Tricky Pegasus World Cup draws for Chrome and Arrogate
USA: The post-position draw for the Pegasus World Cup was made on Monday night at Gulfstream Park in Florida - and the cat has well and truly been placed among the pigeons for Saturday's $12 million contest, due to be shown live on At The Races.
Ante-post favourite California Chrome will start from gate 12 on the wide outside in the world's richest race - a nine-furlong event with a short run to the first turn - while his Breeders' Cup Classic conqueror Arrogate will break from the inner in gate one.
"Oh Gosh, here we go again!" said California Chrome's trainer Art Sherman, who reportedly rolled his eyes as the number 12 came out of the box. "The only good thing I thought about this is that he doesn't have to be in the starting gate long."
At the current Gulfstream Park meeting, no horse drawn wider than seven has won at a distance greater than a mile on the main dirt track, albeit from an admittedly small sample size. According to figures from the Daily Racing Form, post 12 is 1/18 in dirt races at the Pegasus trip since Gulfstream Park was expanded from a mile in circumference in 2006; posts ten to 12 are 7/117.
Sherman was still making confident noises, however. "Chrome is Chrome," said the veteran trainer. "He's got tactical speed. I was hoping that we would get closer inside. He will overcome all this, believe me. We can't make any excuses."
Post positions suggest California Chrome and Arrogate will both have to be sent quickly to the head of affairs or risk being either hooked out wide (California Chrome) or stuck behind lesser horses on the rail (Arrogate).
As such, Arrogate's draw also holds potential terrors as the inside berth is often the one most US trainers are most keen to avoid as it limits options for a jockey. That said, gate one has a healthy 4/12 record at the current Gulfstream meet.
California Chrome, who regained his US Horse of the Year title on Saturday at the Eclipse Awards, will be retired after Saturday's race. "It will be emotional," added Sherman. "I'd love to see him go out a winner."
Sherman is looking forward to what promises to be an epic rematch between two horses sure to feature as one-two in the global list when the World Thoroughbred Racehorse Rankings are revealed in London on Tuesday.
"I know it's going to be a tough race, but I'll tell you I've never seen a horse train like him in a long time," he said. "It seems like each time I work him he gets a little bit stronger. I would have loved to have one more year with him. This year would have been a fabulous year for this horse. He amazes me on the way he's just getting better. At six years old, you look at him and you say, 'Wow, he hasn't reached his peak yet'."
Baffert, for his part, praised Pegasus creator Frank Stronach for a concept that has revitalised the moribund US winter scene. "I think it's thinking out of the box," he said. "It couldn't have come at a better year when you've got the number one and number two horses hooked up together. It's very rare that you'll get that type of a match-up. It's like a Breeders' Cup all over again."
Grade 1 winner Gun Runner has finally been ruled out of the Pegasus after connections failed to satisfy Gulfstream officials about testing procedures at Fair Grounds racetrack, currently under quarantine after an outbreak of equine herpesvirus. A blood test proved negative but a required nasal swab has not been produced.
A total of six Group or Grade 1 winners will take part, however, among them the Mark Casse-trained Noble Bird, another who likes to race with the pace. He is drawn four.
Under the unusual entry arrangements for the race, there are three reserves who could replace specific horses. Stanford, likely favourite for the $400,000 consolation event on Saturday's card, would replace Arrogate in the event of a late scratching, while Sea Raven would go instead of Breaking Lucky and Madefromlucky would replace California Chrome.
Pegasus World Cup field (with jockeys and morning-line odds)
1 Arrogate Mike Smith 7-5
2 Prayer For Relief Florent Geroux 50-1
3 Neolithic John Velazquez 30-1
4 Noble Bird Julien Leparoux 25-1
5 War Story Antonio Gallardo 50-1
6 War Envoy Luis Saez 50-1
7 Shaman Ghost Jose Ortiz 20-1
8 Semper Fortis Tyler Gaffalione 50-1
9 Keen Ice Javier Castellano 12-1
10 Breaking Lucky Luis Contreras 25-1
11 Eragon Edgar Prado 50-1
12 California Chrome Victor Espinoza 6-5