The Grade I Pegasus World Cup Invitational Series at Gulfstream Park in Hallendale, FL, is a new addition to the Thoroughbred racing landscape. Since its introduction in 2017, it aims to create excitement in the fallow months between the Breeders’ Cup in November and the start of the Triple Crown season in the spring.
The Pegasus World Cup consists of two races: a 1 1/8 mile run on dirt, and a 1 1/16 mile turf contest. As its title suggests, the series is by invitation only. The Pegasus World Cup adds big-stakes variety to American Thoroughbred racing; most casual race fans are familiar with only the Triple Crown series races. This is, unfortunately, limiting; the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes are open only to three year old colts and are all run on dirt. However, the Pegasus World Cup is open to any Thoroughbred aged four and older. Male entrants carry 124 pounds; fillies and mares may carry 121.
Celebrities designed to appeal to a younger demographic than traditional handicappers are invited to perform and walk the “blue carpet” at Gulfstream Park. Past musical guests, for example, include Usher, Snoop Dog, Mark Ronson, and Pharrell.
At the moment, it is unknown if the 2021 Pegasus World Cup will run with fans in attendance, although its website states that “the Pegasus World Cup continues to be at the forefront of innovating the sport by redefining the guest experience through the implementation of social distancing protocols as well as new health and safety guidelines for riders and spectators.” However, tickets have yet to go on sale.
2021 Pegasus World Cup
With much of the racing of 2020, from Triple Crown races to the Breeder’s Cup, upended and conducted without fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unknown if the 2021 Pegasus World Cup will take place as usual on Saturday, January 23. At the moment, Gulfstream is holding off on selling tickets to the event, but the series’ website seems to hint at allowing fans.
The latest update from organizers confirms that the winner of the Pegasus World Cup will, as expected, be offered a berth in the Saudi Cup. In 2021, the winner of the Pegasus World Cup Turf will secure a place in the starting gate at the Middle Distance Turf Handicap.
Currently, the 2021 Pegasus World Cup is scheduled to take place on Saturday, January 23, with a live broadcast on NBC.
Gulfstream Park, the Pegasus World Cup Racetrack of 2021
Gulfstream Park is located in Hallendale Beach, FL, near Miami. It opened in 1939 and is often home to top-tier racing. Although not a Triple Crown location, it is considered one of the finest racing establishments in the United States.
Gulfstream also offers a casino and has been the site of the Breeders’ Cup and the Sunshine Millions. In addition to the Pegasus World Cup and the Pegasus World Cup Turf, it is also home to the Grade 1 Florida Derby and the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes.
Noted for its art deco architecture and tropical landscaping, Gulfstream Park boasts a 1 1/8 mile dirt track and a one mile turf course. It can seat over 16,500 guests and is currently owned by the Stronach Group.
Understanding the Pegasus World Cup
The Pegasus World Cup is still finding its footing in the world of Thoroughbred racing. Fans welcome its goal of attracting younger fans and increasing interest in horses’ careers after they age out of Triple Crown races.
Its function as a prep race for the Saudi Cup will help raise its international prestige as it establishes itself in North America. To help cement the brand, the Stronach Group has also added an enormous Pegasus statue and an entertainment complex near Gulfstream.
While it will take time for the Pegasus World Cup’s stature to grow and its impact on the sport to be fully understood, its global reach and fresh approach represent healthy growth in a sport which has struggled for decades.
Pegasus World Cup Qualifiers and Why It Matters
The Pegasus World Cup is an invitation-only event. Twelve entrants are allowed into the starting gate. At present, the complicated system which marks entry into the Triple Crown races is not in place for the Pegasus World Cup, which itself serves as a prep race for the now much richer Saudi Cup.
In fact, the organizers struggled to fill the field in 2018, and wound up purchasing the final three berths itself. However, qualifying races are reportedly under consideration.
Pegasus World Cup History
While the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes originally worked to present itself as “the richest race in the world,” it dramatically dropped its purses and removed entry fees in 2020.
Still, following the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Series is especially exciting because its history and tradition are still unfolding. While some races are so embedded in the lore of horse racing that there is no solid explanation for some of its traditions (for example, no one seems to really know why carnations are the official flower of the Belmont), current horse racing fans are witnesses to the Pegasus World Cup as it establishes itself in the Thoroughbred world.
New as it is, the Pegasus World Cup has already begun to shift and expand. While it began as only a dirt race, the organizers of the Pegasus World Cup added a turf race in 2019.
