The Turk and the Little Turk, now entering our ninth year of giving unsolicited horse racing handicaps to people who never asked for them. Today the Turk has the honor of writing the handicap for The Pegasus World Cup Invitational, a $12,000,000 purse doozy of a Grade 1 race. I'd be remiss if right out of the gate if I don't thank the good people at The Thorofan and the Handicapper's Corner for allowing me this pulpit to ramble from.
The hip bloggers like to criticize. The Turk ain't hip (in case you didn't know, 3rd person references are oh so not hip.) This inaugural Pegasus Invitational to me seemed like a real revolutionary idea, not a complete game changer because you couldn't do too many of these without upsetting the natural order of the racing calendar and dates, but still a real unique idea to develop another destination day for fans of the sport between the Breeders' Cup in early November and the Kentucky Derby in May. Because of the decentralized nature of horse racing, anyone who steps outside the lines gets criticized, and The Stronach Group took plenty of criticism for the event. There is a rant that relates perfectly to horse racing, the definition of insanity is.....blah blah blah. I'm old enough to remember horse racing still as culturally relevant sport in the 1970's. I'm old enough to remember the beauty of Hiahleah and I shake my head at the loss of Hollywood. The sport is dying but critics keep on doing what they do best.
What about this race? The idea was announced May 12, 2016. For this race which replaces the Grade 1 Donn Handicap, the traditional first Handicap Division Grade 1 of the Winter Season, 12 spots in the starting gate were sold for $1.0 Million each, with all participants sharing equally the net income (net:expenses paid first) from handle, media rights and sponsorship's. The purse was purely raised by the participants. For a track like Gulfstream, the scene of Saturday's race, this wil have the effect of a second Florida Derby, by far the premier date in the South Florida tracks calendar every year. According to Tim Ritvo, President of Gulfstream and Chief Operating Officer of Stronach Group, Florida Derby is about $36.0 Million each year and the internal goal was to reach $40.0 Million for Saturday's card (TDN). That's meaningful, especially combined with other streams of revenue not normal to their business, parking and a general admission. Television, the big prize, is an interesting subject. How many of you realize the only three races that the networks pay for each year are the Triple Crown Races? That's it. Stronach Group is paying the network, NBC, to televise this event in the hopes that their is enough interest to create a television revenue stream in future years. (Let's just keep criticizing them though).
It did take until January 16th to fill the final two slots in the race. While California Chrome's connections were early slot purchaser's, the big buzz building action occurred on December 22, when Coolmore sold to Juddmonte a slot and Arrogate was then in the mix. Grade 1 winner Gun Runner, winner of Clark Handicap in late November, was penciled into the slot owned by Mick Ruis, but a EHV-1 quarantine at Fairgrounds, and an unwillingness by the connections to take a nose swap test (which has a 15% false positive rate) which if failed, would have forced the horse to be at risk standing around with other quarantined horses for 30 more days, was too big a risk to take (Paulick Report 1/22). It's unfortunate as this race could have used another relevant Grade 1 winner.
So while the number of opportunities to pull something like this off seem limited during a race calendar without throwing the conditions book a tizzy, this late January date has some intriguing possibilities. A horse running in this race ($12 Million) could use it as a prep for Dubai World Cup ($10 Million) and top his year with the Breeders' Cup Classic ($6 Million). That's a $28 Million dollar year. American Pharoah's connections, specifically Justin Zayat states they would have highly considered running the Triple Crown winner at four if Pegasus was an option (Ehalt.) Steve Asmussen says "I wish I had Curlin running next year" (Ehalt.) Baffert wishes he had Game On Dude. Paul Reddam, owner of Nyquist, bought a slot. Doug O'Neill, Nyquist's trainer says "It would be a dream come true to have a huge Breeders' Cup Classic performance and then look at the Pegasus. Anyone with a 3 Year Old or older top male is thinking that way" (Ehalt.) These are the biggest names in the sport and they realize that this race, if successful and if it becomes an annual fixture, might slow the run to the breeding shed a bit and keep those stars active in their fourth year.
