After the world’s two best dirt horses staged the race of the year in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, there was a slim chance for a rematch. If Arrogate, the narrow winner, and California Chrome, the eventual Horse of the Year, stayed healthy and in form, they might meet again in the richest stakes in thoroughbred history.
On Saturday, they will, in the $12-million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park in Florida. Victory by the beloved Chrome in his career finale would be worth $7 million, raising his earnings above $21.6 million, a world record that might last forever. No sentimental favorite could ride into the sunset more gloriously.
The draw stuck the 6-5 favorite and rider Victor Espinoza with the outside post in a field of 12. According to Brisnet.com, since 2006 post 12 is 1-for-18 going 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream. The outlier was emerging superstar Big Brown in the 2008 Florida Derby.
“I was hoping he’d get closer inside,” trainer Art Sherman said. “But Chrome is Chrome; he’s got tactical speed. He will overcome all this, believe me.”
Arrogate (7-5) drew the rail, an advantage with a short run to the turn, providing he breaks well for Mike Smith. That’s no lock because the huge gray has been off slowly in three of six career races, winning his last five. Trainer Bob Baffert doesn’t sound worried. “He’s getting stronger every week,” he said. “I love the way he’s training.”
The other 10 runners are given little chance, although Keen Ice, Shaman Ghost, Noble Bird and Argentina’s Eragon have won major stakes. Prayer for Relief, Neolithic, War Story, War Envoy, Semper Fortis and Breaking Lucky look hopelessly overmatched.
That didn’t stop their connections from risking $1 million apiece in a top-heavy purse structure. First or second ($1.75 million) turns a profit, and third breaks even. Then come the participation trophies. Everybody else gets $250,000, and never will a check for a quarter million feel so puny.
The Pegasus might be a one-shot deal, but racing thanks Gulfstream owner Frank Stronach for conceiving the idea and making it happen.
“I think it’s thinking out of the box,” Baffert said. “It’s very rare to get the No. 1 and No. 2 horses hooked up together, and at this time of year it’s usually really quiet. I think the $12 million catches people’s attention, and I think everybody will be watching.’’