HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, January 20, 2021 — In the earliest years of what has become a Thoroughbred classic, the Pegasus World Cup Invitational always had a marquee equine star to celebrate and promote.
The inaugural in 2017 was billed as the “The Rematch” and it was great box office. Would California Chrome avenge his narrow defeat to Arrogate in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic?
No, Once again, Arrogate triumphed as the “match” between them never materialized.
California Chrome showed the effects of a long, ambitious and remarkable career on the day but would still remain California’s greatest latter day symbol of the Golden State’s breeding program. But his presence and the possibility of great theater gave the race its prime-time status.
The following year, Gun Runner, the king of the handicap division by the end of 2017, went out like the champion he was, dominating his rivals in the same manner he took control of the 2016 BC Classic.
In 2019, City of Light showed that he was more than a Breeders’ Cup Dirt Miler but rather was a player, a major talent who proved that nine furlongs indeed was within his scope as he won off impressively.
Last year, Bob Baffert was back with Mucho Gusto, an early season wonder at 3, who was a presence in 2019 fall stakes even while going winless. Heading off to stud, he needed a high profile victory and he got it last year in Hallandale Beach.
Of the dozen horses entered in Saturday’s fifth renewal of the second richest dirt race run in America, most would be described by what John Lennon might term working class heroes.
“It hasn’t been around that long but with the likes of Gun Runner, Arrogate and City of Light, there are champions that have won this race,” said Brad Cox, trainer of early line favorite Knicks Go. The very speedy 5-2 early favorite drew post 4 Wednesday afternoon with Joel Rosario in the boot.
“It’s a prestigious race,” Cox continued, “one that can make a stallion and we’re still trying to do that with Knicks Go.”
Whatever happens on Saturday, Knicks Go already has a leg up as a stallion prospect by virtue of a near incredulous record-setting run of 1:33.85 to win the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in his three-year-old finale.
One of the rivals rates to take a late run at him is a horse whose proven at longer distances, unlike the favorite, who has never attempted 1-1/8 miles. Further, Code of Honor was a graded-stakes winner at Gulfstream Park at 3. He is the Pegasus second choice at 9-2 and leaves from post #10.
Code of Honor was a major figure here in the winter of 2019 and went on to win the Travers and elevated to first via disqualification after losing a nose photo to Vino Rosso in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the subsequent BC Classic winner next out. His Classic was a trend that continued at 4.
After winning Westchester, his 2020 debut, he was a fast-closing third to the brilliant Complexity in the Met Mile. Subsequently, however, it’s been a series of trouble-plagued placings but he never delivered on the promise he showed early at 3. Maybe a switch to Tyler Gaffalione can change some of that karma.
While this is Code of Honor’s first start at 5, and with the favorite never having gone the trip, Tax (5-1) enjoys both a conditioning edge and a valued winning race over the track, a dominant performance over more moderate rivals in his Harlan’s Holiday prep for Saturday.
Tax has returned from his layoff a stouter individual, one who has always shown talent, dancing around the edges at the Grade 1 level, and this could be his moment to shine.
Comfortable on or near the pace, he is drawn nicely in post 7 and if Luis Saez gets him away quickly and cleanly, he will be in the thick of things at headstretch.
Pegasus World Cup Invitational Field in post position order with early line odds:
1-Sleepy Eyes Todd (8-1)
2-Coastal Defense (15-1)
3-Independence Hall (20-1)
4-Knicks Go (5-2)
5-Jesus’ Team (8-1)
8-Harpers First Ride (10-1)
9-Last Judgment (20-1)
10-Code of Honor (9-2)
11-Mr. Freeze (15-1)
12-Math Wizard (20-1)