May 25, 2019

City of Light could shine brightest in Pegasus World Cup

City of Light and jockey Javier Castellano win the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Churchill Downs on November 3, 2018 (c) Coady Photography/Churchill Downs

The Pegasus World Cup resulted in stylish victories for favorites Arrogate and Gun Runner the past two years. Accelerate will be the public choice to follow in their steps on January 26, but on paper won’t appear to lord over the competition as the previous two winners did in their respective races.

In 2016, Arrogate was bet down to 9-10 after chief rival California Chrome drew an unfavorable outside post. Last year, Gun Runner started at 11-10 after completing his Horse of the Year campaign in dazzling fashion. Fans of Accelerate will appreciate that, despite an excellent 2018 season that culminated in a workmanlike victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), his odds won’t be nearly as low for the Pegasus.

What’s a fair price for Accelerate? I’d argue 8-5 is the absolute bottom, maybe 9-5. He’s undoubtedly the horse to beat, as he showed beating potential World Cup contenders like Gunnevera and McKinzie at Churchill Downs. However, there’s one reason I don’t find him close to “single” material.

That reason is City of Light, the only horse to hand Accelerate defeat in 2018 when he prevailed in the Oaklawn H. (G2) last April after a stretch-long duel. That was a bit of a surprise performance for City of Light, who was stepping up from seven furlongs for the first time against a seasoned nine-furlong performer like Accelerate.

Accelerate returned the favor in the 10-furlong Gold Cup at Santa Anita the following month, beating City of Light by more than five lengths. That was all the evidence the City of Light connections needed to re-focus his campaign on one-turn races. After running second in the Forego (G1) at Saratoga, City of Light turned in a terrific effort to win the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) by nearly three lengths. City of Light earned a higher BRIS Speed rating than Accelerate on Breeders’ Cup Day, 111 to 106.

While the Breeders’ Cup proved Accelerate could win outside his Southern California base, the fact remains that City of Light holds a 1-0, head-to-head advantage on neutral ground, which Gulfstream Park will serve as neither have raced over it. It’s a small piece of evidence, but the Oaklawn H. result is a key one that shows City of Light is capable of relaxing and firing from off the pace, if necessary, and that he’s capable of getting the Pegasus distance under the right circumstances.

About two weeks out from race day, City of Light appears to be a bettable alternative to Accelerate. Much will depend, of course, on the post position draw. If City of Light draws unfavorably outside, all bets are off.

If McKinzie is in the field, does City of Light drift to third betting choice? Either as the second or third favorite in the wagering, City of Light probably has what it takes to win the richest dirt race in North America, all things being equal.