The Breeders’ Cup is squarely in our rear view mirror as the 2018 horse racing season kicks into high gear with tomorrow’s running of the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park, the world’s richest horse race where $16M in purse money is up for grabs.
The heavy favorite is last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and Horse of the Year, Gun Runner (post 10, 4-5), and if you want to bet him, I won’t try to talk you out of it. In my most recent MeathouseBets Horse Racing Newsletter, I talked about how one of the big lessons we should take away from the Breeders’ Cup is to rely on a horse’s form cycle and not to try to get cute when a horse is peaking. Gun Runner is peaking, having dominated the second half of 2017. His 4-5 odds won’t make you rich, but just because they’re low does not necessarily mean that they don’t represent value.
If those odds don’t seem appetizing to you, there are a couple other places you can look to find a winner. The second choice on the morning line is Jorge Navarro’s middle distance/sprinting specialist, Sharp Azteca (post 4, 6-1). This five-year-old is coming off a win in the Cigar Mile under jockey Javier Castellano where he displayed versatility for the first time, sitting off the lead before putting away his competition in the stretch. He’ll get a new rider in this one with Javier Castellano opting to ride West Coast (post 2, 8-1), but Irad Ortiz, Jr. is one of the best young riders in the country. Many think that Irad will be on the muscle early, fighting Gun Runner for the lead all the way around the track, but if Irad utilizes the same tactics on him that Castellano did and lets him rate just off of Gun Runner, who will have to expand a ton of energy early on to get to the rail from the far outside, 6-1 odds on Sharp Azteca is mighty appealing.
West Coast, who was just awarded an Eclipse award as 2017’s champion 3-year-old, is one of two Bob Baffert entries. Collected (post 5, 8-1) is the other one, and Mike Smith will climb aboard for the second time in a row. Collected’s claim to fame thus far in his racing career is beating Arrogate in last year’s Pacific Classic. He kept Gun Runner company all the way around the Del Mar track in the Breeders’ Cup Classic but never posed much of a threat. Smith tried a different tack last time out in the Grade 2 San Antonio, and Collected never fired. Smith most likely will ask Collected to do what he does best and fire right from the start. He’ll ensure an honest pace so that Gun Runner won’t get loose on the lead.
And that will open the door for West Coast. I envision West Coast sitting just off the lead under Castellano, similar to what I think Sharp Azteca will do. This one will all come down to how the track is playing, but if the rail is fair or fast, West Coast could just be rounding into form. He’s also shown versatility in his career, having won graded stakes from on the lead as well as off. There is no reason not to think this now 4-year-old can’t take another step forward. If Gun Runner regresses just a little bit, he’ll be right there at the end.
The wise guy horse being talked about in this race is another one making his 4-year-old debut, Gunnevera (post 6, 15-1). This guy calls Gulfstream Park home, and his greatest accomplishment thus far in his career was winning the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth last March. He gets a rider change to Luis Saez who, while accomplished, is unfamiliar with him. His trainer is a local favorite, and Gunnevera is sure to take money as a fan favorite. Sometimes, being a wise guy means knowing when not to be a wise guy. I’m going to let this guy beat me.
West Coast is the pick given that his odds are slightly more attractive than those of Sharp Azteca. But if the situation changes on the tote board or if a track bias develops, Sharp Azteca is the fallback option here. But don’t be surprised to see Gun Runner cement his legacy and make a boatload of money for his connections in Sunday’s Pegasus World Cup.