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Godolphin Rides Eclipse Awards High Into Pegasus

On the heels of an exceptional night at the 53rd Annual Eclipse Awards for Godolphin, the international powerhouse will have the chance to collect its first Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1) trophy when First Mission  steps into the starting gate Jan. 27.

Fifth in last year’s running with an unlucky Proxy  , Godolphin returns to Gulfstream Park with a solid chance at snaring the prize with the auspicious First Mission. The 4-year-old son of Street Sense   starts as the 7-2 second choice for the esteemed royal blue colors.

“We’ve tried before but we’ve never won the Pegasus,” said Godolphin USA’s director of bloodstock Michael Banahan. “We’re very excited to have him in there and hopefully he’ll put on a good show for us.”

After First Mission earned his ticket to the Preakness Stakes (G1) last spring with a gritty victory in Keeneland‘s Lexington Stakes (G3), the Godolphin team was dealt a major blow when the colt was forced to scratch from the second jewel of the Triple Crown with a hind end injury. Godolphin had been winless in the Preakness since Bernardini took a tragedy-stained edition of the race in 2006.

Re-emerging during the Keeneland fall meet, the homebred defeated a field of hardy older horses, including the 2022 Preakness third-place getter Creative Minister  in a first-level allowance race. With his injury woes now in the rearview mirror, thoughts of the Pegasus World Cup suddenly sprang into the picture.

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“We thought that if he could step up and run well in the Clark, the Pegasus would be an early season target for us for sure,” Banahan said. “It’s been on the radar since last fall. The horse has trained super. (Trainer) Brad Cox has been very happy with him.”

The Nov. 24 Clark Stakes (G2) had been only the fifth career start for the lightly raced First Mission. He turned in a career-best performance that day, taking the lead around the final turn only to be nailed late at the wire by Trademark .

“I don’t think he knows that he lost the Clark,” Banahan said. “He’s full of confidence. He ran against a tough older horse of Vicky Oliver’s that loves Churchill Downs.”

First Mission’s confidence has shone through his series of impressive breezes at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. Following two straight bullet five-furlong breezes, the Cox pupil drilled another five furlongs in 1:00 2/5 Jan. 20 for his final Pegasus tune-up.

Ridden by regular pilot Luis Saez from post 8, the $3 million Pegasus World Cup could provide the promising colt with the opportunity to take his talents to the next level. He’ll take on worthy opponents such as morning-line favorite and 2023 Preakness victor National Treasure , his old nemesis Trademark , and Saffie Joseph Jr.’s graded stakes-winning duo of O’Connor  and Skippylongstocking .

“It’s a very competitive race but we think he fits in there well and hopefully it’ll be a nice springboard to his campaign as a 4-year-old,” Banahan said.

In a memorable night at the Jan. 25 Eclipse Award ceremony at The Breakers Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla., Godolphin captured five individual accolades. They repeated as leading owner and breeder, and two of their homebreds earned three awards: Cody’s Wish   was crowned Horse of the Year and champion older horse, and Pretty Mischievous  was named champion 3-year-old female.

Only time will tell if Godolphin’s royal blue will reign on Saturday and the operation can add the missing Pegasus gem to their treasure chest of prizes.

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