Leading Rider Irad Ortiz Jr. to Ride
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Bob Baffert returns to the Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) presented by Runhappy after a one-year absence Saturday with Mucho Gusto, a 4-year-old colt whose strong workout last week convinced the Hall of Fame trainer that he is ready for prime time.
Baffert won the inaugural running of the Pegasus World Cup in 2017 with Arrogate and was second to Gun Runner in 2018 with West Coast. He is the only trainer in the short history of the race to have two horses hit the board and with $9.25 million he leads the way in earnings.
After considering Mucho Gusto for the Fred W. Hooper (G3), a one-mile race with a $150,000 purse on the Pegasus Day program, Baffert decided instead to go big and send Mucho Gusto from California for the marquee race of the day. A sharp six-furlong breeze in 1:11.60 from the gate on Jan. 16 at Santa Anita was pivotal.
“He worked well,” Baffert said, explaining his approach. “It’s a mile and an eighth and it’s a $3 million race.”
Irad Ortiz, Jr., the leading rider in North America last year and the defending Gulfstream Park champ, will be up on Mucho Gusto for the first time.
After the Pegasus World Cup, his first career test against older horses, Mucho Gusto, will go even further east to Rhiyad, Saudi Arabia in late February for the first Saudi Cup. But first he will tangle with three-time Grade 1 winner Omaha Beach and 10 other proven graded stakes horses in the Pegasus, the opener of the three major early season races for older horses.
“It’s going to be tough, but there aren’t any easy spots,” Baffert said. “It’s a tough field, so you need a lot of racing luck leaving there. He’s quick. He’s got a lot of speed.”
With that speed, Mucho Gusto has been on or very near to the lead in each of his 10 career starts. He has won five times – four of them Grade 3 stakes – and has finished in the top three in each of his three Grade 1 starts. After Baffert opted to bypass all of the Triple Crown races with him last year, Mucho Gusto won a pair of stakes in California and then proved that he could compete with the upper echelon of the 3-year-old division during the major summer races. He overcame trouble at the start of the Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park and finished second to Maximum Security, the top contender for the division title who was disqualified from first in the Kentucky Derby (G1). A month later at Saratoga, Mucho Gusto battled with Tacitus for the lead in the Travers (G1) and finished third to Code of Honor.
In his final start of 2019, Mucho Gusto was fourth, beaten two lengths, as the favorite in the Oklahoma Derby on Sept. 29. He was part of a three-way pace skirmish that neatly set up a late rally in the stretch by Owendale.
Mucho Gusto is owned by His Royal Highness Prince Faisal bin Khalid.
Baffert played a prominent role in the 2017 Pegasus and has fond memories of the ground-breaking race that had plenty of star appeal.
“It was the first year so there was a lot of buzz, a lot of excitement,” Baffert said. “I had some doubts six months before it that they would be able pull it off. It was exciting because it was a showdown. It was a rematch of California Chrome and Arrogate. It was a heavyweight rematch. Arrogate, he showed up. Unfortunately, Chrome just didn’t run his race that day, so it didn’t turn out that way.
“It was still really exciting. There was a lot of buzz. They put on a really great show down there. It’s exciting. It’s an event and it’s become an event. I’m glad they still have it because we need those kind of races and I want to be part of it. It would be great to win it again.”
Via Gulfstream Park Press Release