The Super Six: Ranking the Best Pegasus World Cup Winners

Since its inception in 2017, the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes at Gulfstream Park has successfully bum-rushed the North American racing calendar and made an impression comparable with hoofprints from the gigantic statue of the winged equine icon of Greek mythology that resides at the Hallandale, Fla. track. 

Six years ago, The Stronach Group revised the existing Donn Handicap at Gulfstream and inflated the race purse to a then-world record $12 million, and their decision was rewarded handsomely when the sport’s two top superstars of 2016, California Chrome and Arrogate, returned for a rematch of the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic. Since then, the Pegasus purse has been raised and then lowered, but there’s been no loss of star quality. (The Donn Handicap, first held in 1973, was year-in, year-out, Gulfstream Park’s flagship race for older dirt horses. Winners include Forego, Foolish Pleasure, Deputy Minister, Creme Fraiche, Cryptoclearance, Cigar (twice), Skip Away, Harlan’s Holiday, Medaglia d’Oro, Saint Liam, Invasor, and Quality Road.)

The Pegasus World Cup has become prestigious enough for some owners to extend a horse’s career a month into the new year before retiring them to stud, and that’s going to be the case this year, as multiple Grade 1 winner Cyberknife, one of the best 3-year-olds in the 2022 class, will make one start at 4 before heading off to Spendthrift Farm.

Below, I’ll take a look back at the six prior winners of the Pegasus World Cup and start some discussion fodder by ranking them in order of dominance. These rankings are based roughly 50-50 on the horses’ respective performances in the Pegasus and their overall career accomplishments.

6. Mucho Gusto (2020)

Mucho Gusto entered the Pegasus as a four-time Grade 3 winner who had also finished second to Maximum Security and Improbable, two of the top 3-year-olds of 2019, in Grade 1 races. The son of Mucho Macho Man, making his first start for new owner Prince Faisal bin Khaled of Saudi Arabia, was sent off as the 3.40-1 second betting choice in the Pegasus behind favorite and 2019 TVG Pacific Classic winner Higher Power. While Higher Power finished a desultory last of 10, Mucho Gusto was right in the mix from the start under Irad Ortiz Jr. and powered clear at the top of the stretch to win by a dominant 4 ½ lengths over runner-up Mr Freeze. He earned a career-best 117 Equibase Speed Figure with the victory, which turned out to be the last of his career. The Bob Baffert trainee finished fourth overseas in the Saudi Cup a month after the Pegasus and then fourth again in his final start in the San Antonio Stakes in December. He was preparing for a Pegasus repeat bid but was retired in early January 2021 with a soft-tissue injury.

5. City of Light (2019)

One of the more underrated racehorses of recent vintage, City of Light reached peak form in the final two starts of his career for owners William Warren Jr. and Suzanne Warren and trainer Mike McCarthy. Already a two-time Grade 1 winner in California sprints during 2017-’18, the Quality Road horse extended out to two turns and won a Grade 2 stakes at Oaklawn Park in spring 2018 and then competed well in both sprints and routes that summer and early fall. But he turned it up a notch in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile that November at Churchill Downs, taking the one-turn event by 2 ¾ lengths and earning a 126 Equibase Speed Figure. Shipped to Gulfstream for the 1 1/8-mile, two-turn Pegasus, City of Light faced a formidable field headlined by 2018 champion older dirt male and Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Accelerate. Surprisingly, the race lacked much suspense at all, as 3-2 favorite Accelerate could not sustain his run and finished a well-beaten third. City of Light, sent off as the 1.90-1 second choice, sat a perfect pace-pressing trip under Javier Castellano and romped to a 5 ¾-length score in the slop over longshot and Pegasus World Cup regular Seeking the Soul. City of Light earned another impressive Equibase Speed Figure of 124 in what turned out to be his career finale. He’s now a well-sought after stallion at Lane’s End in Central Kentucky whose first runners will hit the track this spring and summer.

