Breeders’ Cup winners go head-to-head in Pegasus World Cup

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The legendary musical Fiddler On The Roof begins with an ode to the importance of “Tradition.”

In the sports world, traditions are cherished, and change does not come easily. It took a lot of persuasion in the early 1980’s for John Gaines, John Nerud and others to launch a concept like the Breeders’ Cup. While it lessened the importance of what had been title-deciding races, such as the Champagne Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup, it helped the American racing industry to establish what have become true World Championships.

One tradition that did not change, however, was that races of importance tended to be run in the span between the early spring and the fall, culminating with the Breeders’ Cup. There was winter racing of significance in the warm weather climates, but these races had very little influence on who would win Eclipse Awards.

RELATED: How to watch Pegasus World Cup 2022: TV channel, live stream, start time

It takes persuasion and outside-the-box thinking to challenge tradition, and that is what the Stronach Group did when they established the Pegasus World Cup in 2017. They took the Donn Handicap, a Grade 1 stakes race that took place in January and was generally forgotten by the end of the year, and converted it into a race that had real importance. In its earliest years, inflated by “stake money” from owners, it had purses that ran as high as $12 million. In recent years, with the “stake money” concept discontinued, it still has had a purse of $3 million, which matches the Kentucky Derby. In addition, the Pegasus World Cup Turf was added in 2019 with a juicy purse of $1 million. The emerging star Bricks and Mortar used that race as the first leg of an undefeated Horse of the Year season that year.

The traditions of racing implied that important races would not be run in the end of January, but the Pegasus concept has changed all that. With NBC as their broadcast partner, Gulfstream Park has created a racing program of true significance in an unlikely spot on the calendar. Part of the brilliance of their concept was to recognize that a star of the sport could “squeeze in” one last start in the Pegasus before heading off to the breeding farms to start a new career. The superstar Gun Runner made his final start in the Pegasus, capping off a career with earnings of nearly $16 million. By winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Pegasus World Cup in dominant back-to-back fashion, he made it a virtual certainty that he would enter the Hall of Fame in the near future.

RELATED: Knicks Go wins $3 million Pegasus World Cup

Another attractive aspect of the Pegasus is its distance of a mile and an eighth. Last year saw Knicks Go and Jesus’ Team, the 1-2 finishers in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, repeat their 1-2 finish in the Pegasus. This year, a return by Knicks Go presents two intriguing possiblilities. He could become the first back-to-back winner of the Pegasus, which would send him to the breeding shed with career earnings of over $10 million. Also, it could present only the second time that the previous year’s winners of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and the Breeders’ Cup Classic have matched up in the Pegasus. The first matchup was in 2019, when the 2018 Dirt Mile winner, City of Light, defeated Classic winner Accelerate, who finished 3rd.

Competition at the 2021 Breeders' Cup

Knicks Go is expected to get a stout challenge from Life Is Good, the winner of the Dirt Mile by nearly 6 lengths. It doesn’t get much better than a matchup like this coming right after dominant wins in the Breeders’ Cup. At a mile and an eighth, it’s a fair test, as Knicks Go would shorten up by a furlong, and Life Is Good would stretch out by a furlong off their Breeders’ Cup efforts. Since both horses run on or close to the pace, it shapes up as a race that could test them to their limits.

Competition at 2021 Breeders' Cup

If racing had stuck to its traditions, a potential matchup like this, in the aftermath of Breeders’ Cup glory, would not take place. No matter what the outcome, the fact that the Pegasus concept can lead to a potential race of this magnitude proves that it has arrived as a major event on the racing calendar. Here’s to hoping that it can establish a new tradition that will last for a long time and deliver memorable races!

How can I watch the 2022 Pegasus World Cup?

NBC Sports is home to the 2022 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.

About the Author: Al Bernstein has worked as a statistician on NBC’s horse racing telecasts since the inaugural Breeders’ Cup in 1984.

Breeders’ Cup preps reach crescendo with Fall Stars Weekend at Keeneland

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To the horse racing world, Keeneland is Disneyland. Everything about the Keeneland experience tells you that you are in a special place where the world revolves around thoroughbred racing and breeding.

Take Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, for example. Although it’s in a relatively small marketplace, it can handle 747 jets, because wealthy owners attending the horse sales often arrive in a jumbo jet with a large entourage. When you leave the airport, you are at the intersection of Man o’War Boulevard and Versailles Road. You’re literally across the street from Gate 1 of Keeneland Race Course. Keeneland, by the way, is adjacent to the legendary Calumet Farm. Venturing out onto various side streets, you will almost stumble upon some of the most famous breeding facilities in the world. In the paddocks of these farms, the vision of mares and their foals frolicking is commonplace, looking like a scene from a movie.

Keeneland is unique, as its elegance and its racing exist side by side with its primary purpose: being a place where millions of dollars change hands on a regular basis in the sales pavilion. A countless number of legendary horses had their careers begin with their purchase in that pavilion. Unlike venues in places like New York and California, where racing is conducted virtually year-round, racing at Keeneland is held for three weeks in the spring and three weeks in the fall.

RELATED: Pleasant Passage wins Miss Grillo Stakes

The fall meeting is situated perfectly to provide final prep races for many of the horses who are pointed to a performance in the Breeders’ Cup. In a span of 3 days, from October 7th to 9th, Fall Stars Weekend will feature 9 different “Win and You’re In” races in nine different Breeders’ Cup divisions. Normally, these would be very attractive races with large purses, but when you add in the fact that the Breeders’ Cup will be held at Keeneland this year, they are even more attractive. These races offer the prospect of having a horse get a final prep at Keeneland, stay stabled in the Lexington area, and then compete in the Breeders’ Cup, all in a four-week span. For those based at Keeneland, it means they will just have a brief walk through the magnificent stable area to get to the location where they will be racing.

