Twelve mil­lion rea­sons to watch

Pe­ga­sus World Cup cre­ator hopes to bring new buzz to the sport of horse rac­ing

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - JEN­NIFER MOR­RI­SON SPE­CIAL TO THE STAR

When it comes to pro­mot­ing thor­ough­bred rac­ing, Frank Stronach likes to think big.

For ev­i­dence of that you need look no fur­ther than the 100-foot-tall bronze Pe­ga­sus statue over­look­ing his Gulf­stream Park race­track in Hal­lan­dale, Beach, Fla., where this week­end the auto parts mag­nate will launch his most am­bi­tious idea yet.

The in­au­gu­ral Pe­ga­sus World Cup, with a $12-mil­lion (U.S.) purse that will make it the rich­est-ever horse race, has be­come one of the most highly an­tic­i­pated races in decades.

Cal­i­for­nia Chrome, the world’s rich­est race­horse with $14 mil­lion (U.S.) in earn­ings, will be mak­ing his fi­nal ca­reer start in the Pe­ga­sus, tak­ing on his younger neme­sis Ar­ro­gate, who up­set Chrome in Novem­ber in the Breed­ers’ Cup Clas­sic.

Stronach, 84, an­nounced his Pe­ga­sus World Cup plans in May, ask­ing horse own­ers to pony up $1 mil­lion for one of 12 start­ing spots in the gate for the 1 1⁄ 8- mile dirt race. It was sold out in a day.

“This idea for this race was in our thought pro­cesses for a while,” said Stronach, whose 2015 Queen’s Plate win­ner, On­tario-bred Shaman Ghost, will be among the dozen horses on the track.

“All of us in rac­ing have to get to­gether and fig­ure out how to make horse rac­ing more in­ter­est­ing, how to at­tract new fans.”

The fas­ci­nat­ing as­pect of the Pe­ga­sus race is that own­ers were will­ing to pay $1mil­lion for a spot in a race in which they may not have had a horse good enough to com­pete with the big two.

In fact, most of the bid­ders were forced to wheel and deal with own­ers of older horses that would give them a bet­ter shot at the $7-mil­lion first­place prize. That is ex­actly how On­tario-bred Break­ing Lucky, win­ner of Fort Erie’s Prince of Wales Stakes in 2015 and trained by Eto­bi­coke’s Reade Baker, landed in the field.

Owned by Mary­land busi­ness­man Tom Keith­ley’s Gun­pow­der Sta­ble, Break­ing Lucky’s fourth-place and sec­ond-place fin­ishes in Grade 1 races in New York and Ken­tucky, re­spec­tively, in the fall of 2015 put him on the Pe­ga­sus radar.

The colt’s trainer, Eto­bi­coke res­i­dent Reade Baker, was con­tacted by Dean Reeves, of Reeves Thor­ough­breds in Ge­or­gia, who owned one of the cov­eted mil­lion-dol­lar start­ing stalls. Reeves then joined forces with New York-based West Point Thor­ough­breds and Randy Hill, with the lat­ter two buy­ing 75 per cent of the horse.

The groups worked out a deal to di­vide any purse money won by Break­ing Lucky, as well as the per­cent­age of wa­ger­ing and con­ces­sions each stake­holder will earn. Luis Con-

“(We) have to get to­gether and fig­ure out how to make horse rac­ing more in­ter­est­ing, how to at­tract new fans.” FRANK STRONACH

tr­eras, one of Wood­bine’s lead­ing rid­ers, will be aboard the 5-year-old horse.

There have been a few kinks get­ting the race off the ground, such as the high cost of tick­ets to at­tend the race. It is $100 just to get into the track gates and seats in restau­rants cost up­wards of $700. Stronach may move the race to the more spa­cious Santa Anita Park in Cal­i­for­nia in 2018.

“This is the first time we have done this and it came up a lit­tle fast,” said Stronach, whose Stronach Group owns all or part of seven tracks in the U.S., plus horse breed­ing farms in On­tario, Ken­tucky and Florida.

“Next year we want to do a lot more. My daugh­ter Belinda is now heav­ily in­volved and wants to in­tro­duce her mar­ket­ing ideas.”

Still, to have Cal­i­for­nia Chrome in the start­ing gate on Satur­day is a coup for a man who has ded­i­cated his life to im­prov­ing the sport he loves.

“I think it’s think­ing out of the box. It couldn’t have come at a bet­ter year when you’ve got the No. 1 and No. 2 horses hooked up to­gether,” said Bob Baf­fert, Ar­ro­gate’s trainer.

“I think every­body is go­ing to be watch­ing. The $12 mil­lion catches a lot of peo­ple’s at­ten­tion. This is Frank Stronach’s dream and I’m proud of be­ing part of it.”

BENOIT PHOTO

Ar­ro­gate works out at Santa Anita in Ar­ca­dia, Calif. It is his fi­nal work­out in prepa­ra­tion for next Satur­day’s $12-mil­lion Pe­ga­sus World Cup In­vi­ta­tional and re­match with Cal­i­for­nia Chrome.

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