Pegasus World Cup Historic Races
The first Pegasus World Cup took place in January of 2017. Although new races typically must run for at least two years before obtaining eligibility as a graded race, the Pegasus was a rare Grade I out of the gate.
The American Graded Stakes Committee agreed to transfer Grade I status to the Pegasus World Cup from the discontinued Donn Handicap. The winner was Arrogate, who won World’s Best Racehorse honors from the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities in 2016.
Pegasus World Cup Greatest Upsets
There has yet to be a major upset in the Pegasus World Cup. The favorite won the 2020 Pegasus World Cup after two other heavy hitters, Omaha Beach and Spun to Run, scratched.
City of Light won the 2019 Pegasus World Cup. He was 5-2 and the favorite, Accelerate, was 9-5. However, many handicappers saw the race as a battle between the two; City of Light won by 5 ¾ lengths.
In 2018, much of the pre-race discussion focused around Gun Runner, who won the Breeders’ Cup Classic and was given the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year. He went off at 4-5 and won.
The first Pegasus World Cup winner was 2017 champion Arrogate. He was essentially a co-favorite with the sentimental choice, two-time Horse of the Year winner California Chrome.
2020 Pegasus World Cup Review
The 2020 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes presented by Runhappy took place on January 25, 2020. The atmosphere surrounding the event was even more festive than usual given that Super Bowl LIV was contested just a few days later in the same area. In addition, the operators of Gulfstream, the Stronach Group, booked Nelly, T-Pain, and DJ Cassidy to perform at Pegasus LIV Stretch Village, Gulfstream’s trackside club.
In the wake of several upsetting horse deaths at Santa Anita Park in 2019, the Pegasus World Cup announced that it would run medication free. Organizers also confirmed that 2% of the purses were donated to aftercare of Thoroughbred racehorses.
Purses in 2020 were much lower for the Pegasus World Cup than in previous years, and entry fees were waived. While entry fees had hit a high of $1 million since the race began, organizers this year exchanged enormous fees for lower prizes. Instead of $9 million, the purse for the World Cup decreased to $3 million and the turf portion dropped from $7 million to $1 million.
Since the Pegasus World Cup took place before COVID-19 restrictions became the norm, it was conducted as usual—in Gulfstream Park, in front of fans. The winner was the four-year-old favorite, Mucho Gusto, a son of Mucho Macho Man, who finished the 1 ⅛ miles in 1:48. He was sent off at 9-2 odds and finished with a lead of 4 ½ lengths. Mucho Gusto was bred in Kentucky.
Of special note in the money finishers is War Story, who came in third. An eight-year-old gelding, War Story is somewhat old for a horse to finish so well in company such as this. Two entrants, the early-favored Omaha Beach and Breeders’ Cup Dirt mile winner Spun to Run, scratched prior to the race.
Here is the order of finish:
1) Mucho Gusto; owner HRH Prince Faisal Bin Khaled; trainer Bob Baffert; jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.; age 4
2) Mr Freeze; owners Jim Bakke and Gerald Isbister; trainer Dale L. Romans; jockey Luis Saez; age 5
3) War Story; owner Imaginary Stables and Glenn Ellis; trainer Elizabeth L. Dobles; jockey Joel Rosario; age 8
4) Diamond Oops; owner Kin Hui Racing Stables, LLC; trainer Patrick L. Biancone; jockey Julien R. Leparoux; age 4
5) Bodexpress; owner Top Racing, LLC, Global Thoroughbred, and GDS Racing Stable; trainer Gustavo Delgado; jockey Emisael Jaramillo; age 4
6) Tenfold; owner Winchell Thoroughbreds, LLC; trainer Steven M. Asmussen; jockey Tyler Gaffalione; age 5
7) Seeking the Soul; owner Charles E. Fipke; trainer Dallas Stewart; jockey John R. Velazquez; age 7
8) True Timber; owner Calumet Farm; trainer Kiaran P. McLuaghlin; jockey Joe Bravo; age 6
9) Tax; owners R. A. Hill Stable, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Hugh Lynch, and Corms Racing Stable; trainer Danny Gargan; jockey Jose L. Ortiz; age 4
10) Higher Power; owner Hronis Racing, LLC; trainer John W. Sadler; jockey Flavien Prat; age 5
Final Thoughts on the Pegasus World Cup Invitational
Horse racing fans should encourage the Pegasus World Cup Invitational. Not only does it expand post-Triple-Crown opportunities for male runners, it also represents a concentrated effort to welcome a fresh infusion of fans. Hopefully, the 2021 iteration can be enjoyed in person.