Gun Runner will lead a full field of 12 to the starting gate in the $16.3 million Pegasus World Cup this Saturday at Gulfstream Park. 12 owners put up $1 million each for the privilege of having a horse in the race. The race will be run at the precarious distance of 1-1/8 miles around 2 turns. The purveyors of the Pegasus set the distance at 1-1/8 instead of the classic distance of 1-1/4 miles to persuade champion milers or even a sprinter or two to take a shot at the big purse, hoping to ensure a perennially full field.
This distance presents a dilemma out of the gate. With such a short run into the first turn, outside horses are at a supreme disadvantage. Since the reconstruction of Gulfstream Park back in 2006, only 1 horse in 18 races has won from post 12 at 9 furlongs and that was the champion Big Brown in the 2008 Florida Derby. If you were reading last year, I predicted California Chrome would run the worst race of his career after he drew the 12 post.
The pace of the race is complicated by the 4/5 morning line favorite, Gun Runner, drawing the #10 post. While it isn’t the farthest out, he will have to be used early to avoid being hung wide on the first turn. Gun Runner has been no worse than 2nd at the first call in all 7 of his 2017 outings but in this race all of the speed is inside of him. Will the Gulfstream bias take down another champion?
Also expected to be up close early are Bob Baffert’s duo of West Coast and Collected, as well Jorge Navarro’s miler Sharp Azteca. With 2 Baffert trainees going out, I don’t see Gun Runner cruising to the front from post 10 before the turn. But if he does, the race could be over for everyone else.
Collected, with Mike Smith aboard, had a poor showing in Santa Anita’s G2 San Antonio where Smith took the blame for a bad ride after slipping as they left the gate. But the pace was so slow that I have to blame the horse. Usually near the front, he sat last in that race to pedestrian fractions of 49 at the half. By comparison, his previous 2 tries at Santa Anita at a mile and mile and a sixteenth were 46 and 4, and 46 flat. Quite a difference for a horse that has a victory over Arrogate on his resume.
West Coast ran an even 3rd in the BC Classic behind Gun Runner and stablemate Collected when the trio sat 1-2-3 all the way around. He has the advantage of drawing post #2 where he will save ground, as opposed to his run in the classic where he traveled 38 feet farther than Gun Runner only to lose by 3 ½ lengths (per Trakus).
Sharp Azteca, who normally competes in 1 mile affairs, will certainly be gunning for the front but being loose on the lead against this level of competition is his only shot. He will go for the lead, he may get it on the 1st turn, but he will not have it at the end.
Other hopeful include a rogue’s gallery of longshots with morning line odds of 25-1 and up. They will be hoping for a monumental pace duel or some oddity to occur in order to best this field.
Since I hate giving out a short priced favorite, I will be looking for Gun Runner and his post #10 to have some trouble early as Sharp Azteca gets the lead with Gun Runner, Collected and West Coast just behind. The trip will be everything as I see West Coast saving all the ground and lunging to the wire to take home the winner’s share.
It’s West Coast for the win and let’s hope we get at least his 8-1 morning line odds