Sports

Even Absent Equine Star Power, Pegasus Is Set to Soar

The best action at this year's Pegasus World Cup isn't on the racetrack.
The best action at this year's Pegasus World Cup isn't on the racetrack. Eclipse Sportswire photo
Frank Stronach is nothing if not a man of vision. You don't swing big in business — especially when one of those ventures is owning racehorses and the tracks they compete on — without that trait, even if it flies in the face of common sense.

The 110-foot-tall statue of the winged horse Pegasus that welcomes visitors to Gulfstream Park is an example of Stronach's vision. The horse cannot be ridden, nor is it an amusement park ride. It simply is. Stronach had it commissioned because he's rich, and, well, why the hell not? Often, that's the only explanation required from a person of his stature.

But this seemingly pointless Pegasus statue was infused with newfound purpose when Stronach launched the Pegasus World Cup at his Hallandale Beach racetrack in 2017. Here, Stronach saw a gap in the schedule between the annual Breeders' Cup event in November and the start of the breeding season in February, determining that a very rich race in late January would give champion older horses one last chance to compete before pricey copulation became their retirement occupation.

Stronach and his Gulfstream charges set the purse for the race at $12 million, which at the time was the most lucrative horse race in the world. Ingeniously, however, Gulfstream wouldn't have to fund this purse itself. Instead, a horse's connections had to put up $1 million to purchase a spot in the 12-horse starting gate, which saw Bob Baffert's splendid Arrogate defeat the people's champion, California Chrome, in the Pegasus World Cup's inaugural edition.
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You can splurge for a $25,000 luxury suite at this year's race.
Eclipse Sportswire photo
Gulfstream goosed the pot to $16 million by kicking in $4 million of its own (or Stronach's) money for the following year's race, won by Gun Runner — like Arrogate, a Breeders' Cup Classic winner — in the final start of his illustrious career.

Stronach's grand plan was working. Despite a gradual reduction in purse size to the current $3 million (in fairness, Pegasus Day now features multiple graded stakes races, so the dough has been spread out) and the emergence of the $20 million Saudi Cup in 2020, the Pegasus World Cup has largely retained its status as a place where Breeders' Cup champs — be they victors of the Classic or the Dirt Mile — head for one last career-defining race before they retire to the breeding shed, with 2022's de facto match race between Life Is Good and Knicks Go delivering a duel for the ages.

But the field for this year's race, which will be run on Saturday, January 28, is, to put it charitably, lacking in star power. Favorites Art Collector, Stilleto Boy (third in last year's Pegasus World Cup), Skippylongstocking (winner of Gulfstream's Grade 3 Harlan's Holiday Stakes on New Year's Eve), and White Abarrio are nice horses, but they'd be pegged as also-rans in Pegasuses past.

The top two finishers in this past November's Breeders' Cup Classic — Flightine, the most talented racehorse to come along in at least 50 years, and Olympiad — were quickly retired to stud after that race, while the third-place finisher, Taiba, is being pointed toward February's Saudi Cup. A fourth potential top-tier Pegasus entrant coming out of the Classic, Hot Rod Charlie, has also been sent to stud.

Fortunately for those considering an outing to Gulfstream on Pegasus Day, the off-track attractions are, um, rather attractive this year.

The barrier for entry — ticket prices start at $125 — to Gulfstream's marquee day at the races is rather steep. But it is nowhere near as steep as a 110-foot statue of a flying horse. Feel free to drop $25,000 on a luxury suite if you want to reach a similar peak.

This isn't the Kentucky Derby or even the Breeders' Cup, but Pegasus attendees can expect to gawk at a few celebrities, with Jennifer Lopez, Alex Rodriguez (could've been so beautiful), Lenny Kravitz, Pharrell Williams, Vin Diesel (!!!), and Usher among several stars who've shown up to play the ponies (or their instruments) in years past. There's always a musical guest, too, with Post Malone, Snoop Dogg, Thomas Rhett, and Ja Rule among the list of past headliners.
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OneRepublic and Kygo, among others, will perform at this year's race.
Deep Sleep photo
The musical mainstage this year will feature veteran pop-rockers OneRepublic and Norwegian DJ Kygo, who've collaborated before on a handful of singles. Hence, on or off the track, the smartest money of the day might be on OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder joining Kygo — who resembles a better-looking Macaulay Culkin — onstage for their pandemic anthem, "Lose Somebody."

Yet the anthem that Pegasus attendees need to turn their attention to is a far older one: "Swanee River (Old Folks at Home)." Written by Stephen C. Foster in 1851, it became the official song of the Sunshine State in 1935, replacing "Florida, My Florida." The Swanee River depicted in Foster's lyrics is the Suwannee River, which, as the Florida Department of State's website states, "separates the Florida panhandle from the rest of the state."

Kentucky has "My Old Kentucky Home" on the first Saturday in May, while the Preakness features "Maryland, My Maryland," and tipsy Belmont revelers belt out "New York, New York" on national television every June. Unlike "Swanee River," these songs are uniters, not dividers.

The Pegasus World Cup is not part of the Triple Crown. But even in an off year, it remains a fine horse race to anchor a day of epic merrymaking. More importantly, it is Florida's race.

On January 28, let the river run dry, for nothing shall separate one Gulfstream patron from another. This is a day for Floridians to flash their collective pride, to inadvertently drop their dance partners and proclaim, as Tedder might, "It's too late to apologize."

Pegasus World Cup. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, January 28, 2023, at Gulfstream Park, 901 S. Federal Hwy., Hallandale Beach; pegasusworldcup.com. Tickets cost $125 to $770.
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An occasional New Times contributor, Mike Seely is a veteran journalist who has written for many publications, including the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. He’s now a staff writer and editor at Better Collective, which owns the gambling news sites Sports Handle and US Bets.

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