The $3 million, Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes Presented by Baccarat may be the first major race of the year, yet there are times when it’s a farewell party.
Since the race debuted in 2017 at Gulfstream Park with its controversial $12 million purse structure, some of the sport’s brightest stars have made a pit stop at the Pegasus before beginning their life as a stallion. California Chrome, Gun Runner, City of Light, and Knicks Go, each of those champions or Breeders’ Cup winners, called it a career after running in the late January stakes.
This year, in the Jan. 28 edition of the Pegasus, Gold Square’s multiple Grade 1-winning 4-year-old Cyberknife will embody the words of the old Groucho Marx song “Hello, I Must Be Going” by running in the Pegasus before joining the stallion barn at Spendthrift Farm.
“Bittersweet is the accurate word for my feelings,” owner Al Gold said about his son of Gun Runner, who has earned slightly more than $2 million. “I’m sorry that I won’t be able to see him run after (the Pegasus) but we have a nice 3-year-old in Instant Coffee (who won the Jan. 21 Lecomte Stakes) and some promising 2-year-olds who we are hoping will develop into good runners. We’ll see what happens down the road, but for right now, this is Cyberknife’s last race and he set a high bar for the rest of my horses. We’ve had a good time watching him run for two years and after this last one, he’s off to the breeding shed.”
Cyberknife, winner of the Arkansas Derby and TVG.com Haskell Stakes, landed post 10 in the field of 12 and was pegged as the 5-2 favorite at the Jan. 22 post position draw for Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile test. He will be making his first start since one of his best efforts for trainer Brad Cox, when he battled fiercely in the stretch but wound up losing by a head to Cody’s Wish in the Nov. 5 Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
“It’s going to be a good race,” Cox said. “We felt confident with Knicks Go both times (in the Pegasus). He ran two great races. Obviously, one was a winning effort (2021) and the other was second (2022) to a very, very good horse (Life Is Good). I feel every bit as confident with this horse as I did with Knicks Go the two previous seasons.”
Godolphin’s Proxy (post 1, 9-2) enters the new year with a new image. For the past two years, the homebred son of Tapit was a ubiquitous presence in graded stakes company but was a close-but-no-cigar type. In his first eight starts in stakes company, he had four seconds and no finish worse than fourth but was winless. That all changed rather abruptly in his last start for trainer Mike Stidham as he finally broke through with a three-quarters-of-a-length victory in the Nov. 25 Clark Stakes Presented by Norton Healthcare at Churchill Downs.
“He’s always shown that he belongs (in graded stakes), but he wasn’t able to get the job done,” Stidham said. “So having the first graded stakes win be a Grade 1 win was huge. The horse has developed nicely and we’re hoping he can keep the ball rolling.”
While Cyberknife will be heading to the breeding shed after the Pegasus, Proxy has a considerably different target on his itinerary. Depending on what happens Saturday, the 5-year-old could be bound for the March 25 $12 million Dubai World Cup Presented by Emirates Airline, a race Stidham won two years ago with Godolphin’s Mystic Guide.
“There’s good timing to the Dubai World Cup, and while it’s not set in stone, if we run well here and come out of this good, we’ll certainly look at it,” Stidham said.
Bruce Lunsford’s Grade 1-winning Art Collector (post 6, 10-1) figures to provide much of the early speed in a race where post positions are highly important due to a short run to the first turn. The 6-year-old son of Bernardini, who will become a stallion at Claiborne Farm following his racing career, is coming off a subpar fifth-place finish in the Lukas Classic Stakes when he set the pace but weakened in the final furlong.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, Art Collector won the 2021 Woodward Stakes as well as the last two editions of the Charles Town Classic Stakes, highlighting a mark of 10 wins in 20 starts with earnings of $2,332,490.
Trainer Bob Baffert will chase a third Pegasus win with Defunded (post 5, 6-1), who ships in from the West Coast after winning the Native Diver Stakes and Awesome Again Stakes in his last two starts.
The gelded son of Dialed In has won five of his 13 career starts for owners Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman with earnings of $608,100.
Florida-based trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. will send out a trio of starters in White Abarrio (post 4, 10-1), Skippylongstocking (post 7, 5-1), and O’Connor (post 12, 10-1).
C Two Racing Stable and Antonio Pagnano’s White Abarrio, a 4-year-old son of Race Day, is searching for his first win since taking last year’s Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa, but turned in a strong effort last time out when he was third in the Cigar Mile Handicap Presented by NYRA Bets, beaten less than a length.
Daniel Alonso’s Skippylongstocking closed 2022 with a victory in the Harlan’s Holiday Stakes, Gulfstream’s prep for the Pegasus. The son of Exaggerator’s 2022 season included a victory in the West Virginia Derby and a third in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets.
Fernando Vine Ode and Michael and Jules Iavarone’s O’Connor was fourth in the Harlan’s Holiday, his second start in the United States. The 6-year-old son of Boboman was a Group 1 winner in Chile last year.
The field of 12 also includes Simplification (post 2, 15-1), Last Samurai (post 9, 20-1), Ridin With Biden (post 3, 20-1), Stilleto Boy (post 11, 30-1), and Get Her Number (post 8, 15-1).
There are also two listed as also eligible: Hoist the Gold and Endorsed.