The last two editions of the Pegasus World Cup (G1) had showcased superstar winners on their way to the breeding shed, but Mucho Gusto will stick around for awhile and point for an even richer prize next month after dominating Saturday’s $3 million renewal at Gulfstream Park.
Worth $16 million two years ago and $9 million in 2019, the World Cup purse was trimmed again this year and was run as a Lasix-free event. There was even more drama in the days leading up to the nine-furlong showcase as both Omaha Beach and Spun to Run, pegged as the top two favorites on the morning line, were both scratched.
Irad Ortiz Jr., honored Thursday evening as the 2019 Eclipse Award-winning jockey, presciently chose to ride Mucho Gusto in the World Cup even before the defection of Spun to Run, who he’d been riding recently. Mucho Gusto, meanwhile, was recently sold by Michael Lund Petersen to Prince Faisal bin Khaled in advance of the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup in Riyadh on Feb. 29.
The investment is already producing serious dividends. Mucho Gusto, the 3-1 second choice in the field of 10, broke alertly from post 8 and settled into a comfortable stalking position inside and behind pace-setter Mr Freeze, who set splits of :23.77, :47.78, and 1:11.84. Racing alongside 5-2 favorite Higher Power into the far turn, Mucho Gusto soon left that rival behind and commenced a menacing three-wide bid outside Mr Freeze and Bodexpress.
Those rivals were already under a drive when Mucho Gusto breezed blew past approaching the quarter pole, and the 4-year-old son of Mucho Macho Man proceeded to open up the field to win stylishly by four lengths in a time of 1:48.85 over a fast track.
Trained by Bob Baffert, who won the Pegasus in 2017 with Arrogate, Mucho Gusto paid $8.80. Mr Freeze held second over a late-rallying War Story, with Diamond Oops fourth. The order of finish was rounded out by Bodexpress, Tenfold, Seeking the Soul, True Timber, Tax, and Higher Power.
“You know what, the horse shipped really well and I wasn’t really planning on taking him there, but he worked really well the other day,” Baffert said by phone from California. “I was going to run in the San Pasqual (G2) next week but after he worked so well I thought, ‘You know what, I’m just going to take a shot at the mile-and-an-eighth and maybe that will get him ready.’ He didn’t get an invite to the Saudi Cup, so I thought maybe if he runs well enough he’ll get an invitation.
“Who would know that the race fell apart there, unfortunately. But he looked great in the warm-up; Irad Ortiz did a pretty masterful job. He had me a little bit worried the way he was down inside like that, but he knew what he was doing. When he tilted out at the quarter pole, all I could say was ‘Damn, I wish I would have flown down there!’ But it was pretty exciting.”
The World Cup was the fifth career stakes win for Mucho Gusto, who previously accounted for the 2018 Bob Hope (G3) and the 2019 Robert B. Lewis (G3), Laz Barrera Memorial (G3), and Affirmed (G3). After the Affirmed last June, Mucho Gusto ran second to Maximum Security in the Haskell Invitational (G1) and third to Code of Honor in the Travers (G1), but was a disappointing fourth as an odds-on favorite in the Oklahoma Derby (G3) in his most recent start on Sept. 29, though he was beaten only two lengths by Owendale.
Mucho Gusto, who also owns placings in the 2018 Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) and 2019 Sunland Derby (G3), has now bankrolled $2,579,800 from a line of 11-6-2-2.
Bred in Kentucky by Teneri Farm and Bernardo Alvarez Calderon, Mucho Gusto most recently sold at public auction for $625,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May 2-year-old sale at Timonium. He was produced by Itsagiantcauseway, by Giant’s Causeway. This is also the family of Canadian Horse of the Year Peaks and Valleys, Pacific Classic (G1) winner and World Cup favorite Higher Power, and multiple Grade 2 scorer Alternation.