Gun Runner makes the final start of his career in Saturday's $16 million Grade I Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park, the world's richest race.
Seven other stakes races, four of them graded, surround the Pegasus on the Gulfstream Park card. Four of those races are on the turf and Lone Star Park adds Sunday's $200,000 Grade III John B. Connally Turf Cup and the Houston Distaff to the weekend's grassy mix.
Lone Star's Sunday program also has the $400,000 Grade III Houston Ladies Classic.
The early Derby and Oaks trials continue at Laurel Park, Aqueduct and Sunland Park.
On the international front: A pair of important Group 1 sprints on Sunday at Hong Kong will sort out the local contenders for later honors when international visitors can be expected. And many of South Africa's finest will be on display in the Group 1 Sun Met on Saturday at Kenilworth.
Lots to cover and no reason not to start with:
The Flying Horse
"Everybody's very happy with the way he's coming into the Pegasus," trainer Steve Asmussen said early this week after Gun Runner recorded the final workout of his career, an easy half mile in 49 seconds. "Obviously, this being his last race, there's a lot of emotion about it ... It's a very personal thing for me as well as everybody else involved. Impossible to put into words, to tell you the truth."
Any honest handicapping will have the 5-year-old son of Candy Ride the heavy favorite to score his fifth straight win before heading off to his second career in the Three Chimneys Farm breeding shed, especially as Asmussen noted his colt's last run in the Breeders' Cup Classic was the strongest of any horse he's ever trained. That roster includes two-time Horse of the Year Curlin and superstar mare Rachel Alexandra, among many others.
Gun Runner drew gate No. 10, not normally an advantageous spot at the 9-furlongs distance at Gulfstream, with a short run to the first turn. Mike Smith, who rides Collected for trainer Bob Baffert said of chances for a win from the far outside: "I wouldn't say impossible. But it would be very difficult."
But Florent Geroux will ride Gun Runner, not Collected, so the task may not be as daunting at Smith paints it and Asmussen said he won't necessarily be on the lead anyway in a race packed with speed.
"I've always said, you don't know to complain about the post position until after a race is run," Asmussen said. "It might work out perfectly for him."
On paper, the race may not be a strong as last year's, when Arrogate faced California Chrome. But it's more than respectable. Baffert, in addition to Collected, has West Coast, who could stake a claim in this division in his first race as a 4-year-old. And, of course, Baffert took Arrogate to win in Dubai in 2017 after he took this race.
Owner Ron Paolucci has likely pacesetter Sharp Azteca at 6-1 on the morning line, and War Story, overlooked at 25-1. Gunnevera has claims and Toast of New York, who came out of retirement for this race, is 20-1 on the morning line after shipping in from England to add some international flavor.
There is a tad bit of irony at work here as Arrogate this week was named the Longines World's Best Racehorse of 2017 (See news and notes for more) based on his victories in the Pegasus and the subsequent Dubai World Cup. Gun Runner missed the 2017 Pegasus because of a quarantine at Fair Grounds, where he was stabled, then finished second in Dubai as Arrogate, after missing the break completely, ran by him in the stretch. Arrogate never won another race, finishing fifth in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Del Mar. Gun Runner has not lost since Dubai.
If you can't be there in person for the Pegasus, check out Horse Racing Radio Network coverage (www.horseracingradio.net). Jude Feld and Mike Penna will be right there with all the action. Check www.popejude.com to see if Mr. Feld likes Gun Runner.
The Road to the Roses
Eight signed on for Saturday's $100,000 Frank Whiteley Jr. Stakes at 7 furlongs at Laurel Park. Wentz, the 2-1 morning line favorite, drew the outside gate. He comes off a maiden win at Parx. Still Having Fun, an Old Fashioned colt, was second in the Maryland Juvenile Championship and is the 5-2 second pick on the morning line.
A dozen are set to contest Sunday's $100,000 Riley Allison Derby at 1 mile over the Sunland Park course in New Mexico. The favorites are Runaway Ghost, winner of the Golden Nugget at Golden Gate Fields and most recently fifth in the Grade I Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity, and Beautiful Game, a Steve Asmussen trainee who comes off an allowance win at Delta Downs.
