First times on wet tracks don't deter Pegasus winners

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City Of Light's trainer Michael McCarthy gets a hug from his daughter Stella, 8, during an emotionally victorious Pegasus World Cup Invitational news conference. (Ron Flatter photo)

Hallandale Beach, Fla.

So much for needing experience on wet tracks to win America’s two richest horse races. And so much for betting against inexperience.

Both making their maiden voyages in thoroughbred regattas, City Of Light and Bricks And Mortar were dominant in splashing to victories Saturday in the Pegasus World Cup dirt and Turf. Or slop and Swim.

Expertly ridden by Javier Castellano just off and outside of the early pace in the main-track slop, City Of Light (9-5) had more in his engine than the other 11 horses in the $9 million Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational. He cruised unmatched to a 5¾-length win over Seeking The Soul (34-1).

Betting favorite Accelerate (3-2), the retiring Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, settled for third. That was only his second loss in the past 13 months, both to City Of Light. “He was just like a little kid in the play yard,” Castellano said. “They splash the puddle and keep going.”

About 45 minutes before that, Írad Ortiz Jr. steadily rode Bricks And Mortar (5-2) forward from mid-pack, took the lead with 150 yards to go and finished 2½ lengths clear in the $7 million Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational. The Coolmore filly Magic Wand (9-1) closed strong and wound up second, a neck in front of fading Delta Prince (9-1). Betting favorite Yoshida (2-1) finished sixth in the 1 3/16-mile race.

It was only the second race for Bricks And Mortar after a 14-month break to recover from what trainer Chad Brown said was an unspecified injury that could have permanently kept him off the track.

“For a little while there I didn’t think I’d have a horse for the race,” said Brown, who scored yet another in a growing list of major victories on the turf. “Dr. Larry Bramlage worked on this horse about 16 months ago when it looked like he might have a career-ending injury. He fixed him.”

The two multimillion-dollar races were run in rain that came down harder as the gray sky bordered on darkness for the climactic race. The main track was sloppy all day after it had been sealed overnight. The turf course was listed as yielding.

“We didn’t know if City Of Light could run in this mud,” his owner Bill Warren said. “It was just so thrilling to watch Javier ride a masterful race.”

It was an emotional victory for City Of Light’s trainer Michael McCarthy. As he choked back tears while holding his 8-year-old daughter Stella during the post-race news conference, McCarthy had trouble finding words to express his gratitude.

“I’d like to thank the (Warren) family,” McCarthy said. “They have done a lot for me personally. I thought the Breeders’ Cup (Dirt Mile victory) was almost like out of body. Today was, I don’t know. I’m very grateful.”

On a track that had five gate-to-wire winners to start the day, City Of Light ran second to early pace-setter Patternrecognition (20-1), the 6-year-old Brown trainee that spent a lot of energy racing to the first turn from his outside post. Patternrecognition eventually faded to finish last in the nine-furlong finale.

Castellano kept City Of Light within a half-length, always staying outside the mud that Patternrecognition was splashing back at the rest of the field.

“He was really doing well on the back side,” Castellano said. “I got more excited on the turn. He had another gear. He exploded and took off again. What a feeling you feel in that moment. That’s amazing.”

In the Turf, Bricks And Mortar was no worse than sixth and no more than 4½ lengths behind. Ortiz had him in second turning into the stretch. Ortiz went left-handed to the whip, gaining ground with every stride until he and Magic Wand outran Delta Prince.

“I thought turning for home, ‘We’ve got this,’” said Frankie Dettori, who rode Delta Prince. “We just got outrun by two good horses in the end.”

Coming back from two dirt races, Yoshida was unable to duplicate the success he found on a yielding course last spring in the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs. He was last of the 10 Turf runners most of the way Saturday, and even though he was hustled forward in the final turn, he never got closer than 4½ lengths.

“He was last, but he was in touch with the field, and I saved ground,” Yoshida’s jockey and Írad’s brother José Ortiz said. “By the back side I wanted to go on, but I had to take back a little and drop back in. I followed Írad from that point on, but he didn’t give me that late kick.”

Saturday’s 12-race card attracted an on-track betting handle of $4.123 million, nearly the same as last year’s $4.131 million in better weather. The total wagered from all sources was $37,786,987, down 10 percent from the $41,983,881 from last year and off 6 percent from the inaugural year’s $40,217,924. No attendance figure was announced.

Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more frequently during coverage of big races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts and through providers such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play Podcasts and Stitcher.

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