If successful, the Pegasus could be the race that extends careers and provides a distraction in late January, especially on a slow before Super Bowl weekend. That's the idea. If I was going to criticize anything, it's the distance at 1 1/8 miles. The classic US dirt distance is 1 1/4 miles. The track: Running a 1 1/8 mile race on a 1 1/8 oval creates issues, namely the first turn is very close to the starting gate. The track will be speed favoring most likely. The break and where you go into and out of that first turn is most likely the key to handicapping this race. Handicapping this race is what I was asked to do and I've rambled quite a bit about the race because of the uniqueness of it, but the field, a real ugh. Arrogate, is not traditionally a good starter. Baffert himself said "Out of the blocks, he doesn't fire away from there (the gate). He's got a tremendous stride, a tremendous kick and he does have speed" (Paulick 1/10). California Chrome is way out in gate 12. In between represents my biggest disappointment with North American racing, the dearth of quality handicap division horses.
With two huge favorites expected to go off much less than 2-1, I'm thinking betting strategy before I even handicap, typically a no-no in my rule book. I could spend a bunch of time trying to be a wise guy and and explain why Semper Fortis is flying under the radar, but instead I'm already thinking about lightly priced exotic tickets with Arrogate and Chrome covering the top spots and a few other runners mixed in at the bottom of the ticket. Risk/Reward. What are you willing to risk in betting capital and opportunity cost (the time handicapping this race when you can be handicapping a race with less sex appeal and more earnings appeal) and what is the reward. Do you see payouts that excite you with two heavy favorites 1-2 and someone from the field in 3 and 4? Me either. Yes, handle will be good and Will Pay suggests an investment expecting a positive ROI should cause you to take pause betting more than $45-50 on a $2 trifecta ticket. I'm not your mother, I don't care what you bet as you are a grown up, but what's the reward is a question you have to ask yourself.
Another thing I think Stronach deserves credit for: a 5 pound weight break if they run lasix free. One runner took them up on it, hopefully this trend will spread in the condition book.
Let's get after this!
I saw absolutely no reason to make much of a consideration for five of the entrants and for better or worse I tossed them. You can't cover everybody, or technically you can, but again, Risk/Reward. The larger the number of covers and the larger the bet cost, and I'm not hip (as we established early on) enough to make a decent wise guy case that War Envoy will be shocking the world. Class. Current Condition. Pace. Quality of Competition. The hallmarks of my handicapping style make me lean very heavy towards Chrome and Arrogate. They will be in the top four barring injury or some sort of unavoidable, horrible trip. And then there is that first turn. I'm focused purely on who will be forward positioned enough going into that first turn that they can make a late race mild rally to challenge for a spot in the ticket.
I'm not going to overthink this at all. I expect Chrome and Arrogate will challenge for the top spot. If forced to pick I give a slight edge to Arrogate and Mike Smith Up. Chrome has to move a long way over to not be too wide through the first turn. If it was classic distance I'd be more concerned about running out of gas, but the shorter distance should allow him to expend early or 1st corner energy.
I think Johnny V will have Pletcher's Neolitic near the front and on the rail through the first turn. That should set him up well to be part of cavalry charge at the end, maybe moving forward or backwards. Only horse in this race with 2 Gulfstream wins, an N1X (smh) in December.
I like Shaman Ghost quite a bit. What a boon to Ontario Racing and breeding if he would pull an upset here (and what a hoot if Stronach wins their own race.) Training well and winner of a watered down Woodward G1.
Keen Ice, Noble Bird and Breaking Lucky round out my contenders.
So what to do? Risk/Reward should govern us.
A Super High Five might look like this:
$2 Super High Five with 1-12 X 1-12 X 3-7-9-4-10 X 3-7-9-4-10 X 3-7-9-4-10 would cost $240. You'd cover your bet easily but this is no better than a scratch off lottery ticket.
A $2 Superfecta might look like this:
$2 Superfecta with 1-12 X 1-12 X 3-7-9-4-10 X 3-7-9-4-10 would cost $80
A $2 Trifecta might look like this:
$2 Trifecta with 1-12 X 1-12 X 3-7-9-4-10 would cost $20
I'll most likely assemble bets that look a bit like this:
$2 Superfecta 1-12 X 1-12 X 3-7 X 3-7-9-4-10 for $32.
Have fun with it and whatever risk level you feel is appropriate.
Ehalt, Bob "The Pegasus: The Growing World Wide buzz over a Race that could change the Economics of Racing." Thoroughbred Racing Commentary. Web 23 August 2016.
Paulick Report. "Gun Runner's Connections Opt Out of Pegasus World Cup Consideration" 22 January 2017. Web.
Paulick Report. "Baffert: Arrogate's Post Position draw in Pegasus 'Very Important' " 10 January 2017. Web.
TDN Thoroughbred Daily News. "Ritvo Discusses Pegasus Planning, Expectations" 24 January 2017. Web.