The post positions have only just been drawn for the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup, taking place on Saturday at Gulfstream Park, and already I am frustrated by how the race is being talked about. People complain that the race isn't deep enough, or competitive enough, or somehow good enough. Those people just don't have realistic expectations. We have the two-time Horse of the Year. And the horse that just won the Breeders' Cup Classic, beating that two-time Horse of the Year in a race for the ages. And three other Grade 1 Winners. And a few really interesting long shots like we just don't get to see.
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Sure, the rest of the field isn't at the level of California Chrome and Arrogate, but get real - no one is, which is what makes them so special. At a time when high-level racing is typically in hibernation, we get the richest race of all time, with an interesting format behind it, featuring the last ever showdown between the two best horses we have right now. If you don't like that then you don't like horse racing.
About the format. Twelve deep-pocketed racing fans each bought a spot in the starting gate for $1 million. With that spot they had the right to enter any horse they wanted in the race. Some, like California Chrome's connections, bought a spot for their own use. Others either never had a horse or didn't have things work out like they planned, so they worked out a deal with the owners of another horse. That, for example, is how Arrogate got his spot. Those who own a starting spot will get a shot at the massive purse and will also share in any profits the event generates. It's not a perfect format overall, and it would be better if there was more transparency about who owns the spots and what deals they made to put horses in the spots, but at least it's something new for the sport.
Here's how the field breaks down by post position, with jockey and morning line odds:
1. Arrogate, Mike Smith, 7/5: I loved him going into the Breeders' Cup Classic despite the leap of faith it required because of his inexperience. That faith was rewarded. I still think he's the best horse in training and that he has trained well enough leading up to this race. The fear is that other horses will work to actively disrupt the top two here, but all I can do is pick the best and hope for the best. Arrogate will win this race. The rail post can be tough for a horse who likes to lead, but he won the Travers from there, so we know he can do it.
2. Prayer for Relief, Florent Geroux, 50/1: He's nine years old. He's on his fourth big-time trainer. He isn't winning these days. He's likely outclassed, but he's fun to root for. Current trainer Dale Romans is a master of winning big races with seemingly hopeless horses - and this is certainly such a horse.
3. Neolithic, John Velazquez, 30/1: This is a late-blooming four year old that has run in only one stakes race. He is coming off an allowance run here at Gulfstream. It's likely too much for this horse here, but the connections are strong (Todd Pletcher trains), and I like him more than some. Value at a big price on the bottom of exotics.
4. Noble Bird, Julien Leparoux, 25/1: Trainer Mark Casse is red hot, and this horse has been working very well. He's probably not good enough for this field, but he's interesting. He needs the lead, so the post position works well for him - he should have a step or three on California Chrome early, and if Arrogate doesn't break clean he could get trapped inside.
5. War Story, Antonio Gallardo, 50/1: He was 16th in the Derby in 2015. He was eighth in the Breeders' Cup Classic last year. That about says it all about this horse. The ambitions of the owners don't match the talent of the horse. I wouldn't bet him at three times this price.
6. War Envoy, Luis Saez, 50/1: I'll keep this simple - there are a couple of horses that aren't good enough and shouldn't be in this race. This guy is at the top of that list. He has been bad lately in much worse fields than this.
7. Shaman Ghost, Jose Ortiz, 20/1: One recurring theme in horse racing is that there are extremely good horses that are unfortunate enough to run into horses that are much better. That's the case for Shaman Ghost. He has massive talent and potential, and could easily be favored in a race like this in some years, but he is no better than third best here. He's owned by Frank Stronach, the creator of this race and owner of Gulfstream Park. His last race wasn't great, but I'm not worried about that. He is fresher now, and he has been working great. A real factor, and this is a nice price.
8. Semper Fortis, Tyler Gaffalione, 50/1: This horse is one of the true duds in the field. He hasn't won in his last seven. He wasn't even supposed to run. His connections were to start Ralis, but that horse looked to be in even worse form than this one, so the change was made on Sunday. Very little chance.
9. Keen Ice, Javier Castellano, 12/1: Like Arrogate, he won the Travers and beat Triple Crown hero American Pharoah in the process. He hasn't done too much since, though, and I struggle to see him pulling off a shocker here. Back then he got a dream trip in an ideal situation. Neither is as likely here. I hate this price.
10. Breaking Lucky, Luis Contreras, 25/1: This is a son of Lookin at Lucky, who was both two year old and three year old champion in his day. This horse has not proven himself to be a peer of his dad just yet. He was mostly racing at Woodbine in Toronto, but he moved south in the fall. He hasn't won down here yet but has had some solid, improving efforts. This spot is likely too much for him, but there is upside here.
11. Eragon, Edgar Prado, 50/1: Controversial owner James McIngvale couldn't get his former Eclipse winning sprinter Runhappy ready for this race, so he went outside the box and imported this horse from Argentina. He won three Group 1 races down there, but he only arrived in the States on December 19 and this is his first race. A total mystery. I can't resist taking a shot somehow at this kind of price, though.
12. California Chrome, Victor Espinoza, 6/5: This has been confirmed as his last race, win or lose - he reports for stud duty in Kentucky on Sunday. I will admit I have never warmed to this horse and have never fully embraced his greatness. Heck, I've been his biggest skeptic from start to finish. So, why change now? He'll get a piece of the purse, but he's not going to fare any better against Arrogate than he did before. His post position draw - outside in the field of 12 - is just brutal for what he needs to do as well. There is a serious risk he will work too hard to get onto the early pace and won't have enough left later on. I didn't like him anyway, but at this price I am comfortable in overlooking him. I'll say this, though - if he wins decisively from there on this track he deserves all the accolades he'll get.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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