Accelerate early favorite to win Pegasus World Cup

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Accelerate’s big week is here, and it’s off to a start his connections wanted.

Accelerate is the 9-5 early favorite to win Saturday’s $9 million Pegasus World Cup, drawing the No. 5 post in a field of 12 for the race to be run over 1 1/8 miles of dirt at Gulfstream Park. It’ll be the final race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic champion, who is a mere 1 1/8 miles of Gulfstream Park dirt away from beginning his stud career.

“It’s a good post,” Accelerate trainer John Sadler said. “We didn’t want to be on the outside and we didn’t want to be on the inside. We were hoping for 5 or 6, so we’re very happy with the draw.”

Accelerate was almost certainly going to be the pre-race favorite regardless of what spot in the starting gate he drew. He’s also a finalist for Horse of the Year, the top prize that will be given out when the Eclipse Awards are unveiled at Gulfstream on Thursday night. That trophy figures to come down to either Accelerate or Justify, the now-retired winner of the Triple Crown last year.

“I have nothing but respect for the other horse, obviously,” Sadler said. “He’s an undefeated Triple Crown winner, and I saw him breeze all winter at Santa Anita, my home base, so I’m pretty familiar with him. He’s a great horse. That being said, my horse was a great horse last year.”

And a win on Saturday would only cement Accelerate as an all-time great: If he prevails, Accelerate’s career earnings would place him in the top 10 among all North American thoroughbreds. That’s the perk of the Pegasus, which offered purses of $12 million and $16 million in its first two runnings – and will pay out $16 million again this year, with $7 million of that earmarked for a newly added turf race to the program.

The Pegasus dirt is the richest purse in North America; the Pegasus turf has the richest purse for a grass race in North America.

“It’s good for racing,” said owner Ron Paolucci, who has Imperative in the Pegasus dirt race and Dubby Dubbie in the Pegasus turf. “That’s what I got into it for. And truthfully, it’s very selfish on my part. You win one of these races, it changes your life forever – not only in the racing community but in your financial situation.”

City of Light is the second choice behind Accelerate at 5-2, and Gunnevera – who was second to Accelerate at the Breeders’ Cup Classic – is 8-1 in the morning line. Gunnevera was third in the Pegasus World Cup last year.

Yoshida – a Grade 1 winner in both dirt and turf races – is the morning-line favorite for the Pegasus turf race at 5-2, just ahead of Catapult at 7-2. Yoshida finished last year on dirt, and was fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“He’s got a pedigree for both and he’s one of the odd horses that has transitioned from one to the other,” said Bill Mott, who trains Yoshida. “It’s probably debatable whether his dirt races are better than his turf races, and they may well be, but he’s a horse that won very nicely for us in the spring last year on the turf. He’s run with good company, and we weighed our options here and thought that maybe the turf was the spot to go this time.”