With Johnny D: On Ropes, Pegasus Rallies

The 2020 Pegasus, fourth renewal of the event, struggled through early rounds while taking several potent jabs to the face. First, in a single, delayed announcement, the race’s purse was reduced from $7 million to $3 million and hopefuls were informed that starters in both the Pegasus World Cup Turf and Pegasus World Cup Invitational would be required to race medication free, including the omnipresent anti-bleeding aid Lasix.

Race purse and condition alteration announcements were followed by possibly unrelated but, nevertheless, crushing blows in the form of defections by headliners--runaway Eclipse Award-winning 3-year-old Maximum Security and Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up McKinzie. Connections announced that both runners, instead, would join the maiden voyage of the $20 million Saudi Cup in Saudi Arabia.

A few counterpunches kept things close on judges’ cards--reduced starting fees for owners and a pledge to racehorse aftercare—an $80k final contribution.

Just as it seemed the 2020 Pegasus had settled into a decent rhythm, moving, sticking and promising to make it a fight, the race was hit with a damaging, powerful one-two combination. The day after entries, within a few hours, not one but two top morning-line favorites scratched from the race. Omaha Beach, a talented 4-year-old multiple Grade 1 winner and Breeders’ Cup Mile runner-up, and Spun to Run, winner of the Gr. 1 BC Mile, had physical issues that precluded them from starting in the race. Omaha Beach is through racing and will begin a stud career at Spendthrift Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. Spun to Run, according to trainer Juan Carlos Guerrero will rest before, hopefully, returning to action.

Those blows sent the 2020 Pegasus reeling against the ropes, knees wobbly, eyes glazed. It seemed as if the race was headed for the canvas, flat on its back. Ten runners remained to compete for $3 million, but without top drawing cards it seemed as if the race’s luster had vanished into the cool Hallandale Beach air.

Then, suddenly, like Rocky Balboa, the club fighter who got an improbable shot at the heavyweight title, the 2020 Pegasus roared back with a vengeance, landing blows left and right. The weather struck first—at the end of a week of the coldest temperatures in eight years--clear, sunny, mid-70s temperatures arrived Saturday with a faint, cool breeze off the nearby Atlantic.

The event’s undercard delivered a series of punches, race after race, featuring mutuel payoffs so juicy that they, ultimately, nearly caused a swollen Rainbow Six Jackpot to disperse the day before a much-anticipated mandatory payout.

Like the Italian Stallion against Apollo Creed, the 2020 Pegasus event rallied to take control of the fight with a powerful left hook to the body in the form of the second edition of the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational. Zulu Alpha, a 7-year-old claimed by Mike Maker for $80k out of nine-length win at Churchill in September of 2018, enjoyed a splendid rail-skimming trip under jockey Tyler Gaffalione. In the stretch, he exploded past respected world traveler Magic Wand by two lengths at 11.80-1.

In addition to outstanding racing, Pegasus 2020 also delivered on its promise to offer outstanding entertainment with an eye toward attracting a younger demographic. Across the horse path, up the stretch from the grandstand, some of Miami’s beautiful people gathered to eat, drink, be merry and wager on the races. Attracted by local promotion and appearances by T-Pain and Nelly, the crowd in the LIV Stretch Village swelled as the afternoon progressed. The most illustrious of attendees was the beautiful, multi-talented Jennifer Lopez, who walked the blue carpet with her two daughters. Right behind JLo was husband Alex Rodriguez and his two daughters. It looked like a Saturday afternoon family outing, mixing a bit of business with pleasure, no doubt. But who cares if JLo was paid to appear? All my starstruck wife cared about was that there was the superstar was ascending the stairs a mere five feet away. Of course, the rest of the crowd was just as jazzed, and called out to JLo while somewhat ignoring her her former New York Yankee star and baseball Hall-of-Fame candidate husband.

It reminded me about Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe and Hall-of-Fame Yankee husband Joe DiMaggio. During their honeymoon in Japan, Monroe made a side trip to Korea to entertain the troops. As Roger Kahn described it in Joe and Marilyn: A Memory of Love, “When she was reunited with DiMaggio, she described the crowds and then burst out, ‘Joe, you never heard such cheering.’ ‘Yes, I have,’ DiMaggio said…”

Moments later, actor Vin Diesel followed the same Pegasus Blue Carpet route and stairs, but my wife wasn’t nearly as impressed. No offense, Vin.

Also, Saturday, there was a horse race.

The Pegasus World Cup Invitational was won by Mucho Gusto, a California invader trained by Bob Baffert. Unlike with three previous Pegasus editions, won by Arrogate (also trained by Baffert), Gun Runner and City of Light, respectively, horseplayers viewed this renewal differently than merely as a pre-retirement coronation. Favoritism, at 2.80-1, went to another Southern California-based runner in the John Sadler-trained Higher Power. Mucho Gusto was solid second choice at 3.40-1, just in front of Tax at 4.30-1. ‘Power and ‘Gusto finished as bookends, the former home last and the latter first. Tax beat only ‘Power home and reportedly ‘bled’ while racing without Lasix.

Clearly aboard the best on the afternoon, jockey Irad Ortiz rode a brilliant, confident race; breaking fast from near the outside, the pair gained the lead going into the first turn, saved ground along the rail and relaxed comfortably behind a pair of determined pacesetters. When it was ‘go’ time, Ortiz merely needed only to ask the question and ‘Gusto responded affirmatively to roar home convincingly.

Like Rocky, the 2020 Pegasus World Cup Invitational didn’t rally to win by a knockout. It overcame early challenges to go the distance in a close decision. Some will argue that Mucho Gusto is no superstar, and that’s true…today. But, perhaps, instead of featuring the final race of a great horse’s career, this season’s Pegasus World Cup may be the coming out party for an up and coming star. Certainly, the race would have been much different with Omaha Beach and Spun to Run in the lineup, never mind if Maximum Security and McKinzie had shown up. However, according to an impressive 107 Beyer Speed Rating, Saturday, they would have needed to wear their running shoes on to defeat Mucho Gusto.

Post 2020 Pegasus World Cup, as the Miami sun set on a job well done, this writer noticed JLo, and family depart the Liv Stretch Village. Wait, you mean they were in attendance for the races and not just for the post-race entertainment? Great! Upon hearing a rumor that ARod had wagered $500 to win on Mucho Gusto, I remarked, “That’s great, I bet $200 on him. Obviously, one of us is wagering over his head.”

Race On!

With Johnny D: On Ropes, Pegasus Rallies

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