Mucho Gusto, Zulu Alpha look good after Pegasus wins

By Ron Flatter  (VSiN.com) 

Mucho_Gusto_GP
Ridden for the first time by three-time Eclipse Award winner Írad Ortiz Jr., Mucho Gusto won Saturday’s $3 million Pegasus World Cup, which may have been a springboard to next month’s $20 million Saudi Cup. (Gulfstream Park photo)

Hallandale Beach, Fla.

 

It is usually a routine question the morning after. “How did your horse come out of the race?”

 

The usual response is positive. And then we move on about our business.

 

But Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup and Pegasus Turf were different, because horses were running those races for the first time without Lasix. There could have been some bleeders.

 

Not so for the winners.

 

“Came out great,” Bob Baffert said in a text about Mucho Gusto, the 3-1 second choice that was victorious in the $3 million Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational.

 

“Came back in good order,” said Mike Maker, who saddled 11-1 long shot Zulu Alpha for his upset win in the $1 million Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational.

 

Also-rans are still to be accounted for; John Sadler, for instance, did not elaborate when he said that last-place favorite Higher Power was “on a plane” back to California. So a final analysis on who bled and who did not and, for that matter, a letter grade on the medication ban would be premature.

 

So would a declaration on the next race for the winners. Baffert said that Mucho Gusto will “hopefully” get an invitation to the Feb. 29 debut of the $20 million Saudi Cup, a race to which stable mate McKinzie is already committed. Maker said there is “no decision yet” for Zulu Alpha.

 

Much ado over the Rainbow 6: With a carry-over of $3,612,593, Sunday’s mandatory pay-out of the 20-cent Rainbow 6 at Gulfstream Park should hit $15 million, according to track spokesman David Joseph. The betting covers races 6-11 – an optional-claiming race on turf (eight entries), a claiming race (seven), a turf allowance (nine), a claiming race (10), another optional-claiming turf race (nine) and a maiden turf finale (nine). Including the usual six-minute drag, the sixth race should start at 3:02 p.m. EST.

 

The future of the Pegasus. In its four years the purse for the Pegasus dirt race has gone from $12 million to $16 million to $9 million to $3 million. The drop became the breeziest of conversation starters here this past week, but the story arc is complicated. On merit a $3 million feature should still be worth extra attention. Among U.S. races only the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Turf are richer, and the elimination of the $500,000 entry fee had to entice owners. But the purse cut, the late ban on race-day medication and the scratch of Omaha Beach and Spun To Run two days before the race put the Pegasus on a standing eight count. The knockout blow may yet be landed by the Saudi Cup, which is already competing to lure the same group of older horses. Since that race has yet to be run even once, there is still a good chance that the pendulum swings back in favor of the Pegasus. If The Stronach Group could wait until six weeks ago to finalize the terms of engagement for this year’s race, that means there is no hurry to make a decision on holding the 2021 renewal. So no rush to judgment is necessary.

 

The morning line that wasn’t. Gulfstream Park posted a new Pegasus morning line after Spun To Run was scratched, but it did not update it again four hours later when Omaha Beach was removed from the Pegasus. That was Thursday. On Saturday there was still no revision. Omaha Beach’s even-money estimate was still factored in right up until live odds were revealed right after the running of the Pegasus Turf. Not that I ever put much stock in one handicapper’s educated guess of the win odds. As one trainer once put it, “The morning line is worth every cent put into it.” Still, it can be a linchpin to finding overlays, especially if a bettor tries to quick-’cap a race. Whatever the case, it was a glaring error of omission this week.

 

The new look of Gulfstream Park. When last year’s Pegasus was doused with bad weather, it exposed the user-unfriendliness of Gulfstream Park. When it was redeveloped 16 years ago, the old grandstand was replaced with building that is more suited to dinners and functions than it is to showcase racing. The surrounding mini-neighborhood is full of restaurants, bars and shops that are wannabe-trendy. Think South Street Seaport in New York, Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica or Town Square in Las Vegas. But for big day like Pegasus Saturday, the lack of seats was glaring. The Stronach Group is spending $20 million to gussy up the joint. It started this past week with temporary seating structures in front of the permanent building – as well as a fresh coat of new paint, new furniture and a new, big-screen tote board. Promises have been made to do a better job catering to racing fans. The first steps were a good start.

 

Eclipse Awards – the results. Comparing my votes to the final count of the 241 ballots cast from racing offices and those of us in the media, I was in a tiny minority in only one category of the Eclipse Awards that were handed out here Thursday night. I voted for Godolphin to be the top breeder of 2019. Only seven others joined me. The basis for my vote was the impressive depth of quality horses at Godolphin. Based on a Daily Racing Form voter guide, Godolphin had more Eclipse contenders than any of its rivals. I did have the winner – George Strawbridge Jr. – as one of my other top three choices. The fact that Bricks And Mortar provided the coattails for all his applicable connections to win in their categories is at once rational and bothersome; doesn’t every team have a weakness? I would not cast a blanket vote for all of a horse’s connections any more than I would vote the straight party ticket on Election Day. But that is just me. Which brings me to this.

 

Eclipse Awards – the sanctimony. It happens in the Eclipse Awards as it did with Derek Jeter missing out by one vote on unanimous selection to the Hall of Fame. Whenever I hear cries that some voters should have their privileges taken away if they do not cast their ballots in lockstep with a landslide majority, it reminds me of when I hear self-anointed critics grade questions at news conferences. If there are definite right ways and wrong ways to vote, then why don’t we just let one grand panjandrum to all the work and save the rest of us the aggravation? One of those critics might want to see if Kim Jong-un is available.

 

Eclipse Awards – the show. It was not quite a don’t-blink production. But the Eclipse Awards have turned into a snappy show the past two years. Thursday night’s program, smartly led by first-time hosts Acacia Courtney, Britney Eurton and Gabby Gaudet, came in at one hour, 50 minutes. Courtney, Eurton and Gaudet followed the pattern established seven of the last eight years by Jeannine Edwards in not making the production about them. (The exception was 2018; sorry, Nick Luck.) The best new idea for the program was the presentation of the three Horse of the Year finalists. They were introduced by each host standing next to a connections’ table inside the Sport of Kings Theatre. The most cringe-inducing element of the show was off-stage announcer Jerry Pelletier, who constantly stumbled over words and mispronounced names. The Stronach Group’s Craig Fravel was introduced as “fruh-VELL” rather than “FRAY-vull,” a mistake that became the butt of subsequent jokes at the podium.

 

Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column, which was posted daily during coverage of the Pegasus World Cup, usually appears every Friday morning at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod at VSiN.com/podcasts. The RFRP is also available via Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher and is sponsored by Xpressbet.

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