PE­GA­SUS WORLD CUP: LAST STOP FOR NEW SIRES

Daily Racing Form National Digital Edition - - Sha Tin - By Ni­cole Russo

A com­mon crit­i­cism of the cen­turiesold Thor­ough­bred in­dus­try is that the wheels of change and in­no­va­tion turn at a snail’s pace. But in the case of the Pe­ga­sus World Cup in late Jan­uary, the race has so quickly been em­braced that even the all-im­por­tant blood­stock mar­ket has ad­justed its tra­di­tional prac­tices to ac­com­mo­date the op­por­tu­nity the lu­cra­tive race pro­vides.

In each of its first two re­newals, the Pe­ga­sus was con­tested by Horse of the Year hon­orees who were set to be­come high-pro­file stal­lions in Ken­tucky im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the race. The purse of the Pe­ga­sus was $12 mil­lion in 2017, $16 mil­lion in 2018, and has been dropped to $9 mil­lion in 2019, with $7 mil­lion go­ing to the purse of a new turf stakes.

The Pe­ga­sus is ex­pected to fea­ture a show­down be­tween Breed­ers’ Cup Clas­sic win­ner Ac­cel­er­ate and Breed­ers’ Cup Dirt Mile win­ner City of Light. City of Light is the only horse to de­feat Ac­cel­er­ate in 2018, and both will head to stud at Lane’s End Farm im­me­di­ately af­ter their fi­nal show­down.

There is just more than a two-week turn­around be­tween the race and the start of the breed­ing sea­son for new stal­lions.

“It’s dif­fer­ent, and we’re all adapt­ing to it,” said Bill Far­ish of Lane’s End.

The Pe­ga­sus took the place of the Donn Hand­i­cap on the Gulf­stream stakes sched­ule and as­sumed the Donn’s Grade 1 sta­tus. The Donn tra­di­tion­ally served as a sea­son-launch­ing point for ma­jor hand­i­cap horses set to con­tinue on for the full sea­son – such as Horse of the Year hon­orees Cigar (1995-96), Skip Away (1998), and Saint Liam (2005). But in re­cent years, the hefty purse of the Pe­ga­sus and the tim­ing of the race has po­si­tioned it as a con­tin­u­a­tion or end­ing of the prior racing sea­son, par­tic­u­larly for horses who may have been de­feated in the Breed­ers’ Cup.

And thus, high-pro­file stal­lion prospects face a rapid tran­si­tion “from the play­ing field to the pent­house,” as Mark Taylor of Taylor Made Farm put it last year.

In 2017, the Pe­ga­sus gained im­me­di­ate le­git­i­macy when two-time Horse of the Year Cal­i­for­nia Chrome col­lided with cham­pion Ar­ro­gate. Ar­ro­gate won, with Cal­i­for­nia Chrome fin­ish­ing ninth in his fi­nal start be­fore ship­ping to Taylor Made. Ear­lier this year, Horse of the Year Gun Run­ner rolled in the Pe­ga­sus in his fi­nal start and shipped to Three Chim­neys Farm the fol­low­ing day to be­gin the tran­si­tion to his stud ca­reer.

That tran­si­tion poses a new learn­ing curve. Re­tir­ing run­ners, ac­cus­tomed to the ac­tiv­ity of their race­track shed rows, must set­tle into the more se­date pace of farm life. Some also are be­ing turned out in pad­docks for the first time in a long while, a process that must be un­der­taken grad­u­ally for safety rea­sons, while oth­ers who have been train­ing in warmer cli­mates need to ad­just to Ken­tucky’s win­ter weather. New­com­ers also are test­bred, both to check their fer­til­ity and to teach them the me­chan­ics of the breed­ing shed. Overly en­thu­si­as­tic stal­lions re­quire spe­cial at­ten­tion – as do shy or re­luc­tant breed­ers on the other end of the spec­trum. Once the for­mal breed­ing sea­son be­gins, pop­u­lar stal­lions may be booked to as many as three mares a day, but farms take spe­cial care in the sched­ul­ing of new stal­lions who are still learn­ing the ropes and de­vel­op­ing stamina and new mus­cles for the phys­i­cal process of cover­ing mares.

