May 26, 2024

Pegasus World Cup Turf: Integration takes on O’Brien shipper Warm Heart

Intgration wins the Hill Prince S. (G2)
Integration wins the Hill Prince S. (G2) (Photo by Coglianese Photography / Credit to Chelsea Durand)

Unbeaten Integration has flashed the potential to become a bona fide turf star, and the Shug McGaughey trainee will take his most serious class test so far in Saturday’s $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) at Gulfstream Park. The penultimate event on Pegasus World Cup Day, the 1 1/8-mile prize has attracted globetrotting filly Warm Heart from the Aidan O’Brien yard; classy veterans Shirl’s Speight, Adhamo, and Master Piece; rock-solid Webslinger; and defending champion Atone.

Integration, a son of Quality Road and Grade 1 turf heroine Harmonize, has rapidly climbed the class ladder in three starts. Graduating in spectacular fashion on Arlington Million Day at Colonial Downs, the $700,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling returned to inhale Program Trading in the Virginia Derby (G3) in course-record time. Integration made it a hat trick in the Nov. 18 Hill Prince (G2), where he didn’t need to improve to dispatch I’m Very Busy by five lengths. The exciting four-year-old will try to stay perfect while tackling older stakes horses for the first time. The 3-1 second choice on the morning line, Integration will break from post 3 with Tyler Gaffalione.

“It’s a big step up,” McGaughey said of the class hike for the Pegasus Turf. “I think we all understand that, but we’ve got to get him going, get him started somewhere and this was kind of the next step. If we can be competitive in here, it can kind of tell us where we need to go.

“At Aqueduct he broke and he laid about third the whole way, but he could have laid wherever he wanted to. I’m hoping he’ll break like that and put himself in position. Tyler knows this turf course so I’ll leave it up to him. You can’t let yourself get out of position.”

Warm Heart, the 9-5 favorite with Ballydoyle’s top rider Ryan Moore, brings world-class form into her career finale. The near-misser in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) and third-placer versus males in the Hong Kong Vase (G1) in her past two outings, she previously landed the Prix Vermeille (G1), Yorkshire Oaks (G1), and Royal Ascot’s Ribblesdale (G2).

As that resume implies, however, Warm Heart has been effective in the range of 10 to 12 furlongs, and dropping back abruptly in distance is a question mark. O’Brien had gone close here in the past with another high-powered distaffer, Magic Wand, who placed twice in the Pegasus Turf – when it was held over 1 3/16 miles.

“It is a little short,” Ballydoyle representative Chris Armstrong said. “In an ideal world we would prefer a fraction further, but if there’s a good tempo in the race, it should suit her. She’ll appreciate the track; she’ll appreciate the quicker ground. Ryan is looking forward to getting out there to ride her again. It’s just a race that comes up at a good time of year before she’s retired to stud.”

Shirl’s Speight has the opposite distance question, as the Roger Attfield charge has racked up his best results over a mile. Hero of the 2022 Maker’s Mark Mile (G1), runner-up in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), and placed in the past two editions of the Woodbine Mile (G1), Shirl’s Speight has finished fourth in both of his attempts at this trip. On the other hand, that’s a small sample size, and his latest try was on the international stage in the 2023 Dubai Turf (G1). The Charles Fipke homebred could well find this within his scope.

Webslinger was an admirably consistent competitor in the sophomore turf division of 2023. His highlights include an upset of the American Turf (G2) on Kentucky Derby Day and narrow losses to Program Trading in the Saratoga Derby (G1) and Hollywood Derby (G1). A strict reading of that formline suggests that Webslinger has to up his game against Integration, but the Mark Casse pupil can draw upon his past Gulfstream proficiency. Edgard Zayas takes over the riding assignment.

While I’m Very Busy needs to improve to close his personal gap with Integration, he remains a relatively unexposed four-year-old from the ever-dangerous Chad Brown academy. Brown’s more accomplished entrant, Adhamo, has underachieved since his victory in the 2022 United Nations (G1). But the French import was third in last term’s Arlington Million (G1) and Canadian International (G1), prior to flopping in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), and he stands to benefit from cutting back in trip. Flavien Prat sticks with Adhamo, and Irad Ortiz Jr. gets the call for I’m Very Busy.

Three other Arlington Million alumni hope to perform better in the Pegasus Turf – Catnip (eighth), Master Piece (10th), and Atone (last of 11).

Frankie Dettori is booked aboard comebacker Catnip, a Kitten’s Joy half-brother to millionaire Princess Grace. The Michael Stidham trainee looked bound for bigger and better things at Monmouth Park last summer, capturing the Monmouth (G2) and finishing second in the United Nations. Catnip hasn’t been seen since disappointing in the Aug. 12 Million, and he’s drawn a tough post 12 in this challenging spot.

Master Piece has already turned the page on his Million clunker, returning to win the Nov. 11 Red Smith (G2) at Aqueduct for Richard Dutrow. He will race for the trainer’s brother-cum-assistant, Sydney Dutrow, on Saturday. The Chilean import boasts a 3-for-4 mark at nine furlongs, his lone loss coming as a better-than-appears seventh in the 2023 Pegasus Turf. Formerly with Michael McCarthy in Southern California, Master Piece scored his first stateside stakes victory in the 2022 Eddie Read (G2) going this distance at Del Mar.

Atone, winless since his victory here a year ago, rates a 20-1 longshot to repeat. Yet trainer Mike Maker has won this race twice in the past four years, and Atone tuned up with a rallying third in a Dec. 2 allowance over the course. Oisin Murphy picks up the mount on the rail-drawn Into Mischief gelding.

The top three from the local prep, the Dec. 30 Ft. Lauderdale (G2), renew rivalry while facing an overall deeper cast. Main Event went wire-to-wire under a clever ride by Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, and still just lasted in a photo from Kingmax, with Jerry the Nipper a troubled, closing third.

Note that Jerry the Nipper adds blinkers for Todd Pletcher, who has Ft. Lauderdale fourth Grand Sonata on the also-eligible list. Barring a scratch from the Pegasus Turf, Grand Sonata will run instead in the W.L. McKnight (G3) earlier on the card. The same applies to the second Pegasus Turf also-eligible, Anglophile, who is likewise cross-entered to the McKnight.