4. Life Is Good (2022)

Life Is Good entered last year’s Pegasus as one of the most talented racehorses in training, but to that point he had done his best running at one mile (he missed the Triple Crown races due to a hind ankle injury and was transferred from Bob Baffert to Todd Pletcher in the summer). The Into Mischief colt had dominated his final two starts of 2021, capped off by a blowout 5 ¾-length win in the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, but had not competed at the Pegasus’ 1 1/8-mile distance before. Plus, he was facing 2021 Pegasus champ Knicks Go (see below), who was days away from being voted Horse of the Year based on his 4-for-6 season and romp in the 1 ¼-mile Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic. As it turned out, the betting public was onto something, because Life Is Good was favored at 4-5 odds in the Pegasus against Knicks Go at 9-10, and he made that close disparity look foolish once the gates opened. Life Is Good and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. aggressively went for the lead, taking Knicks Go’s usual position, and were never challenged in a 3 ¼-length runaway as Knicks Go settled for second in his final career start. Life Is Good went on to win three of five starts in his final racing year, twice scoring again at a mile and an eighth, but came up against his own brick wall of superiority when he was vanquished by Flightline in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.

3. Knicks Go (2021)

The pride of Korea Racing Authority, Knicks Go ascended from a longshot Grade 1 winner at age 2 back in 2018, to a Grade 1-winning miler for new trainer Brad Cox in 2020, and then to a star racehorse who silenced all doubters about his ability to run a longer distance with an authoritative score in the 2021 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic. His win in the 2021 Pegasus served notice that indeed, Knicks Go could handle added ground as it was his first victory at 1 1/8 miles. He led all the way as is his custom in that race with regular jockey Joel Rosario in the irons and easily won by 2 ¾ lengths over Jesus’ Team as the 13-10 favorite. Knicks Go’s final Pegasus time of 1:47.89 ranks fourth among Pegasus winners to date, but in terms of sustaining elite form he’s right there with the two horses discussed below … and his Horse of the Year award nudges him ahead of his 2022 Pegasus conqueror Life Is Good to rank third on this list (Life Is Good had the misfortune of spending much of his peak-form months in the “Year of Flightline,” but hey, life ain’t fair).

2. Gun Runner (2018)

Truthfully, 2017’s Horse of the Year is 1A to Arrogate’s 1 on this list. Convincing arguments can be made for both horses as two of the top five North American dirt runners of this century’s second decade. Gun Runner was kept in training by Steve Asmussen and owners Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm after winning five of six starts in 2017 including the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic, and he was the 11-10 favorite in a race that also featured the the 2016 Travers Stakes winner (West Coast) and runner-up (Gunnevera). That pair would finish second and third, respectively, to Gun Runner in a Pegasus that was never really in doubt. Jockey Florent Geroux kept his charge in touch of early pacesetter and Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Collected through the backstretch before taking over on the far turn and coasting to a 2 ½-length victory that netted a 128 Equibase Speed Figure, tops on this list. He had just been honored as Horse of the Year two days earlier at a ceremony held at Gulfstream Park, and with no more worlds left to conquer, the son of Candy Ride went off to stud at Three Chimneys in Kentucky. Gun Runner’s first foals to race were beyond impressive in 2021, earning him leading freshman sire honors in North America.

1. Arrogate (2017)

The late, great Arrogate tops this list by a nose over Gun Runner, and his victory in the inaugural Pegasus occurred in the midst of one of the best sequences of performances by a racehorse this century (Most would say, including myself, that Flightline’s recent run surpassed it). The Juddmonte Farms-owned, Bob Baffert-trained son of Unbridled’s Song had emerged from the California circuit to make national news months earlier when he won the 2016 Travers Stakes by an astounding 13 ½ lengths and set a track record at Saratoga for 1 ¼ miles to boot. Next up, he defeated the 2014 Kentucky Derby winner and Horse of the Year California Chrome by a hard-fought half-length in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. When it was announced that both Arrogate and Chrome would meet up once again in the premiere running of the Pegasus, press coverage and public interest in the showdown approached levels commensurate with the Breeders’ Cup, if not Triple Crown. As it turned out, Arrogate was simply too good in the Pegasus, unleashing a breathtaking turn of foot nearing the top of the stretch to win by a geared-down 4 ¾ lengths under Mike Smith as the 9-10 favorite (6-5 California Chrome finished ninth, but was still voted 2016 Horse of the Year). Arrogate set a track record for 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream Park of 1:46.83 that still stands, and he earned an Equibase Speed Figure of 124. The best was yet to come, however, as in his next start he shipped half a world away and overcame a dreadful start to defeat Gun Runner by 2 ¼ lengths in the Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airlines. That victory capped Arrogate’s sterling winning streak, as he did not reach the winners’ circle in his final three starts in California and ended his career soundly beaten by Gun Runner in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic. He tragically was euthanized after an illness in June 2020 and will be represented by only three crops at stud, but Arrogate’s extended run of brilliance during 2016-’17 won’t soon be forgotten.