Late-year ma­jor races such as the Clark Hand­i­cap or Cigar Mile pro­vide a backup plan for horses who miss or run poorly in the Breed­ers’ Cup, and for many years the Cigar Mile had marked an unof­fi­cial end to the racing sea­son for stal­lion prospects. That pro­vided more than three months to tran­si­tion to stal­lion life and al­lowed Ken­tucky stal­lions to be show­cased to do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional breed­ers who are in town for ma­jor mixed-mar­ket auc­tions at Fasig-Tip­ton and Keen­land in

Novem­ber.

Breed­ers “want to not just see them in the pad­dock but crit­i­cally see them at the farm,” Far­ish said.

West Coast, last year’s cham­pion 3-yearold male, fol­lowed this tra­di­tional path, with Lane’s End tak­ing the colt into its care the day af­ter he fin­ished sev­enth in the Breed­ers’ Cup Clas­sic on Nov. 3 this year. But with fel­low new­com­ers Ac­cel­er­ate and City of Light, the farm had to take a dif­fer­ent ap­proach.

Ac­cel­er­ate vanned from Churchill Downs to Lane’s End the day af­ter his one­length vic­tory in the Clas­sic, his fifth Grade 1 tri­umph this sea­son. He spent about a week there for a stal­lion open house, ac­com­pa­nied by groom Alex Es­co­bar, be­fore fly­ing back to Cal­i­for­nia to re­join trainer John Sadler on Nov. 12. Es­sen­tially, he spent his week off fol­low­ing his race walk­ing in front of prospec­tive breed­ers rather than fol­low­ing his race­track sched­ule. He fol­lowed a sched­ule sim­i­lar to Gun Run­ner’s. The Steve As­mussen­trained Gun Run­ner won the 2017 BC Clas­sic at Del Mar, spent about a week at Three Chim­neys in Ken­tucky ac­com­pa­nied by a team led by as­sis­tant trainer Scott Blasi, and shipped from there to Fair Grounds to con­tinue train­ing for the Pe­ga­sus. In both cases, the horses were ac­com­pa­nied by fa­mil­iar race­track per­son­nel, so as not to fur­ther up­set their rou­tines.

“We wanted to do what’s best for the horse,” Grant Wil­liamson, di­rec­tor of stal­lion nom­i­na­tions and sales at Three Chim­neys, said of the ap­proach. “He knows those guys, those guys know him very well . . . . We were mak­ing changes any­way, bring­ing him to the farm. You don’t want to make too many changes at once.”

City of Light shipped back to trainer Mike McCarthy’s barn at Santa Anita in the days fol­low­ing the Breed­ers’ Cup, un­able to spend time at the farm, as his con­nec­tions con­sid­ered start­ing him in the Cigar Mile on Dec. 1, prior to the Pe­ga­sus.

City of Light’s fu­ture stall stood empty at Lane’s End dur­ing its open house – across the barn aisle from sire Qual­ity Road, who also dis­played bril­liant miler speed dur­ing his own racing ca­reer. City of Light may be the heir ap­par­ent to Qual­ity Road, who at the rel­a­tively young age of 12 has al­ready risen to join Ken­tucky’s elite ranks and is sched­uled to stand for $150,000 in 2019.

City of Light’s fel­low new­com­ers also rep­re­sent sire­lines that have built Lane’s End. West Coast is by Flat­ter, a son of breed-shap­ing sire A.P. Indy, who con­tin­ues to reign at Lane’s End as a beloved pen­sioner. Ac­cel­er­ate is by Lookin At Lucky, who is among the cham­pi­ons by the late Smart Strike, who stood at this farm un­til his death.

“He’s an in­ter­est­ing horse for us, be­cause ob­vi­ously Smart Strike meant a lot to us here and had a lot to do with build­ing our farm,” Far­ish said of Ac­cel­er­ate. “Hav­ing a grand­son of his is a big plus for us. I think some peo­ple might look at Lookin At Lucky as not be­ing the ob­vi­ous sire of sires, but we’re pretty ex­cited about that sire line.”

EMILY SHIELDS

Ac­cel­er­ate was vanned to his fu­ture home, Lane’s End, a day af­ter his BC Clas­sic win. He will make his fi­nal ca­reer start in the Pe­ga­sus World Cup.

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