HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, January 24, 2021 — Midway through the Pegasus World Cup program, on the huge infield matrix board, flowed several pages that read:
“SAFETY FIRST: Face Masks Mandatory; Wash Your Hands; Social Distance, Use Hand Sanitizers.” This was followed by an in-house video with Todd Pletcher talking about his three Pegasus Turf entrants.
Gulfstream’s leading trainer talked about how it was great to have two major races early in the year, events that were “must see” for fans. Given crowd size, noting costs that ranged for $100 to $1,000 depending on package purchased, 1,500 fans agreed.
To the septuagenarians among us, the crowd skewed much younger, moderately affluent, many sporting their Florida Derby finery, especially the women in attendance.
Security was tight, as it has been at all South Florida sports venues according to colleagues who had covered events at Marlins Park and Hard Rock Stadium. They too stressed safety and employed a full complement of recommended safety measures.
We had to pass through three checkpoints, showing our bar-coded invitations and Media credentials, and noted socially distanced makeshift seating on the apron, four in each cordoned area, seats in each corner, the chained areas at least six feet from one another.
Small temporary stands were erected behind those sectioned areas lined up hard by the outside fence. Horsemen have their own areas; the third-floor Flamingo Room was full, tables spaced appropriately, and all private suites were well populated but limited to allow distancing.
This was my third visit to the Championship Meet, the first with fans in the building. I never realized until yesterday as I peered out over the crowd from a balcony in Press Suite 20 that once again, I would experience racing as it meant to be: Energized.
One hears horsemen talk about missing the fans on TV all the time, but you can’t understand what that means until you feel the people in the building. It was reminiscent of my early at a “new Big A” after it was reopened in 1959.
While it was indeed exciting to be back at the races on a momentous day, there were constant reminders of the stark realities of life in 2021, an unwelcome “new normal.”
Animal activists carried signs outside the gates on Federal Highway. “Raced To Death,” read one; “Sport of Killers,” read another.
We guesstimated 10 to 15 demonstrators standing across from one another at the two-way entrance as the occupants of a Hallandale Beach police cruiser kept watch. All was peaceful.
After walking through a second checkpoint, we passed the large Tiki Bar area on the northside of the building. We walked in to see maybe 20% of the attendees were unmasked and huddled closer than six feet. We shook our head, mumbled in disgust, and walked away.
I took a paddock-lined seat for the sixth race, on paper and in media releases one of the more hyped and loaded maiden groups we could ever recall. The horses entered the ring.
Pletcher’s million-dollar Shadwell baby, Ghazaaly, was icy on the board at 8-1. Chad Brown’s newcomer, Stage Raider, by the sire of American Pharaoh, from the dam that produced Justify—you know, two Triple Crown winners–was quoted on the tote at a sleepy 3-1.
As three-year-olds going seven furlongs, both shunned Lasix even though newly turned sophomores can use the diuretic after racing without it as juveniles last year. The guess is they are both awaiting longer two-turn tests for which both are bred.
Then neither was Prevalence on Lasix, he a Godolphin homebred by Medaglia d’Oro from Enrichment, a Ghostzapper mare that has produced two stakes winners from three winning offspring.
If yesterday was prologue, Enrichment will be 3-for-4 with stakes winners by season’s end. Prevalence was devastating in a performance that must be to be appreciated. The highly touted Brown and Pletcher trainees finished second and third, respectively.
Despite pressure on the backstretch and turn, Tyler Gaffalione, high in the saddle leaving the five-sixteenths pole, eased his colt in the final eighth of a mile. No runoff-speed type, he came back to Gaffalione soon after the finish, a strong gallop-out superfluous at that point.
The Pletcher interview turned out to be prescient as Colonel Liam and Largent finished one-two in excellent Pegasus Turf performances. Largent was not giving an inch. Colonel Liam showed his class by coming from mid-pack over a dry, speed-biased course.
We left the Press Suite to catch a glimpse of the Pegasus field in the walking ring, viewed from the terrace outside the Flamingo Room before proceeding down to the apron to watch the race with the live crowd.
As was widely reported, Pegasus World Cup favorite Knicks Go never had raced a mile and an eighth. A bit under-reported was the fact that his BC Dirt Mile win was around two turns, which was not insignificant.
If you’ve been to Gulfstream for a minute, you know that if you’re on the best and the fastest horse, your job becomes that much easier. Knicks Go proved to the best horse by far.
While perhaps not as dominating as the Brendan Walsh-trained maiden, Knicks Go’s victory was totally comprehensive. He responded to Joel Rosario’s urging while under a loose rein throughout, Rosario urging him on him only after straightening away.
Under a vigorous hand ride, Knicks Go separated himself from the group then was taken in hand inside the final sixteenth.
Knicks Go clocked his final furlong in 13.07 seconds, stopping the timer in 1:47.89, following a pressured opening gambit in 46.16. He appears ready for bigger game and longer distances; the good news being that his five-year-old season will continue.
The fifth Pegasus World Cup Invitational was renewed without a marquee attraction but emerged with one and, as we repeat so often, good racing is good box office.
Including all horizontal pools, the Pegasus was part of $9,589,661 worth of handled that totaled $40.7 million on a 12-race card but with the vastly reduced Pegasus crowd: 1,500 spectators, horsemen notwithstanding.
Sadly, reality set in again as we left the building. Walking to my car I passed through the final checkpoint area. The younger party people, libations in hand, were huddling in couples and small groups all over the apron.
Uncomfortably, we dodged and weaved our way through about hundred fans on the way out. Not only was the party crowd not socially distanced, but we also saw only two couples with face coverings. But that happens when good health measures become politicized.
I’ll miss the fans next Saturday when I return for the Holy Bull. I can bear witness to the fact that the track’s lockdown procedures work. But it’s dispiriting when selfish, willful ignorance compromises those efforts.