by SCOTT SHAPIRO
On Thursday night in South Florida, Gun Runner was rewarded appropriately with 2017 Horse of the Year honors. On Saturday afternoon, the son of Candy Ride will attempt to end his career on a high note in the $16-million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park.
The Winchell Thoroughbreds/Three Chimneys-owned colt is the 4-to-5 morning line favorite and looms the clear one to beat in the second running of the world’s richest race, which is part of a 12-race card. For all my selections, analysis, and wagering strategy, CLICK HERE.
Gun Runner’s outside (#10) draw may not make things easy for him and jockey Florent Geroux at the 1 1/8-mile trip, but he is very hard to exclude based on his past performances as well as how he has trained heading into his final race.
Statistics (CLICK HERE for FREE Pegasus World Cup PPs) point to outside posts being at a disadvantage based on the quick run into the first turn at Gulfstream Park, but most of those effected by Gulfstream’s nine-furlong configuration do not possess the talent of Gun Runner. Sure, he could get caught wide early, but it is likely that his tactical speed will alleviate much of the concern once they hit the backstretch. For that reason, I have a hard time expecting anything less than a strong performance from the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner.
The bulk of the attention is on Gun Runner, but there are others in the 2018 Pegasus that could give him a run for his money on their best effort, including #5 Collected. The Speedway Stable runner did just that two-back in the Classic at Del Mar, but failed to fire as the heavy favorite in the Grade 2 San Antonio last month.
Some may find it difficult to support the son of City Zip following that terrible effort on Opening Day of the winter meeting at Santa Anita Park, but I am willing to toss the race since it is clear that the Bob Baffert trainee simply did not fire. With the goal all along being the Pegasus, it stands to reason that the Hall of Fame trainer did not have Collected ready to run his best last month. I would be very surprised if he does not run much better on Saturday afternoon.
The other Baffert runner is #2 West Coast. The son of Flatter wrapped up three-year-old of the year with his third place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but he was no match for Gun Runner and Collected in the final few furlongs. The four-year-old colt has every right to move forward in his first start of 2018, but he will need to do just that to have a shot. I expect a solid performance, but think there will be at least one or two better than him in the Pegasus.
The third of those likeliest to spring the upset over Gun Runner is #4 Sharp Azteca. The son of Freud was simply awesome in 2017 compiling 4 wins and 2 seconds in seven starts. He ran huge in defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and then put forth a career best 114 Brisnet Speed Rating in a dominant five and a quarter length victory in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile.
Sharp Azteca’s talent and current form are impossible to question, but his ability to get a mile and an eighth against the world’s best handicap dirt horses remains up for debate. He has the upside to beat this field, but also could tire badly late and finish off the board.
It is challenging to make a case on top for those outside of the top four on the morning line, but a couple are not without hope when it comes to picking up the pieces and landing a massive paycheck for an underneath finish. I will build my somewhat limited exposure in Saturday’s main event around needing one of three horses to finish third.
#6 Gunnevara has only raced once since a runner-up performance to West Coast in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes last summer. The son of Dialed In has shown an affinity for this racetrack and could pass the majority of the field in the lane if they go too fast early on.
#7 Fear the Cowboy is not fast enough to win the Pegasus, but he has never finished off the board in 6 starts at Gulfstream Park and enters his initial try against Grade 1 competition in the best form of his life. If he can avoid regression and instead move forward off of his victory in the Grade 3 Harlan’s Holiday perhaps he can finish third or fourth.
#8 War Story put forth a career best 109 Brisnet Speed Rating in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He has not raced since, but he comes into the Pegasus off a strong series of works and retains the services of Eclipse Award winning jockey Jose Ortiz.
It is hard to envision a scenario barring traffic trouble where Gun Runner does not fire, but I can see either Collected or Sharp Azteca giving the five-year-old a run for his money. I will try to hit the exacta and then sneak Gunnevara, Fear the Cowboy, or War Story into the back end of the number.
$1 Superfecta Wheel
10 with 4+5 with 6+7+8 with 2+4+5+6+7+8+11
Total = $30
$1 Superfecta Wheel
4+5 with 10 with 6+7+8 with 2+4+5+6+7+8+11
Total = $30
$2 Trifecta Wheel
4+5+10 with 4+5+10 with 6+7+8
Total = $36
Total Budget = $96
Scott Shapiro is a handicapper for Churchill Downs Inc. His Daily Selections full-card analysis with best bets are available every day for Santa Anita Park. Follow him on Twitter @ScottShap34