The first $12 million Pegasus World Cup will be a race to remember with the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Arrogate, set for an eagerly awaited rematch with California Chrome. The newly created most valuable horse race on planet Earth is to be run over a mile and a furlong on dirt at Gulfstream Park on January 28.
The Pegasus World Cup has been on the agenda for California Chrome as his final appearance on a racetrack since the race with its unique, $1 million per stall, limited entry arrangement was announced. In contrast Arrogate’s intended participation was confirmed as recently as December 23 when the news broke that his owner Khalid Abdullah (pictured), under his Juddmonte Farms banner, had purchased a Pegasus starting stall from Coolmore, the massive thoroughbred breeding operation based in Ireland. The deal that was brokered between the two parties has not been disclosed.
Arrogate instantly became the 5/4 favorite to replicate his Breeders’ Cup victory over California Chrome who was nudged into the second spot in the Pegasus World Cup betting at 13/8. They are currently the only two runners being offered at single figure odds. Chad Brown’s three-year-old son of Curlin, Connect (10/1) and Gun Runner (12/1) are next in the betting with all the other potential starters priced at 25/1 or more. Though we can expect the line-up to take further shape between now and race time.
The details for the race were announced on May 11 and just eight days later all 12 starting positions had been sold at $1 million each although two places were bought by organisations connected with promoters of the race. California Chrome LLC purchased one immediately as well as Paul Reddam, Sol Kumin (Exaggerator’s owner) and Coolmore.
Having purchased a starting position, the buyers can use it for their own horse or sell it on to a third party or lease it. Reddam, owner of the Kentucky Derby winners Nyquist (2016) and I’ll Have Another (2012) decided to treat a Pegasus World Cup starting stall as an investment and immediately put his gate up for sale for $2 million.
It is no surprise that Juddmonte Farms were not on the initial list of Pegasus entrants. When the Pegasus starting positions became available for purchase Arrogate had not shown his owners anything to make them believe that he should take part. This sizeable three-year-old grey son of Unbridled’s Song had physical issues that kept him off the track as a juvenile so there were no early clues.
When Arrogate finally made his debut at Los Alamitos in mid April he ran very green and was a beaten red hot favorite. Arrogate went on to win next time out and followed up with some minor races but he did not look ready to take on the big boys.
In August, when Arrogate lined up against high class opposition for the first time at Saratoga in the Travers Stakes, whatever talent he had showed his trainer Bob Baffert at home did not result in any confidence in the betting market. Sometimes the unprecedented assistance of a top jockey convinces bettors to part with their cash but, even with Mike Smith riding him, he was sent off at 12/1. Trying the longer distance of a mile and a quarter for the first time, Arrogate’s performance was a revelation. He took the lead from the moment the gates opened and was never headed or remotely challenged, he won by a jaw-dropping 13 lengths and broke the long-standing track record.
The 5/2 Travers favorite Exaggerator was beaten 33 lengths, signalling the potential end of his Pegasus World Cup hopes which were confirmed after a disappointing subsequent effort in September. Whilst Sol Kumin needed to rethink the plan for his Pegasus stall purchase, Baffert and Juddmonte revised their strategy for Arrogate in an upward direction. They went into the Breeders’ Cup Classic with high hopes rather than expectation, thinking that California Chrome would be too great a talent for their inexperienced colt to overcome.
Only in the final furlong at Santa Anita did Arrogate look likely to get past California Chrome and once he did, Mike Smith took forever to pull him up. Arrogate handled the buzz of the Breeders’ Cup atmosphere well and came out of the race in good shape.
He has not raced since but his work at home has probably persuaded his connections to invest in the Pegasus. Now that his stall has been booked, Baffert insists that Arrogate will only take part if everything goes well for him over the next month. Expect him to wear extra bandages and boots in his work from here on in.
California Chrome has had one start since his Breeders’ Cup defeat. His local track, Los Alamitos, held a race on December 18 over a mile and half a furlong especially for him to use as a prep run for the Pegasus. The nine other runners were paid an appearance fee to make it look like a proper race but provided opposition so weak that Art Sherman’s star was the 1/20 favorite. California Chrome enjoyed a confidence-boosting cruise to victory by 12 lengths, beating nothing but breaking the track record. That does not mean much at Los Alamitos but demonstrates that California Chrome’s engine is still running smoothly.
The Pegasus World Cup is the baby of Frank Stronach who has had innovative ideas before. Stronach was responsible for the Sunshine Millions, a much smaller scale project restricted to horses bred in California and Florida. The timing of this race was chosen to make it an additional target for world class Breeders’ Cup contenders and for horses destined for Dubai. The costly initial entry arrangements have ensured that the prize fund comfortably exceeds that of the previous horseracing purse chart-topper, the $10 million Dubai World Cup.
The Pegasus Millions concept has been well received and, unlike the Sunshine Millions, has immediately been secured by a national television company. The owners of Pegasus participants will not only have the opportunity to win prize money but, according to The Stronach Group, will share in any net profits gained from advertising revenues and from the sale of media rights. ‘Any’ could be a key word.
It is more than just a truly unique USA betting event. The Pegasus World Cup winner will receive $7 million and the losers may get some compensation but January 28 has become an exciting date for American horse racing fans.