The Pegasus World Cup Invitational races at Gulfstream Park tomorrow (Saturday) have drawn interesting fields – though the reduction in the swollen purses of the first three years has led to a significant decline in the quality of runner. A bitter blow to the main event was the withdrawal of presumed favourite Omaha Beach, one of the world’s most exciting horses.
So, arguably the more interesting event now is the turf race over nine and a half furlongs, in which some disparate strands of international form are drawn together. We will use the same format as usual to break down both this race and the later race on dirt.
Pegasus World Cup Invitational Turf (G1, $1m, 9½f)
Top Choice WITHOUT PAROLE
The #1 U.S. trainer Chad Brown won the only previous running of this with Bricks And Mortar, who was crowned U.S. Horse of the Year on Thursday. United with world #1 jockey Frankie Dettori, he has a great chance of following up with the Breeders’ Cup Mile third here.
Without Parole lost his way for world #1 John Gosden after winning the G1 St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2018. But we have seen this movie time and again: a move to Brown’s operation reignites the ailing star and his fireworks follow.
Certainly, Without Parole’s debut for Brown was a step in the right direction: he finished well at Santa Anita over what is now looking an inadequate mile and shaped as if a return to this trip would very much suit.
His back class is the best in the field and, if Brown has him right, he will be hard to beat, despite a quirky nature which means bets should always be sized cautiously.
There is nothing wrong with Magic Wand’s approach to the fray, and should the Top Choice miss his chance, she could be there to pick up the pieces. A pan-global campaign last year saw her win the G1 Mackinnon Stakes at Flemington and run second in G1 company at Sha Tin, Leopardstown and Arlington.
On the last-named occasion, she got within a length of Bricks And Mortar, no less, though the winner was well on top close home.
Value Pick MO FORZA
This is an amazing horse who comes into the race on the back of four wins that have made compelling viewing. He races enthusiastically, has an amazing cruising speed and can win from anywhere in a race. The only doubt over him is his lack of seasoning in the very top company and a tendency to wander in the closing stages.
Another Peter Miller-trained turf horse to simply take off up the ranks, Mo Forza was impressive in the G2 Mathis Brothers Mile Stakes at Santa Anita over the Christmas period. He was settled towards the rear of the 11-horse field and simply inhaled the competition to take command early in the stretch, thereafter losing concentration and balance and winning by only a length and a quarter from the deep-closing Originaire when he was really much the best.
Before that, Joel Rosario’s mount won the G1 Hollywood Derby at Del Mar in contrasting fashion. He raced close up throughout, slid round the leader straightening up and won readily – save for his familiar antics.
What can he do here against much tougher company from stall ten? It’s hard to know. But, when a horse of his obvious talent gets on a roll for Miller, it takes a brave person to step in front of him at the betting windows.
Pegasus World Cup Invitational Dirt (G1, $3m, 9f)
Top Choice HIGHER POWER
The case for Higher Power is easy to make here: he was third to Vino Rosso and McKinzie in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and nothing approximating the class of the first two is lined up here.
Having said that, there are a couple of elements that are reason for pause.
First, the drop back to nine furlongs on a track that favours speed does not seem to be in Higher Power’s favour. Second, he has missed a couple of easier chances before when seeming to lack a little in the finishing zest department. Nevertheless, there is no arguing that Higher Power is the one to beat.
The obvious alternative, Mucho Gusto, is a little tough to weigh up. It could be that Bob Baffert’s charge will fulfil the confidence long held about his ability, but it is disconcerting that he was only fourth in the G3 Oklahoma Derby when last seen. Prior to that, Bob Baffert’s runner ran a fine race to finish third in the G1 Travers, and if he bounces back to that he could win.
Value Pick TAX
While it is hard to put up Tax’s form against Higher Power and Mucho Gusto, he does look the type to improve as a 4-year-old and figures to run a career-best here. We last saw him when runner-up in the G3 Discovery at Aqueduct – back at the venue at which he was second to Tacitus in the G2 Wood Memorial last April.
Tax actually took his revenge on the winner in the G2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga, but he could not step forward off that as desired by trainer Danny Gargan in the Travers and was only seventh to Code Of Honour. He should be fresher than he was there and gets the benefit of the brilliant world #11Jose Ortiz in the plate here.
He rates value to post a big number – whether big enough remains to be seen.