Enrage and Limited View are the favoites among six in for Saturday's $100,000 Marshua Stakes at 6 furlongs at Laurel Park. Enrage, an Algorithms filly trained by Ben Colebrook, finished second in the Gin Talking Stakes in her last outing. Limited View won the Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship in December, then finished ninth as the favorite in the Gin Talking.
Six are engaged for Sunday's $100,000 Ruthless Stakes at 7 furlongs at Aqueduct. Likely in this field is Strategic Dreams, an Archarcharch filly who won the Gin Talking Stakes at Laurel Park in her last start and is 3-for-4 in her short career.
Eleven are entered for Sunday's $65,000 El Paso Times Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs at Sunland Park. It's wide open but trainer Steve Asmussen has the duo of Laudation and Dream Date. Kram won both her previous starts at Zia Park.
Bullard's Alley and Oscar Nominated are the morning-line picks for Saturday's $200,000 W.L. McKnight Handicap at Gulfstream Park. Don't ignore Durocher and Mr. Cub, who finished 1-2 last month in the Tropical Park Derby and returned $654.20 for a $2 exacta bet that every Chicago Cubs fan should have had cold -- but didn't.
Bigger Picture is an 8-5 favorite in Sunday's $200,000 Grade III John B. Connally Turf Cup at Sam Houston. The 7-year-old Badge of Silver gelding won the Grade I United Nations at Monmouth Park last season and makes his first start since a 12th-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Turf. Camelot Kitten, Some in Tieme and Chicago Style also merit a close look among the other 11.
Filly & Mare Turf
Seven are set for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III La Prevoyante Handicap for fillies and mares at Gulfstream Park. Apple Betty, the 7-5 morning-line pick, drew the outside gate. The 5-year-old Galileo mare makes her first start since a victory in the Grade III Dowager at Keeneland in October.
Saturday's $125,000 South Beach Stakes for fillies and mares at Gulfstream Park is another well-matched affair with 12 set to go about 7 1/2 furlongs.
Richard's Boy and Pay Any Price are the early selections for Saturday's $175,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint. Richard's Boy was second in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint last fall and could be a candidate for a return engagement in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai on their World Cup night. He finished fifth in that race last year.
You can stab the program to find the winner of Saturday's $175,000 Ladies Turf Sprint at Gulfstream Park. Blue Bahia, the 7-2 morning-line favorite, drew the outside gate in a field of 12 to go 5 furlongs.
Sunday's $400,000 Grade III Houston Ladies Classic at Sam Houston generated some business for the horse transport industry with several of the eight starters coming from out of town. The 2-1 favorite, Actress, winner of the Grade III Comely Stakes at Aqueduct in her last outing, has been training at Belmont Park. Valadorna arrives from New Orleans, where she recently won the Tiffany Lass Stakes. Martini Glass, winner of last month's Claiming Crown Tiara Stakes, is in from Tampa Bay Downs.
Takaful, winner of the Grade I Vosburgh Stakes at Belmont Park in September, is the heavy favorite in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Toboggan Stakes over 7 furlongs of Aqueduct main track. The other five are worth a look, though, as Takaful has not run since finishing 10th in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Del Mar last November.
Tale of Silence, First Growth, Eight Town and Tommy Macho are the favorites in a full field for Saturday's $125,000 Grade III Fred W. Hooper at 1 mile at Gulfstream.
Seven will contest Saturday's $100,000 Native Dancer Stakes going 1 1/16 miles at Laurel Park. Afleet Willy and John Jones are the oddsmaker's picks.
Filly & Mare Mile/Sprint
Twelve signed on for Saturday's $125,000 Grade III Hurricane Bertie Stakes, carded for 7 furlongs at Gulfstream. Curlin's Approval is the 2-1 favorite after finishing second the in the Grade III Rampart Stakes over the course last month.
A well-balanced field of nine is entered to go 1 1/16 miles in Saturday's $100,000 Nellie Morse Stakes at Laurel Park.
Saturday's $125,000 American Beauty Stakes at Oaklawn Park looks wide open with nine distaffers entered and five of them at single digits on the morning line.
