LOS ANGELES, December 11, 2017—As I perused Santa Anita's recently released stakes schedule for its upcoming 2017-18 winter meet, one significant improvement jumped out at me:

The track will finally offer a handicap division race on opening day -- one of its three top attendance days, along with Santa Anita Handicap and Santa Anita Derby days.

It's never too soon to revive memories of racing's top competitors or to establish new rooting interests for subsequent stakes.

The vehicle will be the $300K G2 San Antonio Stakes which used to serve as a 9-furlong prep in February for the 10-furlong Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap in March.

Shortened to 8.5 furlongs last year, the San Antonio will now trade places with the $200,000 G2 San Pasqual that formerly preceded it in January.

The primary reason for the switch appears to be this prep's new target event, one held 3,000 miles away at another Stronach Group facility: the $16-million G1 Pegasus World Cup 32 days later at Gulfstream Park.

Pegasus preps at Gulfstream include the $100K 8.5-furlong G3 Harlan's Holiday and the $100K 9-furlong G3 Skip Away. The former is 6 weeks prior to the main event, the latter two weeks.

The San Antonio fits nicely in between them but two-week spacing through this progression of preps seems impossible by today's training standards; it's hard to imagine a serious Pegasus contender starting on two weeks rest.

The Gulfstream stakes schedule -- released well in advance of Santa Anita's -- also showed the $100K one mile G3 Hal's Hope moving to four weeks after the Hooper, with the $400K G2 Gulfstream Mile to Florida Derby Day five weeks later.

This three-race sequence of dirt miles offers an excellent opportunity to experiment with bonuses rewarding two or more placings in the series for horses competing in multiple legs. Bonus amounts would reflect number of legs started and orders of finish better than fifth.

This might be the best way to get good horses to face each other multiple times, creating rooting interests and divisional rivalries. One mile out of a chute supports full fields free of post-position bias, the pole position notwithstanding.

Sadly, the same cannot be said about the Pegasus which remains at 9 furlongs despite its short run to the first turn that severely compromises contestants breaking from outer post posts in full fields.

Since Big Brown won the 2008 Florida Derby, only one other horse has won a 9 furlong race from post 12 at Gulfstream Park.

Undaunted by that reality, it appears that this year's Pegasus could be far more contentious than the original. The possible novelty of five Classic runners taking on two Distaff rivals is an intriguing storyline.

Gun Runner undoubtedly will enter the starting gate as reigning Horse of the Year with an entourage of his four closest Classic pursuers: Collected, West Coast, War Story and Gunnevera.

The million-dollar entry fee is no obstacle for Charles Fipke’s Distaff- winning Forever Unbridled nor for her long-time rival, Stellar Wind.

And Forever Unbridled could be accompanied by her stablemate, G1 Clark-winning Seeking the Soul. Stellar Wind is expected to stay in training following her $8 million post-Breeders’ Cup purchase.

Cigar Mile winner Sharp Azteca is the seventh G1 winner expected to join the preceding nine probables.

Three more would be needed to fill the starting gate and fans could do worse than root for the G3 Native Diver winner Prime Attraction to enhance his resume in the San Antonio and join the Pegasus party.

To do so, however, likely would require Prime Attraction to defeat one or more Bob Baffert trainees also likely to be prepping for a date with destiny.

The Baffert contingent could include not only the duo denied by Gun Runner in the Del Mar stretch, but also dual Breeders’ Cup disappointments Mor Spirit and Cupid.

Multiple-horse entries always raises the specter of one horse serving as a “rabbit” for its late-running mates, even if only a Looney Tunes would put up a million bucks to see a bunny bug the hero.

The most intriguing aspect of the Pegasus concept remains the latitude afforded deep-pocketed owners to make deals on every side of the table providing 12 Thoroughbreds start.

All financial arrangements remain private among the principals. What could possibly go wrong amid all this uncoupled chaos?

It’s interesting to note that Toast of New York recently returned from a tendon injury and an unsuccessful stud career to win at Lingfield.

The connections of the 2014 Classic runner-up reportedly are considering the Pegasus, as are those of Giuseppe the Great, a Gulfstream allowance winner over the weekend.

One might describe Pegasus entries as closing with a rush off a snail's pace. Maybe it was the early disinterest which kept discussion about extending the Pegasus distance to a post-position friendly 1-3/16 miles.

If Gun Runner's or Forever Unbridled's fate winds up prematurely determined by their post-position draw, as was California Chrome's last year, Pegasus could trample itself in the shadow of its own towering image.