The 149th running of the Kentucky Derby will take place on May 6th, 2023. By contrast, the Pegasus World Cup will have its 7th running on January 28th, 2023, on NBC and Peacock. While attempts to analyze the history of the Kentucky Derby are usually big broad strokes that look for trends, a race with only 6 previous runnings allows for a “micro” examination of each one of those runnings. My hope is that by looking at the six previous runnings, we can derive an understanding of the importance of this race and its winners. It might also give a sense of the type of horse that is most likely to succeed in the Pegasus.
First, a brief bit of history. Beginning in 2017, the Pegasus took the place of the Donn Handicap as a 9 furlong race for older horses on the schedule at Gulfstream Park. In its final year as the Donn, the race carried a purse of $500,000. By contrast, the Pegasus has had its purse as high as $16,300,000 and seems to have settled at its current purse value of $3 million. When it had inflated purse values, it was because of entry fees as high as $1 million that were put up by the owners of each horse. Currently, it is run as an invitational race, with all the money coming from the purse fund at Gulfstream. With that historical background, here is a look at each of the six previous runnings:
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Pegasus World Cup – Year-by-Year History
1. 2017 Pegasus World Cup
This looked like a 2-horse race on paper. Coming off wins in the Travers Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Arrogate was sent off at ninety cents on the dollar, a deserving odds-on favorite. His main challenger was California Chrome, the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner, who’d had a very strong 5-year-old season, posting wins in the Pacific Classic and the Awesome Again Stakes prior to finishing 2nd to Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. “Chrome” was sent off as a very solid 6/5 second choice, and the third choice was 2015 Travers Stakes winner Keen Ice at 16-1.
On this day, everything broke in favor of Arrogate, while California Chrome had an unfortunate trip around the Gulfstream oval. Breaking from the outside post is never good at Gulfstream when going 9 furlongs, and California Chrome, breaking from the 12-post, was forced 6-wide into the first turn. The strain of an outside trip was too much for him on this day, as he faded entering the far turn to finish 9th.
Meanwhile, Mike Smith had a perfect trip on Arrogate. Breaking from the rail, he sat behind longshot pacesetters Noble Bird and Neolithic. Smith brought him around the pacesetters on the far turn, and he went on to romp to a 4 ¾ length victory. His time of 1:46.83 still stands as the Gulfstream track record for a mile and an eighth. It may not have been California Chrome’s best day, but it’s doubtful that any horse could’ve properly challenged Arrogate on this day. It was a spectacular performance as he took the winner’s share of the $12 million purse and provided a remarkable inaugural for the Pegasus World Cup.
2. 2018 Pegasus World Cup
Winner: Gun Runner
Gun Runner was a deserving even-money favorite, and he ran to his form in capturing the winner’s share of the purse of over $16 million. He came into the race off of consecutive wins in the Stephen Foster Stakes, the Whitney Stakes, The Woodward Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He had a stalking trip in the Pegasus, taking over with three-eighths of a mile to go and winning by 2 ½ lengths over West Coast (a very strong horse in his own right). Gun Runner went to stud at Three Chimneys Farm after the Pegasus, and his offspring have proven to be first-rate. Among them is Cyberknife, a winner of the Haskell Stakes and the Arkansas Derby and a likely top choice in this year’s Pegasus. Gun Runner retired with career earnings of nearly $16 million, placing him 4th all-time among horses who have raced in North America.
3. 2019 Pegasus World Cup
Winner: City of Light
Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Accelerate was attempting to become the third consecutive horse to win the Classic and the Pegasus in back-to-back fashion. He was sent off as the 3/2 favorite, but the close 2nd choice at 9/5 was Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner City of Light. As things turned out, Accelerate might’ve fired his best shot in the Breeders’ Cup, while City of Light trained wonderfully coming into the Pegasus and had the mark of a horse who was reaching his peak. He took over the race entering the far turn and went on to win by 5 ¾ lengths over the late closing Seeking The Soul. In the Dirt Mile, Seeking The Soul completed the exacta at 10-1 odds, but in the Pegasus he was 34-1. If you simply bet back the winning exacta from the Dirt Mile, you captured an exacta that paid $82.20 for a $2 ticket. Accelerate finished 3rd, soundly beaten by over 7 lengths. City of Light went to stud at Lane’s End Farm after the Pegasus, and is off to a promising career as a stallion.
4. 2020 Pegasus World Cup
Winner: Mucho Gusto
This race might’ve been as notable for the horses that didn’t run as it was for those that did. The week of the race, key contenders Omaha Beach and Spun To Run were scratched, Omaha Beach with a minor leg injury and Spun To Run with a skin rash. These were the 1-2 finishers from the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, with Spun To Run winning wire-to-wire and Omaha Beach closing for 2nd. That was the only loss for Omaha Beach in his previous 6 starts, and he had 4 graded stakes wins in that group, including three Grade 1 races. Had he run, he would’ve been the likely favorite.
The absence of these two set up a situation where a horse with a high cruising speed could dominate, and that was exactly what happened. Mucho Gusto was clearly one of the top remaining horses, and he got a brilliant trip under Irad Ortiz, Jr. He sat a few lengths behind front-runner Mr. Freeze, and when Ortiz asked him on the far turn, he took over the race, going on to win by 4 ½ lengths, with Mr. Freeze holding on for second. Hindsight is always 20-20, and the $8.80 win price on Mucho Gusto turned out to be an absolute steal. It reinforced the importance of looking at the entire field and seeing how the pace scenario was likely to play out. In this case, the race played right into the strengths of Mucho Gusto, and he was much the best.
