With some of racing’s biggest names off to retirement, the $3 million seventh edition of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes Presented by Baccarat always figured to be a wide-open affair and that’s just how it played out Jan. 28 at Gulfstream Park.
With Junior Alvarado in the irons, Art Collector, a 6-year-old son of Bernardini, let Defunded, one of the hot favorites, push the pace through the early furlongs, then came along authoritatively in the stretch run to pick up the pieces, winning by 4 1/2 lengths at odds of 15.50-1.
Defunded, in from California for trainer Bob Baffert, hung around to finish second, followed by Stilleto Boy and Last Samurai, at odds of 45-1 and 51-1, respectively. The favorite, Cyberknife, winner of the Arkansas Derby and TVG.com Haskell Stakes, was well back in sixth at the finish.
The tote board erupted like a slot machine announcing a jackpot and so did winning rider Junior Alvarado and owner Bruce Lunsford.
“It’s a horse I’ve been following for a while now,” enthused Alvarado, who recently scored his 2,000th win and took over on Art Collector from Luis Saez, who rode another longshot, Get Her Number, to finish ninth in the Pegasus. “I guess it was just time.”
For his mount, it finally was time. Trainer Bill Mott said Art Collector’s schedule was a bit scrambled coming up to his first snowbird visit to South Florida.
“He developed a foot abscess and that set us back,” Mott said, “Then we were going to target the Harlan’s Holiday earlier in the meet but I felt he wasn’t quite ready for that and Bruce said he was OK with waiting for the Pegasus. Obviously, the horse was OK with that, too.
“His former rider selected another horse,” Mott said, “and Junior rode him just the way it was scripted.”
“Sometimes,” Alvarado said, “when you open the gates, plans change but everything worked out today. He gave me a hell of a run from the quarter pole.”
“The horse liked what he [Alvarado] did with him, that he was allowed to settle and breathe and save energy,” Mott said. “It’s all about saving energy. He had something left turning for home.”
Art Collector was bred by Lunsford out of the Distorted Humor mare Distorted Legacy. An all-or-nothing type, he won for the 11th time in his 21st start against one second and no thirds. The winner’s share of the Pegasus purse pushed his career earnings just north of the $4 million mark.
Lunsford gave his trainer and friend credit for a change in tactics.
Although setting the pace had served him well in victories including the Charles Town Classic Stakes twice, the Woodward Stakes, and the Alydar Stakes at Saratoga, Lunsford said Mott proposed an audible.
“Bill and I go way back,” the owner said. “Many people may not know that. We talked about it and I give Bill full credit for this. He said, ‘Let’s try something different. Let’s lay off and see what happens.’ And he just got better and better.”
Lunsford said he will defer to Mott in deciding whether Art Collector will go forward in the steps of a long and illustrious list of previous Pegasus winners.
“We’ve got to make that decision and then work backward from some of the big races. But I don’t think we’re in a hurry to run him back,” Mott said.
Art Collector went to the $20 million Saudi Cup in February of 2022 in his first start after finishing sixth in the 2021 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic. He finished a distant 12th there as locally trained Emblem Road defeated the Baffert-trained Country Grammer in the final strides.
After that race, several of Mott’s horses were stranded in Saudi Arabia for about a month because of transportation snafus occasioned by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While he’s forgiven that mix-up, Mott said a return to Riyadh or a trip to the Emirates Dubai World Cup probably are off the table for Art Collector this year.
“I believe those races are going to come up a little quick for us. We didn’t nominate for either race and we’re not going to either Saudi or Dubai. We’ll be looking at a domestic campaign and working backward from those,” he said.
Atone Earns Breakthrough Victory in Pegasus World Cup Turf
Trainer Mike Maker will never be known as loquacious.
Yet the man of few words has been “bragging” for a while about his 6-year-old gelding Atone, and on the grand stage of Pegasus World Cup day people found out why.
Normally a horse who makes keen use of his early speed, Atone relied on late speed to rally in the stretch and edge past Ivar and notch a three-quarter-length victory in the $981,400 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational presented by Qatar Racing.
“I’ve been bragging on the horse for a while and he finally backs me up today. Since we’ve had him, he’s been a cool horse and he’s trained fabulously. He doesn’t quite get there [all the time], but he got a perfect ride [from jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.],” Maker said. “He was a hard-luck horse last year. He’s always been right there, and today was his day.”
While Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile turf test marked the gelded son of Into Mischief’s first graded stakes win, he had been knocking on the door of a breakthrough win for the past year. In his previous nine starts, Three Diamonds Farm’s highly consistent runner was second in a Grade 2 stakes and two Grade 3 stakes, third in a Grade 2 stakes, and fourth in last year’s Pegasus Turf, a little less than two lengths behind.
Yet what may have been more beneficial was Atone’s last race, a Nov. 10 front-running win in an allowance-optional claiming race at Aqueduct that snapped an eight-race losing streak and set the stage for a big effort Saturday by a horse who was bought from breeder and original owner Godolphin for $130,000 from the Brookdale consignment at the 2021 Fasig-Tipton July horses of racing age sale.
“The last time he was loose on the lead and took a big class drop,” said Maker, who won the 2020 Pegasus Turf with Alpha Zulu. “He got a freshening after that and when he came in he was a [ready] horse.”—Bob Ehalt
Queen Goddess Rallies Impressively to WIn Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf
In terms of running style, Queen Goddess displayed a new trick Jan. 28 when she raced just off the pace early in the $500,000 TAA Pegasus World Cup Filly and Mare Turf Invitational Stakes Presented by Pepsi before rallying on the far turn and taking command in the stretch to deliver a 1 1/2-length victory.
Queen Goddess completed the 1 1/16-mile test for older fillies and mares at Gulfstream Park in 1:41.91 on firm turf.
Campaigned by Eclipse Thoroughbreds and Gary Barber, Queen Goddess had led through the early going of her past two races, yielding late two back in the Santa Barbara Stakes before posting a gate-to-wire score in the Robert J. Frankel Stakes Dec. 31 at Santa Anita Park.
On Saturday, Queen Goddess tracked in fourth through a half-mile in :48.03, racing 1 1/2 lengths behind early leader Sweet Enough. After gaining ground through the far turn under jockey Luis Saez, Queen Goddess took command near the quarter pole and had sufficient energy to hold off a stretch challenge from fellow Grade 1 winner Shantisara.
Saez said the plan all along was to track just off the leaders.
“We knew she had a lot of speed but inside they had speed, too, so the plan was to try to follow the speed and be right behind, and everything went according to plan,” Saez said. “It was perfect.”
Lady Rockstar rallied for third.—Frank Angst