PEGASUS WORLD CUP: LAST STOP FOR NEW SIRES
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
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.”
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.