The Pegasus World Cup will be a ‘Horse Race’  

January 28, 2022

Stilleto Boy Has Kept Some Classy Company

Toner Seeks to Take Charge on Dirt with Commandeer

Blacker Target Pegasus Turf in Gulfstream Return

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Irad Ortiz Jr. will have one of the two best seats in the house at Gulfstream Park Saturday for the anxiously awaited showdown between Knicks Go and Life Is Good in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) presented by 1 S/T BET.

The defending three-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey will be aboard Life Is Good, the dazzling front-running winner of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) last time out, while Joel Rosario will be on defending champion Knicks Go, who concluded his 2021 campaign with a sizzling front-running triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

Life Is Good (Sonny Hughes)

Life Is Good was in front at every call in his five career victories and led into deep stretch in his only loss in the seven-furlong H. Allen Jerkens (G1) at Saratoga when grudgingly falling a neck short of holding off Jackie’s Warrior. Ortiz has been aboard the Todd Pletcher-trained son of Into Mischief in his last two starts – a 5 ½-length victory in the mile Kelso around one turn at Belmont Park and a 5 ¾-length romp in the Dirt Mile around two turns at Del Mar.

“He feels different that most other horses. He’s just one of those kinds you don’t see every day,” Ortiz said. “He’s a special horse.”

While the pressure will be on Ortiz in the clash of speed in Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile headliner, Life Is Good is expected to make his assignment a bit easier.

“He’s easy to ride. You don’t have to do much. He’s fast and he just keeps going. You don’t have to do much with him,” Ortiz said. “That’s the good thing about good horses.”

Ortiz will be seeking his second win in the Pegasus World Cup, which he won aboard Mucho Gusto in 2020.

Stilleto Boy Has Kept Some Classy Company   

Stilleto Boy (Gulfstream Park Photo)

Other than defending Champion and Life Is Good, Steven Moger’s Stilleto Boy is the only horse of the other seven entrants in Saturday’s $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Park to have two Grade 1-stakes placings on his resume.

The son of Shackleford finished fifth behind Knicks Go, Saturday’s 6-5 morning-line favorite, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Del Mar. However, the 4-year-old gelding entered the Classic off a second-place finish behind Medina Spirit in the Awesome Again (G1) and, most recently, he finished third behind Flightline and Baby Yoda in the Malibu (G1) at Santa Anita.

Stilleto Boy was purchased for $420,000 by trainer Ed Moger Jr.’s brother, Steven, at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Horses of Racing Age sale following his 4 ½-length victory in the Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows in July.

The Kentucky-bred gelding showed the way until mid-stretch before faltering in the La Jolla (G3) at Del Mar while running on the turf for the first time in his first start for his new connections.

“He was a little tired from the sale and the trip cross-country. We ran him back a little too quick. We were trying to get a feel for what he was like,” Moger said. 

 After finishing third behind Medina Spirit and Rock Your World in the Shared Belief in his next outing, Stilleto Boy was second best behind Medina Spirit in the 1 1/8-mile Awesome Again.

“There were some really good horses behind him that day. He finished good. He was actually pulling away from them,” Moger said. “He just couldn’t beat Medina Spirit.”

Cutting back to seven furlongs for the Malibu, Stilleto Boy finished 12 ½-lengths behind undefeated Flightline but was 6 ½ lengths clear of the fourth-place finisher.

“They ran super, super fast. Flightline is a good horse. He was only a length and a half behind another really good horse, and there were some really good horses behind him,” Moger said.

Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux has the call aboard Stilleto Boy in the Pegasus World Cup.

Toner Seeks to Take Charge on Dirt with Commandeer   

Commander (Ryan Thompson)

Over a career that dates back to 1960, when he won his first race at Aqueduct, trainer Jimmy Toner has been known for his success with turf fillies. Soaring Softly was the champion grass mare of 1999; she and Memories of Silver, Wonder Again and Winter Memories are all Toner-trained Grade 1-winning millionaires with stakes named after them on the New York circuit.

On Saturday, the 81-year-old Toner will find himself in a different, yet exciting, position when he sends out AJ Suited Racing Stable’s Commandeer for a start in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) presented by 1/ST BET.

“It’s sort of odd that I’m in a race like this and it’s not on the grass. Normally, I wind up racing on the grass with some fillies, and this a gelding that’s running on the dirt, so it means a lot to me to be involved with a race like this,” Toner said. “It was nice to get invited, and we hope to put up a decent performance.”

Commandeer, a 4-year-old son and grandson respectively of multiple Grade 1 winners Street Boss and Tiznow, is listed at the longest odds in 1 1/8-mile Pegasus at 30-1 on the morning line, behind favorites Knicks Go and Life Is Good. He will break from far outside Post 9 under jockey Julien Leparoux.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to beat the top two, but it’s nice having a horse in a race like that,” Toner said. “If you get lucky enough to hit the board, it’s still worth taking a shot at.”

Commandeer made his first eight starts for owner-breeder Godolphin with one win, a maiden special weight event last April at Tampa Bay Downs. He sold for $95,000 at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky’s Horses of Racing Age sale in July and was sent to Toner at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., where he relocated last year.

“Justin Nicholson bought him out of the summer horse in training sale down there and then they sent him to me. He was a pretty good-looking horse,” Toner said. “We just gave him some time to get himself together, coming off the sale and running and everything, and getting him into the program.”

Commandeer has won each of his two starts for Toner, an open allowance over older horses last October at Laurel Park and an optional claiming allowance in November at Churchill Downs. Both races were contested at 1 1/16 miles, his farthest trip to date.

“We ran him and he won first time out. He was very professional. Then, there was the race at Churchill, so we shipped him up to run over there and he performed very well. You couldn’t have asked for more,” Toner said. “It was a sloppy track and all, but he’s shown he can run on anything. He’s run on synthetic, he’s run on a sloppy track, a fast track. He handles everything. Whether he can handle that group tomorrow remains to be seen.”

Commandeer has been training steadily since mid-December at Toner’s winter base of Palm Meadows, Gulfstream’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach County. Most recently, he worked five furlongs in 59.75 seconds Jan. 23, fastest of 31 horses.

“He’s been doing well. It worked out well to give him a bit of a break after the race at Churchill because he had shipped there and back and then we shipped down here. We gave him a chance to get back on his feet and get him freshened him up a bit,” Toner said. “We picked him back up again and he’s been training really well. His last breeze was very impressive. The horse is doing well.”

Blacker Target Pegasus Turf in Gulfstream Return

 Trainer Dan Blacker came to Gulfstream Park a decade ago when he was an assistant to Tom Albertrani. Now based in California, Blacker, 39, is making his first visit to the track this week as a head trainer to saddle Hit the Road for Saturday’s $1 Million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) presented by Baccarat. Hit the Road has made 11 of his 12 career starts in California. In his one venture out of state, Hit the Road was fifth, beaten 3 ¾ lengths, in the Makers Mark Mile (G1) at Keeneland on April 9. 

The 5-year-old son of More Than Ready captured the Kilroe Mile (G1) at Santa Anita in his prior start, providing Blacker with his first Grade 1 success.

For the Pegasus World Cup Turf, Blacker secured the services of jockey Tyler Gaffalione, who grew up in South Florida and has been riding during the Championship Meet since he started his career.  

“I’m really excited to have Tyler ride him,” Blacker said. “I think he fits the horse really well and obviously he’s a local jock, so he knows the track really well. Everything seems like it’s falling in place and I’m excited for the race.

Gulfstream Park Press Release

Photo: Irad Ortiz (Lauren King Photo)

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