On the international front:
Saturday's Sun Met at Kenilworth is not only one of South Africa's biggest races but, along with the Durban July on the East Coast, one of the country's biggest party days. It's an international draw with fashion and lifestyle vying for attention with the on-track performances.
Not that there's anything wrong with the race itself. This year's edition features the likes of Legal Eagle, Captain America, Marinaresco and Sail South in an unusually large field of 20. Legal Eagle, a 7-year-old Greys Inn gelding trained by Sean Tarry, has 12 wins, including multiple Group 1's and seven places from 21 lifetime starts. Captain America, Marinaresco and Sail South all have chased him home in his last two starts going shorter than Saturday's 2,000 meters.
Sunday's Centenary Sprint Cup at 1,200 meters and Stewards' Cup at 1,600 meters are the first Group 1 events of 2018 at Sha Tin and shape up as important local previews for even more important events to come.
The Centenary Sprint Cup features three from John Size's stable -- Mr Stunning, D B Pin and Beat the Clock. Peniaphobia, Blizzard, Lucky Bubbles and Not Listenin'tome complete the high-quality field. Blizzard is reunited with jockey Karis Teetan, who has been asked to ride the horse back in the Group 1 Takamatsunomia Kinan in Japan in March should he run well enough Sunday.
The Stewards' Cup field includes the first four finishers from December's Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile -- Beauty Generation, Western Express, Helen Paragon and Seasons Bloom -- as well as Werther, a former Hong Kong Horse of the Year. One of Hong Kong's prospective stars, Fifty Fifty, seeks his fifth win of the season after landing the Chinese Club Challenge Handicap in his most recent start.
A bit of a surprise in the Stewards' Cup is Time Warp, who returns from a front-running upset win over Werther in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Cup in December.
Jockey Zac Purton said he knows Time Warp, a 5-year-old, British-bred gelding by Archipenko, is likely to have a lot more pressure on the front in the Stewards' Cup than he experienced in the Cup. And, while acknowledging no horse has ever cut back from the 2,000 meters of the Cup to land the Stewards' Cup, he added, "It's just a matter of getting him in the right rhythm and getting him comfortable so that he can give us his best."
The target for Time Warp after Sunday's race would be the 2,000-meters Group 1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup and Purton said that race could launch his mount to the top of a division weakened by recent retirements.
"When you look at the horses here at the moment over the longer distances, we've only really got Werther," the Australian native said. "A couple of the 4-year-olds will probably put their hands up, but it's not a vintage crop of mile and a quarter horses right now, so he has his chance to go on and put another couple of those races together if he can."
Time Warp, then trained by Sir Mark Prescott, won his last five starts in England and France before leaving for Hong Kong in late 2016.
News and Notes
There were no surprises in Tuesday's announcement at Claridge's in London of the winners of the Longines World's Best Racehorse and Longines World's Best Race competition. Arrogate did enough in January and March to clinch the honor as best horse with a rating of 134. Winx, Australia's super mare, was second with a 132 rating, followed by Gun Runner and England's Cracksman, tied at 130.
A year ago, Arrogate might have been in the discussion for this honor after winning the Breeders' Cup Classic. But, with his dual World Cup wins yet to come, he likely would not have been the favorite.
The floor is open to predictions about the results to be announced a year from now.
For insomniac punters: WatchandWager is inaugurating coverage and ADW wagering on races from tracks in India. "These new tracks offer our players more races, more pools, and more opportunities to win at all hours of the day," said WatchandWager president Ed Comins. Coverage includes Royal Calcutta Turf Club in Kolkata, the Royal Western India Turf Club from Mumbai, the Mysore Race Club, Ooty Racecourse, Pune Racecourse, the Bangalore Turf Club, Guindy Race Course in Chennai, and the Hyderabad Turf Club. WatchandWager is working to integrate handicapping materials into its site but until that's done recommends www.indiarace.com for data.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it department: Racing Post reports Juddmonte Farms this spring will repeat the matings that produced superstars Enable and Frankel. Enable's dam, Concentric, will return to Nathaniel and Frankel's dam, Kind, returns to Galileo.