Bodexpress with 3/4 of a mile in 1:11.84.
Mucho Gusto, who had backed off a tick to let those two battle in the far turn, re-engaged with a cunning move under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., who came under some criticism for picking up this mount in the first place.
Ortiz Jr. regularly rides Spun to Run, the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner, and hopped off to go with Baffert’s horse days before Spun to Run defected due to a breakout of hives.
Barnes said Baffert "started working on it early" to get Ortiz aboard Saturday, adding that "he did everything we asked him to do."
"I've been, for a long time, trying to ride for (Baffert)," Ortiz Jr. added. "He's a special guy -- one of the best around and one of the best I've ever seen. I want to ride for those kind of trainers. I want to ride for everyone.
"...He's a special guy. He always talks to me. He's a humble guy. We laugh. I just feel like he's a nice guy, so I want to ride for him, and thank God today we got it done today...in the Pegasus."
Mucho Gusto returned $8.80 to win. War Story, an 8-year-old gelding running in his third Pegasus, filled out the board in third with Diamond Oops fourth in the field of 10. Higher Power, the 5-2 favorite, didn’t fire.
Pegasus contenders ran for the first time Saturday without race day medication such as Lasix, which will also be a requirement for Mucho Gusto in the Saudi Cup.