Most agree that horse racing is in the midst of a giant reinvention of itself. And few races exemplify that idea more than the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park, which seems to look and feel different every year.
It started as a $9-million race, with the participants putting up their own money. It evolved into a $16-million race — the richest in the world — with deals being cut to get owners to enter their horses. Last year, it cut purses to add a turf race. On Saturday, it’s down to a $3-million dirt race and a $1-million turf race, with all the money put up by Stronach Group.
This is easily a pivotal year for the race as it must now compete with the $20-million Saudi Cup on Feb. 29. Why run for $3 million when you can run for $20 million? Maximum Security, who was disqualified as the winner of last year’s Kentucky Derby, was set to run in the Pegasus but switched to the Saudi race when Pegasus lowered its purse. Co-owner Gary West called the purse reduction an “absolute game-changer.”
Something else is new about this year’s event. Stronach Group has forbidden race-day medication for the races, including Lasix, which is commonly used to treat bleeding in horses’ lungs. It’s all part of Stronach Group’s push for medication and safety reforms in reaction to the spate of deaths last year at Santa Anita.
The trainers seem to be OK with the medication change.
“It never entered my thought about worrying about that part of it,” said trainer Bob Baffert, who will have morning-line favorite Mucho Gusto in the race at 9-2.
“It’s probably overdue that we go with no Lasix and other medications,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who will have True Timber in the race.
The race lost luster Thursday when Omaha Beach pulled out with a problem in his right hind ankle that his trainer said could have foreshadowed a cannon bone fracture. He was the even-money favorite preparing to run his last race. He was the kind of star that the Pegasus was designed to attract, a top-flight horse making one last race before going to the breeding shed.
Omaha Beach was last year’s Kentucky Derby favorite before scratching a few days before the race with a throat issue. He was supposed to be off the track for three weeks, but because of other maladies that cropped up, it turned into five months. The breeding rights to Omaha Beach had been sold to Spendthrift Farms before the Kentucky Derby.
Owner Rick Porter lamented that he didn’t make a provision when he sold the horse that he could run as a 4-year-old.
“If I get another stallion like him, I’ll put in some language [that he could run at 4],” Porter said.
Porter has another idea that would help horse racing.
“This sport needs stars,” he said. “But how are we going to get stars when Justify and American Pharoah [Triple Crown winners in 2018 and 2015, respectively] retire at 3. It’s a no-brainer we should use artificial insemination,” Porter said of a practice allowed in breeding quarter horses and standardbreds but banned for thoroughbreds.
“If that were allowed, then horses would be running as a 4-year-old and getting mares pregnant.”
Now there’s an idea that stretches the idea of reinvention.