With some of racing’s biggest names off to retirement, the $2,944,00 Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) always figured to be a wide-open affair—and that’s just how the race played out Jan. 28 at Gulfstream Park.
With Junior Alvardo in the irons, Bruce Lunsford’s homebred Art Collector let Defunded , one of the hot favorites, push pacesetter Stilleto Boy through the early furlongs. The 6-year-old son of Bernardini then came along authoritatively in the stretch to pick up the pieces, winning by 4 1/2 lengths at odds of 15-1.
Defunded, in from California for trainer Bob Baffert, hung around to finish second, followed by 45-1 Stilleto Boy and 51-1 Last Samurai . Favored Cyberknife , winner of the 2022 Arkansas Derby (G1) and Haskell Stakes (G1), was well back in sixth at the finish in his final start before retiring to stand the 2023 season at Spendthrift Farm.
The tote board erupted like a slot machine announcing a jackpot, and so did winning Alvarado and Lunsford.
“It’s a horse I’ve been following for a while now,” said Alvarado, who recently scored his 2,000th win and took over on Art Collector from Luis Saez, who rode another longshot, Get Her Number , to finish ninth in the Pegasus. “I guess it was just time.”
For his mount, it finally was time. Mott said Art Collector’s schedule was a bit scrambled coming up to his first snowbird visit to South Florida.
“He developed a foot abscess and that set us back,” Mott said, “Then we were going to target the Harlan’s Holiday earlier in the meet but I felt he wasn’t quite ready for that, and Bruce said he was okay with waiting for the Pegasus. Obviously, the horse was okay with that, too.
“His former rider selected another horse,” Mott said, “and Junior rode him just the way it was scripted.”
“Sometimes,” Alvarado said, “when you open the gates, plans change but everything worked out today. He gave me a hell of a run from the quarter pole.”
“The horse liked what he (Alvarado) did with him, that he was allowed to settle and breathe and save energy,” Mott said. “It’s all about saving energy. He had something left turning for home.”
Art Collector was bred by Lunsford out of the black-type winning, grade 1-placed Distorted Humor mare Distorted Legacy . An all-or-nothing type, he won for the 11th time in his 21st start against one second and no thirds. The winner’s share of the Pegasus purse pushed his earnings just north of $4 million. He is by far the most accomplished of his dam’s three winners from four starters. The mare’s 3-year-old Into Mischief colt, named Classic Legacy , broke his maiden in his third start in December and last worked Jan. 21 for Mott at Payson Park. The also mare produced a 2-year-old Justify filly named Kingdom Come and has an unnamed Medaglia d’Oro yearling filly. Distorted Legacy was bred to Gun Runner for 2023.
Lunsford gave his trainer credit for a change in tactics with Art Collector that resulted in Saturday’s victory. Although making all the going had served him well in victories, including the Charles Town Classic (G2) twice, the Woodward Stakes (G1), and the Alydar Stakes, Lunsford said Mott called an audible.
“Bill and I go way back,” the owner said. “Many people may not know that. We talked about it and I give Bill full credit for this. He said, ‘Let’s try something different. Let’s lay off and see what happens.’ And he just got better and better.”
Lunsford said he will defer to Hall of Fame trainer in deciding what’s next for Art Collector.
“We’ve got to make that decision and then work backward from some of the big races. But I don’t think we’re in a hurry to run him back,” Mott said.
Art Collector is eventually slated to stand at Claiborne Farm in a deal that was announced in October 2022. Last year he went to the $20 million Saudi Cup (G1) in February in his first start after finishing sixth in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). He finished a distant 12th there as locally trained Emblem Road defeated the Baffert-trained Country Grammer in the final strides.
After that race, several of Mott’s horses were stranded in Saudi Arabia for about a month because of transportation snafus. While he’s forgiven that mixup, Mott said a return to Riyadh or a trip to the Dubai World Cup (G1) probably is off the table for Art Collector this year.
“I believe those races are going to come up a little quick for us. We didn’t nominate for either race and we’re not going to either Saudi or Dubai. We’ll be looking at a domestic campaign and working backward from those,” he said.
Baffert, at Oaklawn Park Saturday, did not immediately indicate whether Defunded, a multiple graded stakes winner in his own right, might be a candidate for the Middle East. The Pegasus was the first start outside California for the 5-year-old Dialed In gelding.
However that plays out, the Pegasus and its predecessor, the Donn Handicap (G1), are forever linked with the Dubai setpiece.
In its seven runnings, the Pegasus has evolved from a format that required the blind purchase of a slot in the starting gate to a standard invitational format. Along the way, it has proved an attractive target for horses headed in either of two directions—forward on the track or back to the breeding shed.
The 2022 edition featured a showdown between two free-running horses coming out of victories at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Del Mar—Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Knicks Go and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winner Life Is Good . Knicks Go was having his final go before entering stud for his owners, the Korea Racing Authority, while Life Is Good was jump-starting his 2022 career.
Life Is Good won the race in a romp and went on to win three more graded stakes during the year for WinStar Farm and China Horse Club. The Pegasus was his springboard to the Dubai World Cup (G1) two months later, where he tired from the lead to finish fourth.
That was just the most recent “South Florida to the Mideast Desert” pipeline, which opened with a flourish in 1996 when the Mott-trained Cigar won the Donn and went on to a dramatic victory in the inaugural Dubai World Cup. Cigar’s appearance guaranteed the world standing of the race for its creator, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
More recently, Knicks Go won the 2021 Pegasus and followed with a fourth-place finish in the $20 million Saudi Cup. Mucho Gusto won in 2020 and also finished fourth at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh. Gun Runner did things in reverse order, finishing second in Dubai in 2017 before heading off to his second career with a victory in the 2018 Pegasus.
The most fascinating Pegasus World Cup-Dubai World Cup double, though, came in 2017 when Arrogate won the Pegasus in a romp, then totally blew the start in Dubai and had to come from dead last to win, amazing both Baffert and jockey Mike Smith.
“I just rode him like Zenyatta ,” said Smith, who still shakes his head in disbelief when recalling the race.