By Gary Christie
Gulfstream Park, Florida is primed for the 2019 Pegasus World Cup, North America’s richest horse race.
The probable defection of McKinzie and the advent of a Pegasus World Cup Turf race taking its share of the purse, along with at least one of the contenders in the shape of Yoshida, means we may not get a full field of twelve this time around.
The 1 1/8 mile distance brings together horses from both the mile-and-a-quarter classic distance in Accelerate and Audible among others, but also one major contender from the mile division with Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner City of Light en route to big things this year.
There’s a little international flavor in this year’s event too with Mexico’s champion Kukulkan taking part with Europe’s best rider Frankie Dettori booked to take the mount on the recent Caribbean Classic winner at Gulfstream.
It’s easy to see why Accelerate is the morning line favorite for this race, the six-year-old trained by John Sadler having won the Breeders’ Cup Classic back in November at Churchill Downs and also taking the TVG Pacific Classic at Del Mar by a huge 12¾ lengths back in August.
What those wins do show though, especially his Breeders’ Cup triumph, is that he probably needs every yard of the mile-and-quarter distance and so this may seem a little on the quick side for him, potentially blunting his ability just a little.
Audible is another huge contender for Todd Pletcher after his third to Justify in the Kentucky Derby singled him out as a potential top grade performer. Before that he had taken the Florida Derby and so knows this place inside out, but he has had his problems and was a beaten heavy favorite back here in December.
Antonio Sano’s Gunnevera is another who knows his way around this track and was almost the forgotten horse at this level until his impressive second to Accelerate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. It’s possible that he may just be maturing to his best level now as a five-year-old but he is another who may need a greater distance to be at his best and he was easily beaten in this race twelve months ago.
The most interesting one of the bunch at this point is Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner City of Light, trained by Michael McCarthy.
His gate-to-wire success at Churchill Downs was done in the style of a horse who had more to give if it was needed, also an extra 1/8 of a mile looks like it would have seen him to even better effect.
True, on breeding he is not guaranteed to be at his best over this distance as he matures, but let’s not forget that he beat our likely favorite Accelerate over that distance last April in the Oaklawn Handicap, receiving a 3lb allowance from him that day but arguably improving more than 3lbs since.
If you held me down and made me place a bet at this point, I’d say the one who can show more improvement in these conditions and truly run his best race is City of Light and so I could not put you off a wager on the five-year-old son of Quality Road.