The $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) was the main attraction at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, and deservedly so, but the undercard events provided some thrills in the lead-up to the big event.
Perhaps the most exciting came courtesy of the inaugural Poseidon Stakes going 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track. The $400,000 contest saw Stanford go off the heavy 3-5 favorite against eight rivals but the Malibu Moon five-year-old found himself facing a tough challenge.
Ranger in Paradise, the 85-1 longest shot on the board, led the way while setting early splits of :23.83 and :48.10. Stanford wasn’t far behind, keeping in close attendance while running three wide. Jockey John Velazquez then angled him to the inside of the pacesetter rounding the far turn and heading into the stretch to take over.
Meanwhile, Imperative stalked in fourth while in the two path. The Bernardini gelding followed when Stanford began his move, going four wide on the final bend to challenge for the lead.
Stanford refused to yield and Imperative would not quit coming. The pair battled throughout the lane, with Stanford hanging tough to a miniscule advantage on the inside. In the shadow of the wire, though, Imperative dug deep and inched up to get the head-bobbing win in a final time of 1:48.97.
“I talked to (trainer) Mr. (Bob) Hess (Jr.) and he told me how to do it,” said Antonio Gallardo, who was piloting Imperative for the first time. “He said he had been working really good. When I was riding down the back I could have gone in and decided to stay out, and he took the bend really well. I was really confident in him. I’m hungry, and he was hungry.”
“He propped on me with all the people at the wire,” Velazquez said about Stanford nearing the finish.
“It kind of looked like the horse that was on the lead was sort of out in the middle of the track, so (Velazquez) opted to go inside of him,” Pletcher said of Stanford. “He ran well. He lost to a nice horse, who has made over $2 million. He’s a nice horse. Tough bob.”
Madefromlucky filled out the top three another 4 1/2 lengths back as the 4-1 second favorite. The multiple Grade 2 scorer was moving wide on the final turn but clipped heels and lost momentum before rallying to get third by a neck over Papa Zulu. Hy Riverside, Cherry Wine, Mylute, Ranger in Paradise and Fearless Dragon completed the order under the wire.
The Poseidon may have very well belonged to Stanford if the original plans for Imperative had gone through. The Kentucky-bred seven-year-old was purchased privately by Ron Paolucci’s Loooch Racing Stables and Imaginary Stables following his six-year-old campaign with an eye on running in the Pegasus. Unfortunately, Paolucci was unable to make a deal with one of the 12 stakeholders in the main event.
“I needed a horse. I needed a backup for War Story. Me and Dan talked about needing a second horse,” explained Paolucci, who partnered on Pegasus starter War Story with Dan Shafer. “I tried to get (Imperative) into the big race and I didn’t have any takers. The way he trained over this track, we knew he was going to run good. To beat Stanford he had to run really good, and he did.”
“Ron gave me a call about 2 1/2 weeks ago and said, ‘Do you have an empty stall?’ So, he bought the horse,” new trainer Bob Hess Jr. said. “(Former trainer) Richard Baltas was very forthright and told us about his quirks. We brought him out here and he worked really well. I think he likes a little sandier track surface.
“I’m speechless,” Hess added. “It’s great to compete on the biggest day in racing, and to be able to compete against and beat Todd Pletcher is fun an exciting. (Imperative) kind of runs with his head up a little so I thought we might have lost the head bob, but luckily he dropped in time. No complaints.”
Prior to the Poseidon, Imperative’s biggest win had come in the 2014 Charles Town Classic (G2). Interestingly, Stanford captured last year’s edition of that same race.
Imperative is now 5-8-3 from 36 career starts and has banked $2,240,790 in lifetime earnings. In addition to this one and the Charles Town Classic he also won last year’s Big Bear Stakes and placed in seven other stakes including the 2014 runnings of the Pacific Classic (G1) and Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes (G1).