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Pegasus World Cup: Horse Racing’s First Big Event of 2023

Gulfstream Park

Gulfstream Park

Ryan Thompson, via Gulfstream Park, Louisville Courier Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC

A talented field of the world’s top horses has gathered at Gulfstream Park for the 2023 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes on Saturday.

The big race made its debut in 2017, with Frank Stronach having the controversial idea to attract 12 runners whose shareholders would put up $1 million each to grab a spot at the starting gate. The purse is no longer $12 million but it is still offers a payday equal to last year’s Kentucky Derby.

Cyberknife is the main attraction as the three-time graded stakes winner looks for the bulk of that lucrative purse before retiring to Spendthrift Farms in Lexington, Kentucky.

NBC Sports’ John Furlong has taken a look at the first big card of 2023 and highlighted a couple of races and plays. The final 2 Pegasus World Cup races offer fantastic value to bettors.

PEGASUS WORLD CUP TURF

SATURDAY RACE 12, POST TIME 4:40PM ET

Let’s start with the Pegasus Turf, the first of two live races on NBC Saturday afternoon. The surprise retirement of Colonel Liam, the two-time defending champion in this race, leaves a void at the top of the field. The morning line favorite is now #10 Ivar, who is coming off a 4th place finish in November’s Breeders’ Cup Mile. I love his consistency – he pretty much always finishes within 2 lengths of the winner – but do I trust him to cross the wire first? It’s been over 2 years since his last win in a graded stakes race. Plus, I think this 1 1/8 mile distance is a little bit longer than what he prefers. He’s a contender, but his lack of recent wins dissuades me from betting him to win. Some may gravitate to #12 City Man, off the back of his impressive performance in the local prep for this race, the Fort Lauderdale. But he got a perfect trip in that race, finding a large seam up the rail to get up for the win. He’s a fine horse, but I don’t think he’s Grade 1 quality – even if this isn’t the toughest G1 race out there.

My top pick is the only female in the race, #6 Lady Speightspeare. She finished 3rd in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf last time out, behind Tuesday and In Italian, two horses that are far superior to anything she faces here. The conditions weren’t really in her favor that day, either - this 1 1/8 mile distance on a very firm turf course is right in her wheelhouse. She’s got tactical speed that fits well here, and jockey Luis Saez is among the best in the world at rating speed horses. And trainer Roger Attfield – a member of the Racing Halls of Fame in both the U.S. and Canada – wouldn’t choose to run her against males unless he was confident she would run her best. I’m a little worried she’ll get bet down from her morning-line odds of 6-1, but anything around the 9/2 range is good for me. I’m also interested in #3 Atone, who gets the services of top jockey Irad Ortiz and should be sitting right off what should be a moderate pace.

THE PLAY:

WIN: #6 Lady Speightspeare, at 9/2 or higher

EXACTA: 6 OVER 3, 10

TRIFECTA: 6 / 3, 10 / 3, 10, 11

PEGASUS WORLD CUP INVITATIONAL

SATURDAY RACE 13, POST TIME 5:40PM ET

Moving on to the $3 million Pegasus Dirt, where most of the wagering attention will be on the morning-line favorite, #10 Cyberknife. And deservedly so- he was among the top 3-year-olds in the country last year and was a close 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile last time out. I’m not too concerned about the wide post position, as the horse’s tactical versatility gives jockey Florent Geroux the option to gun for the lead if he breaks well, or to take back behind horses if he breaks slowly. He’s solid, but just like in the Turf race, I want to shop for a better price in a race that is this evenly matched on paper. #5 Defunded, the likely pace setter here, has been getting the attention of many horseplayers this week, but I don’t see him as a contender. Yes, being on the lead is always a great place to be at Gulfstream, but I don’t think he’s as talented as many people think he is, plus his trainer Bob Baffert said the colt was a “mess” mentally this summer at Del Mar, so I’m not 100% confident he’ll bring his A-game when travelling away from his Santa Anita base. I want a horse that’s proven over this Gulfstream track, and that’s why my top pick is #4 White Abarrio.

A true “horse for the course,” White Abarrio is 4-for-4 at Gulfstream in his career, including an impressive win in last year’s Florida Derby. Jockey Tyler Gaffalione rides this track better than just about anyone, and the colt’s tactical speed gives him the ability to sit 2 or 3 lengths behind what should be a solid pace upfront. I think he’s being overlooked here – many will write him off because of his current 5-race losing streak, but he’s run sneakily well in some of those losses, especially in the Cigar Mile last time out – that distance was too short for him. Anywhere near the morning line of 10-1 is great value on a horse returning to his home track and flying slightly under the radar. I’m also interested in his stablemate, #12 O’Connor- I’ll give him a pass on his disappointing performance last time out and I think he can pick off most of the field in the stretch and finish in the money.

I also want to play a daily double bet, linking my picks in races 12 and 13.

THE PLAY:

WIN: #4 White Abarrio, at 7-1 or higher

EXACTA: 4 over 10, 12

TRIFECTA: 4 / 10, 12 / 10, 12

DOUBLE (R12-R13): 6 / 4