Last year, Eclipse Award winning Accelerate lost only one of seven races, the Oaklawn Handicap to City Of Light. This year, in Accelerate’s last and only race, City Of Light did it again, winning the $9-million Pegasus World Cup, the richest race in North America.
The two best older horses from Southern California had to travel to Gulfstream Park and compete under an almost pitch-black sky, a growing rain and a track labeled as sloppy. It was also the last race for City Of Light, and he and Accelerate will board the same van and plane and go to Lane’s End Farm in Versailles, Ky., on Sunday to begin careers as stallions.
Patternrecognition went to the lead with City Of Light in a perfect position right off the pace in the 1 1/8-mile race. Accelerate wasn’t too far behind, running fourth between horses. Entering the far turn, City Of Light and Accelerate moved to the front and everyone was anticipating a match race when they reached the top of the stretch.
But City Of Light stayed close to the rail as Accelerate went wide into the turn. In the end, the wide trip wouldn’t have mattered as City Of Light was too good. He extended his lead to win by 5 3/4 lengths and earn $4 million.
“It’s just wonderful,” said Michael McCarthy, City Of Light’s trainer. “When he broke well and was able to kind of ease outside of horses coming to the mile pole, I was very, very happy.
“When [jockey] Javier [Castellano] started moving at the half-mile pole, it didn’t appear that anybody was really pressing him. … Once he switched leads coming into the lane, you saw what happened. It was over. He’s an amazing animal, an amazing athlete.”
City Of Light paid $5.80, $4.20 and $3.00. Seeking The Soul got second with a late charge on the inside, and Accelerate finished third. Bravazo, second in last year’s Preakness, was fourth and Audible, winner of last year’s Florida Derby, was fifth.
McCarthy struggled at one point in the post-race news conference, unable to speak when he was asked how important City Of Light was for him. Stella, his 8-year-old daughter sitting in his lap, helped him regain his composure.
“It’s still kind of sinking in,” McCarthy said. “Obviously, you know, we’ve been in the business five years and started with one horse. To have a horse like this come into your life, I can’t tell you, honestly, there’s not words. … I can’t describe the emotion that goes along with something like this.”
John Sadler, Accelerate’s trainer, displayed class in a third-place finish.
“We thought he ran a really good race,” Sadler said. “It was tough conditions out there today. You saw most of the winners on the dirt all day were in front and he’s not really a speed horse per se. The winner ran a beautiful race, you have to give him credit. He was the better horse today. But our horse certainly didn’t disgrace himself. We’re headed out to dinner with our heads high.”
Jockey Joel Rosario, who replaced Victor Espinzoza after he was seriously injured in July, also offered no excuses.
“[City Of Light], after he took off again, he ran a big race,” Rosario said. “Turning for home [City Of Light] was in hand and I was just riding my horse. He was the best today.”
In the $7-million Pegasus World Cup Turf, Bricks And Mortar, who was biding his time mid-pack for most of the 1 3/16-mile race, started his move on the far turn, got into gear in the stretch and won by 2 ½ lengths. The 5-year-old paid $7.60, $4.20 and $3.20. Magic Wand was second and Delta Prince finished third.
There were three horses that shipped from Southern California: Catapult (fourth), Next Shares (seventh) and Fahan Mura (10th).
It was Bricks And Mortar’s second start after a 15-month layoff, both with jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.