Pegasus 2023: Stidham sees 'phenomenal year' for Proxy

Pegasus 2023: Stidham sees 'phenomenal year' for Proxy
Photo: Jessica Morgan / Eclipse Sportswire

Trainer Michael Stidham could not be more excited about what he thinks Proxy can accomplish as a 5-year-old. “It’s possible for him to put together a phenomenal year,” he said.

The Godolphin homebred showed every sign of being a horse at the height of his powers in his last start. He and jockey Joel Rosario broke from the rail and pressed the pace in the Nov. 25 Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs. He passed his first Grade 1 test by three-quarters of a length.

The bay son of Tapit will take his first step toward that hoped-for phenomenal year in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Saturday at Gulfstream Park. Talk about treacherous first steps!

“Certainly, this whole field is probably the toughest group he’s run against,” Stidham said. “The trip we get, and the way the track is playing, is going to play a big part in what happens. I would definitely put him as one of the main contenders in the race.”

His horse is listed as the second choice in the morning line at 9-2 behind Cyberknife. The narrow Dirt Mile runner-up to Cody’s Wish is the top choice at 5-2 to capture what will be his career finale.

Skippylongstocking (5-1) and Defunded (6-1) are the third and fourth choices, respectively. Skippylongstocking comes off an impressive two-length decision when he prepped for the Pegasus in the Harlan’s Holiday at Gulfstream, his home base. Defunded ships in from the West Coast for Hall of Fame conditioner Bob Baffert, who is chasing his third Pegasus score in the race’s seven-year history. Defunded closed last season with consecutive graded-stakes victories.

Proxy faced only five opponents in the Clark, run at a mile-and-an-eighth as is the Pegasus. His task, and that of Rosario, was made more difficult when post positions were drawn for a full 12-horse field.

“We drew the one hole, which is good and bad,” Stidham said. “It is good because you know you’re going to be saving ground around the first turn but you are also down in the one hole, with a lot of speed outside of you, there is always the chance you get banged around down there and shuffled back and lose position. I don’t think Gulfstream is the type of racing surface you can afford to lose too much position on and still have a chance to win.”

The trainer is right about that, of course. Securing a good early position is always critical in the Pegasus at Gulfstream and that will undoubtedly be the case again.

Proxy has developed the consistency Stidham has been looking for. He hit the board in all six of his starts while banking $733,520 of his $971,220 career earnings last season. And he proved he could win at the highest level.

“Now that he broke through and won the Clark, that’s what we needed to see,” Stidham said.

Proxy has the pedigree to be special. The Tapit line speaks for itself. He also has a millionaire mare in Panty Raid. He was an April 25 foal and it became clear he was not ready for any of the Triple Crown races when he ran fourth in the Louisiana Derby and fourth again in the Lexington.

Godolphin then made the uncommon move of giving the 3-year-old 10 1/2 months off between starts. “I’ve been training for Godolphin now this will be my eighth year,” Stidham said. “From the beginning with Godolphin, it’s always been about the horse and giving the horse the opportunity to be as good as they can be.”

If all goes well in the Pegasus, Stidham said the March 25 Dubai World Cup is “under strong consideration.” The year-ending Breeders’ Cup is the ultimate target.

Stidham compares Proxy to his experience with Mystic Guide, another Godolphin homebred. “We did the same program with Mystic Guide where we gave him all the time he needed to develop and it paid off,” he said.

It paid off beyond his wildest dreams. Mystic Guide was the finished product when he captured the $12 million Dubai World Cup in 2021.

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