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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


American Pharoah and Justify are not among the invitees to the Pegasus Cup. I can’t understand why. There is as much chance they will show up at Gulfstream on Jan. 25 as there is that Maximum Security and McKinzie will come to play.

The latter two’s connections have made it plain the Pegasus is not in their plans. When the Pegasus purse was reduced from $9 million to $3 million, it was announced Maximum Security was being rerouted to the new $20 million race in Saudi Arabia.

Bob Baffert has said the same about McKinzie. Baffert might send Roadster and Mucho Gusto to Gulfstream, although the latter, if he comes to Florida, will run in an undercard race, according to Baffert, as a prep for the $20 million Saudi race.

The obvious question is why put the biggest names of the moment on the invitation list, which went out well after their people took the Pegasus out of consideration?

The simple answer is this Pegasus is lacking in star power. The only bold faced name who has the race targeted is Omaha Beach. Gulfstream officials should be making a novena that whatever is ailing his foot heals sufficiently for him to compete. Without him, the Pegasus is a $3 million race with a $300,000 field, and that’s being kind.

If Omaha Beach can’t go, and he has a history of missing big races with minor ailments, maybe some of those who currently plan to sit out the Pegasus will call an audible, although it won’t juice the star wattage.

True Timber could be one of those. Kiaran McLaughlin said he is leaning more toward the Hooper on the supporting program than the Pegasus with the Cigar’s show finisher.

Math Wizard, hero of the Pennsylvania Derby, is more likely for the Saudi race than the Pegasus but the white hot Saffie Joseph Jr. might recognize easier pickings for a $3 million purse.

Bravazo, who D. Wayne Lukas ran in almost every added money event for which he was eligible in 2018 before being sidelined through 2019, is heading to Oaklawn for its rich series of stakes.

The $1 million Pegasus Turf also is poaching on the Pegasus field. Magic Wand, second in last year’s Pegasus Turf, is heading back for a return engagement. Another Pegasus invitee, Arklow, also is being steered to the Turf.

As of now, the Pegasus field doesn’t look like it will break double digits.

The Gulfstream racing department was aware of this when it released the ambitious list of invitees. The alternative was to announce that there aren’t a dozen horses worthy of running in a $3 million race. In truth, when you take out the big names headed to the Middle East, there aren’t.

This is a distressing look into the future, not just for Gulfstream but for all American tracks, most especially those who race in the winter. With the Saudi race on Feb. 29 and the Dubai World Cup four weeks later, Santa Anita’s Big Cap, once one of America’s most prestigious races, will be lucky to assemble a Grade 3 field on March 7.

It isn’t just the older handicap division that is being cannibalized. Saudi Arabia’s undercard includes a $2.5 million turf marathon at 15 furlongs; a $1 million turf stakes at a mile and a half; an approximately 7 furlong turf sprint for $1 million; a 6 furlong dirt sprint for $1.5 million and a dirt mile for $800,000.

With corresponding races four weeks later in Dubai, it’s going to be hard to keep America’s best at home.

Further exacerbating the situation is the reality that our standouts, who go to the desert in pursuit of oil-money windfalls, are unlikely to be seen back in action stateside until Saratoga, if then.  

Judgment calls

Another glaring fault in the disqualification system was in evidence in Sunday’s sixth race at Santa Anita.

Stormy Lady, en route to finishing first, drifted out in the stretch, causing the hard charging Holly Hundy to alter course. The stewards put up the inquiry sign and eventually took down Stormy Lady, placing her third her third behind Holly Hundy, who, despite the trouble, missed second by only a nose. Devil’s Dance, who had an unobstructed trip, was moved up to the win.

This is where the problem arose. If Holly Hundy hadn’t been bothered, she would have overcome Devil’s Dance for the place and would have been moved up to the win slot. Devil’s Dance hadn’t been bothered at all, yet she was awarded the big money. This wasn’t right.

Stewards make judgment calls all the time. They decide whether there should be a disqualification and where the offender should be placed. This isn’t always as cut and dried as Sunday’s race. Sometimes they decide a foul has been committed but it didn’t affect the outcome, as subjective a decision as there can be in racing. Sometimes they leave a horse up but fine or suspend a jockey for what they feel is overly aggressive race-riding.

In other words, they exercise a lot of discretion. So why shouldn’t they be able to say a horse like Holly Hundy deserved the win, would have gotten it if not fouled, and jump her over Devil’s Dance, who was not going to wind up better than second in any event?

This would be nothing more than another judgment call, the kind stewards are paid to make.

(Lest there be any doubt, I had no interest, financial or otherwise, in the race. I didn’t see the replay until long after the fact.)

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