On Wednesday afternoon, while the collective racing world was still getting over its Kentucky Derby hangover, The Stronach Group, operator of such tracks as Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita, and Pimlico, home of next week's Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown, made an announcement that woke everyone up.
The Stronach Group issued a press release announcing the creation of the world's richest Thoroughbred race, the $12 million Pegasus World Cup, at 1-1/8 miles, to be run for the first time on Saturday, January 28, 2017, at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla.
The press release stated that the Pegasus World Cup was the vision of Frank Stronach, Founder and Honorary Chairman of The Stronach Group, and inferred its purpose to be to "attract the world's biggest stars while promoting and generating excitement and worldwide attention for Thoroughbred racing."
As a lifelong Thoroughbred racing fan, I hope the Pegasus Cup doesn't merely meet expectations, I hope it wildly exceeds them.
However, there are a few issues with the Pegasus Cup that, from the outline of the event provided so far, could prove to be major obstacles to success.
For one, the race will have 12 entrants who will pay $1 million each to secure a spot in the Pegasus Cup starting gate. Now, it was noted that entrants can race, lease, contract or share a starter, or sell their starting spot. That does open the door for the creation of partnerships and syndicates to meet the exorbitant entry fee.
Still, even though The Stronach Group likely did homework on this, it would be a surprise if the connections of 12 horses, either individually or in partnership, would be willing to put up as much as $1 million to play. In fact, it would be a surprise if there are 12 horses in training anywhere in the world deemed worthy even by their connections to warrant paying $1 million to compete in a race.
The second issue is the timing of the event. The date of the Pegasus Cup was chosen so as to avoid any conflict with the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 5 this year, and the $10 million Dubai World Cup, presently the world's richest thoroughbred race, on March 25, 2017.
However, a late January date for the Pegasus Cup will require quite a few horsemen -- not all, but a good number -- to alter their philosophy. Many horsemen consider December and January to be downtime to a certain extent for their best horses. If anyone has designs on the Pegasus Cup, it will require keeping their horses in steady training through this period, and forcing them to look elsewhere on the calendar to schedule freshenings, thus eschewing other lucrative races that might be more winnable.
But the biggest issue with a 12 horse Pegasus Cup is, at nine furlongs in the current configuration at Gulfstream Park, the horses unlucky enough to draw the outside four or five post positions will be at, to put it diplomatically, an extreme competitive disadvantage.
Races at 1-1/8 miles at Gulfstream have a very short run to the first turn, meaning horses breaking from outside posts frequently lose considerable ground on the first turn by being caught wide, giving them trips they are frequently unable to overcome. That holds true for claimers, or the very best stakes horses.
And that makes for an unappealing gamble, putting up $1 million, and possibly seeing it all go up in smoke with bad luck at the post position draw days before the Pegasus Cup is even run.