Hallandale Beach, Fla.
For all the noise that has flattened this weekend’s $3 million Pegasus World Cup, the calm quiet surrounding Saturday’s $1 million Pegasus Turf belies the potential quality of the race.
Unlike the nine-furlong dirt feature, which lost top attractions Omaha Beach and Spun To Run to trainer scratches Thursday, the 1 3/16-mile turf race has maintained plenty of positive handicapping questions – not to mention the full, 12-horse field.
Like last year and as in just about any big race on American turf, the betting points like a compass needle toward trainer Chad Brown. He won last year’s inaugural Pegasus Turf with eventual horse of the year Bricks And Mortar. This time he saddles three horses, including the early betting favorite Without Parole (4-1 morning line, 11-4 global futures).
“I’m excited to see him run,” said Brown, who won his fourth consecutive Eclipse Award on Thursday as trainer of the year. “We freshened him up just a touch and pointed him to this race.”
In a way, the expectation is for two European horses to get most of the money. Before he finished third for Brown in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, Without Parole was based in England and trained by John Gosden. His old rider Frankie Dettori has come over for a reunion ride Saturday. He is undoubtedly a big reason that European bettors went in heavily on this 5-year-old horse sired by the great miler Frankel.
The more obvious European in the field is the globetrotting Magic Wand (7-2, 7-2), the 5-year-old mare that was second to Bricks And Mortar in last year’s rain-soaked debut of the Pegasus Turf. Trained by Aidan O’Brien, she will be ridden this time by Ryan Moore. Although she has won only 3 of her 22 starts, Magic Wand has earned $4.1 million in purse money, most recently a second-place share from last month’s Hong Kong Cup.
Since race-day medication was banned last month from both Pegasus races, part of the handicapping puzzle is how the lack of Lasix will impact the horses. Not so with Magic Wand. Because the diuretic is illegal for race-day use over there, she has run without it in all but three of her races.
Where Without Parole drew favorably into gate 3, more than a few horseplayers who were at Wednesday’s draw muttered that Magic Wand had no chance of winning after being stuck with post 12. Horses starting outside gate 8 in turf races of at least a mile on the Gulfstream Park turf have won only 3.7 percent of their starts (8 of 215).
On the other hand, Magic Wand will carry 119 pounds, the fourth fewest of her career. In contrast, she had 136 pounds on her back when she finished second to eventual Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Iridessa in the Group 1 Pretty Polly. That was a 1¼-mile race last June in Ireland that was her last against just the girls. Magic Wand has raced against the boys in seven races on four continents since. Her one win in that time – the Group 1 MacKinnon Stakes in Australia – came only four days after she finished 10th in the two-mile Melbourne Cup.
Without Parole and Magic Wand both possess that tactical style that is de rigueur on European turf. Conversely, the Peter Miller-trained 4-year-old Mo Forza (5-1, 11-2) has run close to the lead during his four-race winning streak that includes the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby and two other graded stakes. Considering the lack of early pace in the race, jockey Joel Rosario may get him to the lead without much of an early challenge.
Horseplayers wanting to play the “other Brown” angle have two choices. Sacred Life (12-1, 10-1), another European transfer, draw post 11, but he has gotten more futures respect than Instilled Regard (10-1, 16-1), a nine-furlong, Grade 2 winner last month on the Gulfstream turf..
“He’s coming off a very nice win,” Brown said of Instilled Regard, a former dirt specialist when he was in Jerry Hollendorfer’s stable. “He’s going to have to step up; this is a tougher field. But he’s training like a horse that is capable of stepping up. Hopefully he does on Saturday.”
With the promise of a nice day and a firm track, I have no reason to think that Without Parole will not win the race. But the price is not right, so I will box him with Mo Forza and Instilled Regard – and hope that they finish in reverse order.
The Pegasus Turf is scheduled for Saturday at 4:49 p.m. EST.
Racing notes and opinions
The morning line for the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on dirt was updated Thursday after Spun To Run was scratched – but not after Omaha Beach was taken out of the race. A more accurate picture of the likely odds comes from real-money bets, which make Pacific Classic winner Higher Power (6-1 morning line, 9-4 global futures) a narrow favorite over Bob Baffert’s 4-year-old Mucho Gusto (9-2, 5-2). I liked Higher Power when he finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, where his latest episode of gate issues took him out of serious contention. This week I have gravitated toward recent Aqueduct Grade 3 runner-up Tax (8-1, 11-2), but that was before a lot of wise guys apparently jumped on the bandwagon to bet him down. I will still key Tax and box him with Mucho Gusto, Higher Power, Tax and Diamond Oops (15-1, 15-2), a 5-year-old gelding that has won five times here at Gulfstream Park – but never at two turns. The feature is posted to start Saturday at 5:34 p.m. EST.
If it rains again on the Kentucky Derby, Gold Street is an early candidate to attract mudder money. The 3-year-old colt sired by Street Boss (10-1) led the whole way to win the $150,000 Grade 3 Smarty Jones Stakes in the opening-day mud at Oaklawn Park. The favorite Three Technique (2-1) finished 2¾ lengths behind in second with Shoplifted (5-1) another two lengths back in third. Ridden for the first time by Martín García, Gold Street has won three consecutive races – all on off tracks – by an average of about 4¼ lengths. Gold Street and Shoplifted were two of the four Steve Asmussen-trained horses in the field of nine. Before the win Gold Street carried odds of 100-1 in the William Hill futures for the Kentucky Derby.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column will be posted daily through Sunday from the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park. It usually appears every Friday morning at VSiN.com. You may also hear two episodes this week of the Ron Flatter Racing Pod at VSiN.com/podcasts. A special, pop-up posted Thursday includes Las Vegas horseplaying experts Vinny Magliulo, Patrick McQuiggan, Dave Tuley, Johnny Avello and Chris Andrews handicapping the Pegasus World Cup and the Pegasus Turf. Friday’s regular episode features Gulfstream Park TV’s Jason Blewitt and Acacia Courtney with their preview of the Pegasus card and an interview with Tax’s trainer Danny Gargan. The RFRP is also available via Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher and is sponsored by Xpressbet.