Art Collector with a very intense Junior Alvarado aboard. (Coglianese Photo)
David Joseph/Gulfstream Park
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Bruce Lunsford’s Art Collector drew off in the stretch to win Saturday’s $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) presented by Baccarat at Gulfstream Park while pulling off a 15-1 upset in the 2023 racing season’s first multi-million event.
The Pegasus World Cup headlined a stellar 13-race program that also featured the $2 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) presented by Qatar Racing and the $500,000 TAA Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf Invitational (G3) presented by Pepsi, as well as four other graded stakes.
In the 7th running of the Pegasus, Art Collector prevailed by 4 ½ lengths over runner-up Defunded, while Cyberknife, the 2-1 favorite in a field of 12 of the top older horses in training was never a factor in a sixth.-place finish.
Although some would have had trouble envisioning a victory by Art Collector, Hall of Fame trainer and Junior Alvarado could see a way for Art Collector to win.
After breaking cleanly from the starting gate, Art Collector received an ideal stalking trip behind pacesetter Stilleto Boy and pursuers Defunded and White Abarrio. Stilleto Boy, who finished third in last year’s Pegasus World Cup, set solid fractions of 23.61 and 47.71 seconds for the first half mile and into the far turn with little change in the order along the backstretch.
Defunded ranged up alongside Stilleto Boy on the turn into the stretch as Art Collector made a menacing three wide move to make a strong challenge at the of the stretch. Defunded, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr, and Stilleto Boy with Hall of Famer Mike Smith up dug in gamely through the stretch run but were no match for the surging Art Collector in the closing yards.
“We scripted it that way and it turned out that way,” Mott said. “That doesn’t happen very often, but Junior rode him and did a great job. I told him just ride him like you ride Olympiad, and he rode him the same way.”
Alvarado, who rode the Mott-trained Olympiad to four graded-stakes victories and a runner-up finish behind Flightline in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year, was riding Art Collector for the first time.
“I don’t have the words to put it together. It’s just unbelievable. I’m so glad that I got a chance to ride this horse. He’s a very neat horse that I’ve been following for quite a while. I guess it was the perfect time and we got it done today,” said Alvarado, who recently rode his 2000th career victory at Gulfstream. “I don’t know how it gets any better than this. It’s unbelievable having this win with Mott. It’s unbelievable. I’m very grateful for the big support he’s given me over the years. I’m just very happy right now.”
Art Collector, who had won one Grade 1 stakes, the 2021 Woodward (G1) at Belmont Park prior to Saturday’s career performance, ran 1 1/8-miles in 1:49.44. The 6-year-old son of Bernardini has won back-to-back editions of the Charles Town Classic (G2) and entered the Pegasus with earnings in excess of $2.3 million during a career in which he has shown the can compete at the highest level on his best days.
“He’s done that before. These kind of races, you just have to wait and see. These are competitive races,” Mott said. “You get the horse as good as you can and hope the horse shows up.”
Cyberknife, a two-time Grade 1 winner and who finished a close second to the Mott-trained Cody’s Wish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) in his most recent start, was never in contention.
“I was right behind the speed the way I anticipated. I was right behind Skippylongstocking and I could tell already at the half-mile pole when he was not taking me, I knew he was pretty much done,” jockey Florent Geroux said. “He’s a horse that usually travels great and likes to do it on his own.”
Cyberknife’s trainer Brad Cox saddled Knicks Go for a victory in the 2021 Pegasus World Cup, as well as a second-place finish behind Life Is Good in last year’s renewal.
Bob Baffert-trained Defunded held second, 1 ¼ lengths ahead of third-place finisher Stilleto Boy.
“I had a beautiful trip. We wanted to have a clear break and we had it. He broke a step slow the last couple times so that was my goal to make him break,” Irad Ortiz Jr. said. “He put me in a perfect spot. I sat second and I just got beat. Second-best today.”
$3 Million Pegasus World Cup (G1) Presented By Baccarat Post Race Quotes and Statistics
Winning Time: 1:49.44
Winning Margins: 4 ½, 1 ¼, 1 ¼
Winning Payoff: $33
Fractions: 23.61, 47.71, 1:11.82, 1:36.55
Order of finish: Art Collector, Defunded, Stilleto Boy, Last Samurai, Proxy, Cyberknife, Skippylongstocking, White Abarrio, Get Her Number, Simplification, O’Connor, Ridin With Biden.
Bruce Lunsford (Art Collector, 1st): “[Trainer] Bill [Mott] and I have had a long-term relationship, back with Vision and Verse. We talked about it, and I give Bill credit for this, he said we’re going to try something different. Let’s lay him off. And he just kept getting better and better.”
Bill Mott (Art Collector, 1st): “We scripted it that way and it turned out that way. That doesn’t happen very often, but [jockey] Junior [Alvarado] rode him and did a great job. I told him just ride him like you ride Olympiad, and he rode him the same way.”
“He’s done that before. These kinds of races, you just have to wait and see. These are competitive races. You get the horse as good as you can and hope the horse shows up.”
Ed Moger Jr. (Stilleto Boy, 3rd): “It was our plan just to come out running from the  post. He usually breaks really, really well so we wanted to be right where we were.”
Sebastian ‘Bas’ Nicholl, assistant to D. Wayne Lukas (Last Samurai, 4th): “It was a great trip. A great ride. A great effort from the horse and the jockey.”
Brad Cox (Cyberknife, 6th): “He didn’t look like he fired to me. He had a little bit of a wide trip and at the three-eighths pole I could kind of tell he wasn’t traveling. He broke well but they got away from him. It reminded me a little bit of the race at Parx when he ran third there. It wasn’t to be. It didn’t work out.”
Saffie Joseph Jr. (Skippylongstocking, 7th; White Abarrio, 8th; O’Connor, 11th): “I don’t think any of them ran to the way we expected. But that’s racing. You regroup, and they came back safe and sound. But none of them fired. That’s racing, sometimes.”
“White Abarrio, he got a good trip. He was on the inside, so he was taking a lot of dirt. But as far as he was drawn, it was a good enough trip that you really can’t complain about it. I thought White Abarrio was in good shape to run well.”
“Skippy was in a good spot, too, but he just flattened out.”
“O’Connor, he didn’t show anything. He was probably the only one that didn’t show anything.”
Junior Alvarado (Art Collector, 1st): “I don’t have the words to put it together. It’s just unbelievable. I’m so glad that I got a chance to ride this horse. He’s a very neat horse that I’ve been following for quite a while. I guess it was the perfect time and we got it done today.”
“I don’t know how it gets any better than this. It’s unbelievable having this win with [trainer Bill] Mott. It’s unbelievable. I’m very grateful for the big support he’s given me over the years. I’m just very happy right now.”
Irad Ortiz Jr. (Defunded, 2nd): “I had a beautiful trip. We wanted to have a clear break and we had it. He broke a step slow the last couple times so that was my goal to make him break. He put me in a perfect spot. I sat second and I just got beat. Second-best today.”
Joel Rosario (Proxy, 5th): “I had a really good trip. He had a lot of kickback, and he wasn’t too happy with that. He put his head up in the air a little bit. He came running late but sometimes that can cost you the race. He still ran good after all that.”
Florent Geroux (Cyberknife, 6th): “I was right behind the speed the way I anticipated. I was right behind Skippylongstocking and I could tell already at the half-mile pole when [Cyberknife] was not taking me I knew he was pretty much done. He’s a horse that usually travels great and likes to do it on his own.”
And our pre race interview with Pegasus World Cup winning jockey Junior Alvarado by Jim Gazzale: