July 23, 2024

Early tactics appear key to Pegasus

Gun Runner training at Gulfstream Park for the $16 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) (C) Lauren King/Adam Coglianese Photography

Post positions will be drawn Wednesday for Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream Park and just like the betting on the $16 million race, Gun Runner will be the focus of the festivities. An outside post is perceived as a potential detriment to the likely odds-on favorite.

I’m not putting too much stock in starting position because Gun Runner is eligible to smash the competition regardless of where he draws.

The presumptive Horse of Year brings a four-race win streak into his career finale, capping a fantastic 2017 season with a 2 ¼-length score in the November 4 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), and the 1 1/8-mile assignment is right up his alley with Gun Runner winning his last four starts at the distance by a combined 25 lengths.

He took it right to the competition from the start of the Classic, registering a 113 BRIS Speed rating for the wire-to-wire score. The only other speed last time, runner-up Collected, closely tracked Gun Runner on the outside before offering a failed bid nearing the completion of the far turn.

With Sharp Azteca’s presence and Collected seemingly bent on front-running duties, circumstances appear different pace-wise Saturday. And the biggest potential stumbling block surrounding Gun Runner is his willingness to settle in the early stages.

When perusing Gun Runner’s past performances, I see a horse who has been intent on the seizing the early initiative since becoming an elite performer. Granted, he raced an up-close second before drawing away by a 10-length margin in the Woodward (G1) last summer, but that came against only four overmatched rivals in what meets the definition of a paid workout.

When the stakes are higher, Gun Runner has been determined to set the pace as witnessed by his breakthrough Grade 1 victory in last fall’s Clark H.; a runner-up to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup (G1); Stephen Foster (G1) tour-de-force win off a freshening; and the Classic.

We’ll see where he draws and Gun Runner could possibly smoke the competition from the start once again. But I do envision a hot pace scenario that makes tractability an asset.

After coming up woefully short adapting rating tactics in the December 26 San Antonio (G2), Collected has only one way to go in the Pegasus World Cup. And that’s by duplicating a sensational wire-to-wire performance in the Pacific Classic (G1) three starts back.

Sharp Azteca is a miler stretching out to 9-furlongs for the first time and while he doesn’t have to be showing the way, the 5-year-old is more than capable of applying serious pressure by the far turn and enters in career-best form after registering a 114 BRIS Speed rating for a convincing Cigar Mile (G1) win.

These concerns can prove meaningless if Gun Runner settles willingly from just off the pace Saturday. But an inability to do so remains the best hope for bettors trying to beat a towering presence.

For more on the Pegasus World Cup, check out the news & notes blog at TwinSpires.com