History of The Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland

The first Breeders’ Cup held at Keeneland was the 2015 edition, and the decision to hold the event there was controversial. Many in the racing world felt that the facility was too small, as it could not hold the large crowds of Churchill Downs and Santa Anita. Brilliant management at Keeneland led to the attendance in the main building being limited, with satellite locations on the grounds handling the overflow of a total crowd of about 40,000. It was a comfortable event to attend, helped in no small part by the fact that the star of the show was the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. American Pharoah lived up to his billing, turning in a dominant performance to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the final race of his career. The event returned to Keeneland in 2020, but attendance was limited due to the pandemic. Once again, however, the star of the show delivered, as Kentucky Derby winner Authentic capped off his career with a win in the Classic.

Fall Stars Weekend will be featured in two telecasts, to be shown at 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday on CNBC. Each day will feature two live races, along with highlights of some of the other “Win and You’re In” races from the weekend.

RELATED: Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

Saturday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

On Saturday, the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity will be shown live. The winner will gain entrance to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The likely favorite will be the Todd Pletcher-trained Forte, who was a dominant winner of the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. Pletcher has another interesting prospect in Lost Ark, who is 2-for-2 lifetime, including a runaway win in the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth in his last start. Bob Baffert will be shipping in two juveniles for a possible start in the Breeders’ Futurity. Most notable of these is Carmel Road, who captured a maiden race at Del Mar by 8 ½ lengths in his last start. The other possible Baffert starter is National Treasure, who captured a 6 ½ furlong Maiden race at Del Mar in a fast time in his only career start. Another youngster pointed to this race is Frosted Departure, from the barn of Ken McPeek. This one captured an allowance race at Churchill Downs by 9 ¼ lengths last time out.

The other live race on Saturday’s telecast is the Coolmore Turf Mile, which is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. This is always a contentious race, and some veteran campaigners who haven’t lost a step highlight this year’s field. One of those vets is the Bill Mott-trained Casa Creed, who won the Fourstardave Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. Major turf races at this time of year frequently feature Chad Brown trainees, and this race is no exception. His top two probables here are Emaraaty, who won the Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga in his last start, and Masen, who won the Poker Stakes at Belmont earlier this year. Paulo Lobo will return with In Love, who won this race last year.  Finally, how about a horse who has been 1st or 2nd in 10 of 12 lifetime starts at 1 mile on turf? That’s trainer Michael McCarthy’s veteran Smooth Like Strait. This one is a wide-open affair with some worthy contenders, to be sure.

RELATED: Mo Donegal rewards team’s confidence at Belmont

Sunday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

The first live race on Sunday’s telecast from Keeneland will be the Bourbon Stakes, for 2-year-olds on the turf. It is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Some key trainers dominate the storylines in this race. Mark Casse has won the Bourbon Stakes in 4 of its last 7 runnings, and he will run Boppy O, the winner of the With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. McPeek is another 4-time winner of the Bourbon. He won last year with Tiz The Bomb, who then went on to finish 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. His 2 probables for the race are Rarified Flair (2nd in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile last out) and B Minor (won a Maiden race on dirt at Churchill Downs in his last start). It also should be noted that North America’s all-time leading trainer in wins, Steve Asmussen, will have two probable entries in Red Route One and Gigante. Red Route One won a Maiden race at Kentucky Downs in his last, while Gigante was the winner of the Kitten’s Joy Stakes at Colonial Downs in his last appearance. Finally, there is Brendan Walsh, who seems to always be a factor in Kentucky, and especially in turf races. He presents Reckoning Force, who won that $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile in his last out.

The show-topper on Sunday is the venerable Juddmonte Spinster Stakes. Back in 1984, Princess Rooney posted a win in the Spinster as her final prep before winning the inaugural running of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Other notables who have won this race in their final prep before winning the Distaff include Bayakoa, Paseana, Inside Information and Blue Prize.

This year’s Juddmonte Spinster features a matchup between two of the top females of the past couple of years in Letruska and Malathaat. Letruska won the Spinster last year on her way to an Eclipse Award as top older female dirt horse. This year, she has posted 2 wins and a third in 4 starts. Malathaat won the 2021 Kentucky Oaks and was 3rd in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She enters this race off a win in the Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga.

This weekend presents the final North American “Win and You’re In” opportunities for the Breeders’ Cup. In New York, California, and Kentucky, 14 horses will gain entry into the “Big Dance” of Thoroughbred Racing. Most of us will be getting a case of “Breeders’ Cup Fever” this weekend, as the reality of those races on the first weekend of November draws ever so much closer.

Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

Qatar Prix de Arc de Triomphe
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PARIS – Alpinista made light work of the rain and heavy ground to narrowly win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Jockey Luke Morris attacked heading into the last furlong and the 5-year-old mare just held off a late charge from Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon on Vadeni and last year’s 80-1 winner Torquator Tasso, ridden by veteran Italian jockey Frankie Dettori.

“I had a beautiful draw in stall six and after being perfectly placed, there was a second when I thought we were getting drawn into it too early,” Morris said. “But once she had taken charge, I was able to sit on her from 100 meters out.”

Morris felt the conditions would have made it harder for Alpinista to attack the way she did.

“I was concerned when all that rain came but the race went very smoothly,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how it could have in a 20-runner Arc. It was incredible.”

Alpinista was among the pre-race favorites.

“If it hadn’t been my horse, I would have thought it was going to win every inch of the way, but when it’s your own of course it’s a nightmare,” Alpinista trainer Mark Prescott said. “I didn’t think all that rain would help, but she’s never traveled better and has come on with each race.”

It was not yet clear if Alpinista will next race at the Breeders’ Cup or the Japan Cup next month.