5. 2021 Pegasus World Cup
Winner: Knicks Go
Dominant speed often dominates absolutely, and that was the case in this edition of the Pegasus with Knicks Go. He was coming off a wire-to-wire score in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, winning by 3 ½ lengths over 62-1 shot Jesus’ Team. In the Pegasus, for the second time in three years, the 1-2 finishers from the Dirt Mile repeated their result. This time, Knicks Go was the 6/5 favorite, with Jesus’ Team going off at nearly 12-1. As expected, Knicks Go dominated on the front end, and Jesus’ Team closed to narrowly capture second. The Pegasus win was one of the highlights of an incredible 2021 season for Knicks Go, as later that year he would post consecutive wins in the Cornhusker Handicap, Whitney Stakes, Lukas Classic and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, leading to his 2021 Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year.
6. 2022 Pegasus World Cup
Winner: Life Is Good
On the odds board, 2021 winner Knicks Go (.90-to-1) and the red-hot Life Is Good (.80-to-1) were virtually co-favorites. The word around Gulfstream that week, however, was that Life Is Good was training magnificently, and he performed accordingly. Life Is Good went wire-to-wire and won by 3 ¼ lengths, with the non-threatening Knicks Go finishing 2nd and 26-1 shot Stiletto Boy finishing 3rd. The top two finishers, however, illustrated the type of matchup that the Pegasus can offer. Not only was it a great matchup of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner against the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, but it represented the third time that the Dirt Mile winner (in this case, Life Is Good) was successful stretching out an extra furlong to win the Pegasus. Both horses entered the race in fine form, as well. Knicks Go had won 8 of his previous 10 starts, and Life Is Good had posted 8 wins in 11 career starts. While the Breeders’ Cup Classic usually provides fields with incredible depth, the Pegasus, in 6 runnings, has shown the ability to produce some amazing head-to-head matchups.
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Pegasus World Cup historical trends
A look at the charts of all 6 runnings of the Pegasus combined with a look at the lifetime records of the winners have produced some handicapping angles as we look forward to this year’s running:
- Favorites do well – In 6 runnings, the odds of the winning horse have averaged $1.56-to-1, which would produce a $2 win ticket paying about $5.10. There is money to be made, however, with horses that run “underneath” in exotic wagers. The average odds on the 2nd place finishers have been nearly 13-1, and the average odds of the 3rd place finishers have averaged just over 18-1.
- You need to be close up to win – Five of the six Pegasus winners had the lead with 3/8 of a mile to go. The one outlier was Mucho Gusto, who was 2 ½ lengths behind entering the far turn and then took over at the top of the stretch.
- Go with the hot horse – Take a look at the records of all 6 winners going into the Pegasus:
2017 – Arrogate entered the race on a 5-race win streak
2018 – Gun Runner had won his last 4 starts
2019 – City Of Light had won 4 of his last 6
2020 – Mucho Gusto had 2 wins, a second and a third in his previous 5 starts
2021 – Knicks Go had won his last 3 starts
2022 – Life Is Good had 5 wins and 1 second in his last 6 starts
Applying these criteria to the 2023 Pegasus World Cup field
- Favorites do well – The likely top 4 horses in the wagering this year should be Proxy (rail post will help), White Abarrio (4-for-4 lifetime at Gulfstream will draw serious betting money), Defunded (the Baffert factor and running style work in his favor) and Cyberknife (clearly one of the fastest here, and his flexible running style should help him get positioning and stay out of trouble).
- You need to be close up to win – Defunded looks to be the best front runner in a group that features a lot of stalkers and mid-pack runners. The only other front runner of some quality is Art Collector, although this group may be tough for him. Speedsters who are likely to quit include Ridin With Biden and Stilleto Boy. Dangerous stalkers include Simplification, White Abarrio, Skippylongstocking and Cyberknife.
- Go with the hot horse – Proxy won the Grade 1 Clark at Churchill in his last, so he fits this category. Defunded has won his last 2 (both graded stakes) out in California. Skippylongstocking exits a win in the Harlan’s Holiday, which is the traditional prep for this race at Gulfstream. Cyberknife was defeated by a head in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in his last, and he’s a very consistent performer, finishing 1st or 2nd in 9 of 12 lifetime.
Favoritism should be a bit more wide open than it has been in previous runnings of this race. Defunded looks the best of the front-runners. I would not be surprised to see him get a clear lead with a large pack scrambling just behind him for positioning. Don’t discount White Abarrio’s 4-for-4 record at Gulfstream. Of the “hot horse” group, give a good look at Proxy. His win in the Clark had the mark of an improving type, and the rail could help his positioning.
This look at the history of the race and how it can be applied to the 2023 edition draws no clear conclusions, although it does make an effort to point in the right direction. A large field with no dominant favorite could lead to strong payoffs. Make your wagers and enjoy the telecast from 4:30-6:00 pm ET on NBC and Peacock this Saturday.
NBC Sports is home to the 2023 Pegasus World Cup, providing comprehensive race coverage and analysis live on TV, in the NBC Sports app, on NBCSports.com and on Peacock before, during and after the two headlining races. The 2023 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Series will take place on Saturday, January 28 from 4:30 to 6 p.m. ET.