June 13, 2024

National Treasure, First Mission lead dozen in Pegasus World Cup

First Mission wins the Lexington Stakes (Photo by Coady Photography)

The leading older dirt male in training, Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner White Abarrio, will be sitting out Saturday’s renewal of the $3 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) to await a pair of rich stakes in the Middle East later this winter. That presents an opportunity for one of 12 contenders to emerge from the 1 1/8-mile fixture at Gulfstream Park as a division challenger to the gray as the 2024 season progresses.

National Treasure, who gave Cody’s Wish all he could handle last fall in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Santa Anita, has been installed the 9-5 morning line favorite for the World Cup. However, the Quality Road colt was rather inconsistent last season, counting a renewal of the Preakness (G1) that lacked depth as his only win in seven starts. Trainer Bob Baffert has won the Pegasus twice before, though, with Arrogate and Mucho Gusto, and much earlier with Captain Steve when the race was known as the Donn H.

“I think he’s maturing. He’s always been a little bit slow coming around, but he’s been working well. Looks great. He’s doing really well,” Baffert said.

First Mission, who might have given National Treasure a run for his money in the Preakness before an untimely injury flared up in the days leading up to the Pimlico classic, is lightly raced but improving. Victorious in the Lexington (G3) last April over Arabian Lion and Disarm, the Brad Cox trainee returned to action in October with a narrow allowance win at Keeneland, and then fell short by a nose in the Clark (G1) to Trademark, with Il Miracolo a distant third.

“This is his third race off the layoff, so I think he’s primed for a big effort,” Cox said. “He’s still a little light on seasoning, and we’re going to be facing horses that have run a lot more than him. But the talent’s there to compete at that level.”

Skippylongstocking and O’Connor will give the Pegasus another go after going unplaced in last year’s renewal. Skippylongstocking later captured the Challenger (G3) and Charles Town Classic (G2) before finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. O’Connor, meanwhile, enters off back-to-back photo finish wins in the Fayette (G2) and Harlan’s Holiday (G3).

“A mile and an eighth is probably one of his best distances,” Joseph said of Skippylongstocking. “He’s coming off a freshening but that’s what we learned. He runs his best that way.”

One-turn specialist Hoist the Gold comes off a career-best performance in the Cigar Mile (G2) over a wet, speed-favoring strip at Aqueduct. The track profile might have hindered runner-up Senor Buscador, though the nine-furlong distance on Saturday remains a question mark for him.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has three in the Pegasus, with Harlan’s Holiday runner-up Grand Aspen entering in the best form of the trio. Stablemates Crupi, who captured a pair of minor stakes at Aqueduct late last year, and 2022 Suburban (G2) winner Dynamic One, who only recently returned from a layoff of more than 15 months, would need to improve.

The main body of the field is completed by Nimitz Class, whose notable achievement to date was an upset of the Parx Dirt Mile last fall over Gunite.