Twelve million reasons to watch
Pegasus World Cup creator hopes to bring new buzz to the sport of horse racing
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.”
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.