Defunded and jockey Edwin Maldonado win the G3 Native Diver
This Saturday’s Grade 1, $3 Million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes features a field of 12 plus two also-eligibles that includes five Grade 1 stakes winners as well as one group one winner from Chile and three Grade 2 stakes winners.
Leading the field in notoriety is Cyberknife, coming off a head defeat last November in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile as well as winner of the G1 Haskell Stakes last summer at the distance of the Pegasus. Art Collector is the money leader in the field. He has banked $2.3 million, much of it in the G1 Woodward Stakes during the summer of 2021, with a win last August in the G2 Charles Town Classic adding to his total.
Defunded won the G1 Awesome Again Stakes in October at this nine furlong trip then won another stakes and is making his first start after two months off. Another winner at the distance is Proxy, who captured the G1 Clark Stakes last November in his most recent race. White Abarrio won the G1 Florida Derby last April over the track and is trying for his first win in his sixth start since then.
O’Connor (CHI) won nine races in his native Chile including the Group 1 Gran Premio Latinoamericano Stakes last April then won his North American debut last October before a fourth place effort in the G3 Harlan’s Holiday Stakes on Dec. 31. That race was won by Skippylongstocking, who also won the G3 West Virginia Derby last summer at the distance of the Pegasus. Simplification was third in the Harlan’s Holiday and is another with prior good form at Gulfstream Park, having won the G2 Fountain of Youth Stakes last March.
Get Her Number ships in from California and was last seen missing by a head in the G1 Cigar Mile Stakes so may be another to consider. Stilleto Boy, who finished third in this race last year, enters the race off a runner-up effort in the G2 San Antonio Stakes, while Last Samurai just missed by a neck in the Tinsel Stakes last month and won the G2 Oaklawn Handicap last April at the distance of the Pegasus.
Ridin With Biden has won seven of 20 career races including the G3 Greenwood Cup Stakes last fall at the distance of 12 furlongs but is not proven at this level. Also eligibles Hoist the Gold and Endorsed round out the field, the latter having finished fourth at odds of 85 to 1 in the 2022 Pegasus.
Defunded hasn’t been seen in two months but has been in steady training in California for Bob Baffert with recent workouts which suggest he is in tip-top shape. That’s notable because in each of his last six races, Defunded has been first or second after a quarter mile has been run. His two best efforts came in his final two races of 2022, when winning the Awesome Again Stakes in October and the Native Diver Stakes, both at the mile and one-eighth distance of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes. An old saying goes, “Early speed is the ultimate bias,” and it is no more true in this race where many of the recent winners were on the lead or within a length of the lead from the start. Baffert engages the services of 2022 North American leading jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. and interestingly enough these two have teamed up just one time in a graded stakes in the last five years. That was in the 2020 Pegasus, in which they were victorious with Mucho Gusto. Although the 107 ™ Equibase® Speed Figures Defunded has earned in each of his last two races aren’t the highest among the field, considering the possible early advantage Defunded may have in this race, he is very likely to be the one to catch, and therefore the one to beat.
In spite of everything written above about Defunded, I have no doubt White Abarrio has the potential to post the upset. Early in 2022 as a three year old, the colt proved to be top notch when winning the Holy Bull Stakes and Florida Derby in succession, earning a then career-best 102 ™ figure in the Holy Bull followed by a 100 figure in the Florida Derby. After a poor trip in the Kentucky Derby when checking in 16th, White Abarrio seemed to get back on track with a runner-up effort (and 106 figure) in the Ohio Derby. But his final two races of 2022 resulted in poor seventh and fifth place efforts. Given a couple of months to mature, White Abarrio returned for his final start as a three year old and ran a big race in his first start against older horses. In that race, the Cigar Mile Stakes, he was beaten just a half-length for the win, earning a new career-best 109 figure. What’s important to note is that it was a one-turn mile and White Abarrio had proven last year he was much better around two turns. Returning to the distance of his Florida Derby triumph and making his second start off a layoff and first as a more mature four year old, White Abarrio could certainly take another step forward and run well enough to win this year’s Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes.
Skippylongstocking is another recently turned four year old and another with positive experience over the track and at the distance He showed some promise last March at Gulfstream and at the nine furlong trip of the Pegasus when winning by nearly four lengths with a then career-best 102 figure. After skipping the Derby for lack of qualifying points he finished fifth in the Preakness and third in the Belmont Stakes then won the West Virginia Derby (at nine furlongs) with a respectable 101 figure. Next came a poor effort in the Pennsylvania Derby followed by a three month layoff. Facing older horses for the first time in his career in the Harlan’s Holiday Stakes on New Years’ eve, Skippylongstocking won fairly easily and earned a new career-best 107 figure. Similar to White Abarrio, as a newly turned four year old there is the likelihood for physical improvement. If that improvement comes, this colt too, has a shot to run well enough to win in this situation.
Cyberknife may be the most accomplished of the new 4-year-olds, having won $2 million last year while victorious in four of nine races. After winning the Arkansas Derby (with a mediocre 95 figure), Cyberknife only managed 18th in the Kentucky Derby but rebounded to win the Matt Winn Stakes and Haskell Stakes in succession, earning 114 and 104 figures, respectively. Although winless in his last three starts of 2022, Cyberknife ran more than respectably well, first when second to Epicenter in the Travers, then when third to Taiba in the Pennsylvania Derby and finally, when beaten a head after leading late in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile after leading in the final yards before being caught by Cody’s Wish. That effort was his first against older horses, and with a 108 figure to improve upon in his first start as a four year old, Cyberknife has a strong chance of winning. Then again, it is likely he will go to post as the betting favorite and as I feel any of the aforementioned three horses have as much probability to win as he does, it is likely they will be better bets to win this year’s Pegasus.
The rest of the field, with their best ™ Equibase Speed Figures, is Art Collector (121, in 2021), Endorsed (109), Get Her Number (109), Hoist the Gold (105), Last Samurai (107), O’Connor (CHI) (120), Proxy (107), Ridin With Biden (103), Simplification (103) and Stilleto Boy (117).
Win Contenders in preference/probability order:
Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes – Grade 1
Race 13 at Gulfstream Park
Saturday, January 28 – Post Time 5:40 PM E.T.
One and One Eighth Miles
Four Years Olds and Upward
Purse: $3 Million