Seven of the eight graded stakes Saturday, Jan. 23 take place at Gulfstream Park, anchored by the Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) and the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1T), which will be televised on NBC from 4:30-6 pm ET.
Leading up to those races are the Fred W. Hooper (G3), Marshua's River (G3T), La Prevoyante (G3T), Inside Information (G2), and William L. McKnight (G3T).
One thing to bear in mind is that all stakes races at Gulfstream are now Lasix-free. For some horses like Last Judgment, who is back in a week after winning the Sunshine Classic in a lifetime-best performance, this isn't a problem. But for others it could be. Remember Higher Power , who came up empty and faded to finish last in the 2020 Pegasus World Cup? That is one of the reasons we're doing some serious spreading and taking some swings with some potential upsetters in the late pick four.
Inside Information (GP, race 9, 3:40): Six of the eight entrants exit Dec. 12 stakes races at Gulfstream: Dream Marie (1) and Sally's Curlin (7) out of the Rampart (G3); Cinnabunny (2), Bronx Beauty (3), and Sound Machine (8) out of the Sugar Swirl; and Piedi Bianchi (5) out of the My Charmer.
Sally's Curlin was just over two lengths behind Dream Marie in the one-mile Rampart, which featured a six-furlong split (1:10.24) faster than the final time of the Sugar Swirl (1:10.46). Both gave futile chase to Letruska in the Rampart, but they don't look to be facing any mares of that quality on the cutback to seven furlongs. Sally's Curlin is a two-time graded stakes winner—the only graded winner in the field, actually—including a come-from-the-clouds win in the Hurricane Bertie (G3) on this track last winter. She may get a beneficial set up if Cinnabunny, coming off a disastrous stretch run in the Sugar Swirl, hooks up early with Thisismytime (4). The latter improved throughout 2020, really finding her niche at seven furlongs to a mile, and makes her graded-stakes debut.
Piedi Bianchi repeats a turf-to-dirt and route-to-sprint switch that was in play for a win with a career top figure in early September. She is grade 1-placed (second in the 2017 Del Mar Debutante), and has gone 2-1-0 from three starts wearing blinkers on fast dirt.
A - 5, 7
B - 1, 2, 4
W.L. McKnight (GP, race 10, 4:13): Sadler's Joy (5) has banked $1.7 million at the McKnight's 12-furlong trip, which is roughly $1.5 million more than the rest of his opponents combined, and ran respectably, though overmatched, in the Pegasus Turf last year. The deep closer's stakes victories include the 2017 Pan American (G2T) and 2018 Mac Diarmida (G2T) on this course, but he is getting a bit long in the tooth and needs a lot of things to fall into place in terms of pace and racing luck.
Tide of the Sea ran four bang-up races in succession when on or near the early lead from June through October, but was rank at the break and checked back to last early in the nine-furlong Fort Lauderdale (G2) when returned from a freshening. He made up some ground late. He is back to his preferred trip along with a switch back to Tyler Gaffalione, who was aboard for a front-end score at Kentucky Downs two back, and has been training like clockwork at Palm Meadows with a quartet of five-furlong workouts between 1:00 2/5 and 1:01 seconds. He can either control the pace or sit second off Doswell (1), a late bloomer who was faster at age 5 than he was at age 4 and comes off a solid second in the Fort Lauderdale first time in graded company.
Channel Cat is second off the bench after a good tightener in the Fort Lauderdale, which was run at a distance shorter than his best.
A - 7, 11
B - 1, 5
Pegasus Turf (GP, race 11, 4:59): Todd Pletcher is in his customary spot atop the trainer standings, and sends out the three-headed monster of Colonel Liam (5), Largent (6) and Social Paranoia (12), who are a combined 8-1-1 from 10 outings on the course. This will be the graded stakes debut for Colonel Liam, though it should be noted he was a tough-trip fourth, beaten less than a length, in the Saratoga Derby behind Domestic Spending and Gufo, who each won grade 1 races in their next start. That race, like this one, was also at 1 3/16 miles around two turns. Largent got a good pace setup and a great ride from Paco Lopez to upset the Fort Lauderdale, but you're not getting 16-1 this time. Social Paranoia can get this distance, but his fastest races have been at a mile.
North Dakota, Aquaphobia, and Say the Word are the strongest finishers in the field. North Dakota, a half brother to several stakes winners, including War Front , is another late developer who has been brought along patiently by Shug McGaughey. He has turned in some atypically fast works of late. Aquaphobia was good enough to win the United Nations (G1T) last year for Mike Maker, and has a similar profile to the Maker-trained Zulu Alpha, who won the 2020 Pegasus Turf at 11-1 while also cutting back from longer races.
Anothertwistafate added blinkers for a decisive win in the San Gabriel (G2T) second time on grass and second time for Peter Miller, and did it without Lasix. Say the Word took a relatively light renewal of the Northern Dancer (G1T) over the 2-for-21 Sir Sahib (who runs in the McKnight), then rallied for third in the Hollywood Turf Cup (G2T) with a final quarter in under 23 seconds.
A - 4, 7, 8, 11
B - 5, 6, 12
Pegasus (GP, race 12, 5:44): Three of the first four winners of this race were exiting Breeders' Cup races, most recently City of Light , who was coming off a win in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1), so Knicks Go (4) has some history on his side. What the probable pacesetter doesn't have, however, is experience beyond 1 1/16 miles.
Tax (7) and the aforementioned Last Judgment (9) will make their presence felt based on front-running wins at the meet, but both will be relegated to chasing Knicks Go barring anything unforeseen happening at the break. Tax has been able to stalk and pounce before, but I'm leery of Last Judgment coming back just a week after firing a lifetime top effort.
Code of Honor (10) and Mr Freeze (11) ran second and fifth in the Clark Presented by Norton Healthcare (G1) last out, and took the worst of the post position draw, as horses breaking from posts 9-12 going 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream have won at just 4% of the time over the past dozen years.
Coastal Defense (2) and Harpers First Ride (8) are both going to be double-digit odds and rate some consideration. Coastal Defense split Code of Honor and Mr Freeze finishing fourth in the Clark after having to wait for room on the far turn. He galloped out with good energy there, just as he did past the wire of the Hagyard Fayette (G2) in his first graded stakes try. The son of Curlin improved through the second half of 2020, particularly when stretched to two turns for his last three starts, and comes off two sharp works over the track. Harpers First Ride, claimed by Maryland's top trainer Claudio Gonzalez in September 2019, went 7-2-1 from 11 starts last year that included a 5-1-0 slate from six trips beneath Angel Cruz. This is a class check for the winner of the Pimlico Special (G3), to be sure, but he is versatile in terms of pace placement and has never been better.
A - 4, 7
B - 2, 8, 10