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National Treasure Gets 2024 Started in Pegasus

Since the inception of the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) in 2017, the 1 1/8-mile contest has not only served as a pivotal launching pad to the new year for some of racing’s finest athletes but has also quickly gained the reputation as an invaluable stallion-making event in its short seven-year history.

Armed with that knowledge, the connections of National Treasure  circled the Jan. 27 Gulfstream Park race on the 2024 calendar following the Quality Road   colt’s heartbreaking nose defeat to Cody’s Wish   in November’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).

“(Trainer) Bob (Baffert) identified this spot for him a while back to kick off his 4-year-old career,” said Tom Ryan of SF Racing, one of eight partners involved in the ownership group for National Treasure. “As always, it’s shaping up to be a serious contest. The race has attracted some world-class colts and it’s quickly proving to be a stallion-making event which is very important to our partners with a colt like National Treasure. The race has had winners the likes of Arrogate,  Gun Runner  , City of Light  , and more recently Life Is Good   is a testament to the importance of the event.”

A win in the Pegasus could spell a prosperous future for National Treasure, a $500,000 yearling and Classic winner. Twice grade-1 placed as a juvenile, National Treasure skipped the Kentucky Derby (G1) in favor of the Preakness and turned in a gallant winning performance over Blazing Sevens  and Derby victor Mage  . The colt’s Preakness heroics, however, failed to materialize in his next three outings, where he was unplaced in the Belmont (G1), Travers (G1), and Awesome Again Stakes (G1).

Lining up against defending Dirt Mile winner Cody’s Wish, National Treasure redeemed himself with a gritty front-running effort. Ahead at every pole, Cody’s Wish bulldozed by him a stride before the wire.

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“We were beyond proud of National Treasure in the Breeders’ Cup and the team behind him. If I had a vote, Cody’s Wish would be Horse of the Year,” Ryan said. “(National Treasure) has developed so much with time; from his Breeders’ Cup as a 2-year-old to his win in the Preakness and recently his performance against Cody’s Wish in the Breeders’ Cup he further solidified his level of ability.”

With the retirement of Horse of the Year finalist Cody’s Wish and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner White Abarrio  bound for the Saudi Cup (G1), the Pegasus Cup appears to be National Treasure’s for the taking. The bull-headed frontrunner starts as the 9-5 morning line choice in a measured field of 12 contenders, including one on the also-eligibles list (Castle Chaos).

Pegasus World Cup - Draw - GP - 012124
Photo: Coglianese Photos

The field for the 2024 Pegasus World Cup Invitational

Unraced since his Breeders’ Cup defeat, National Treasure displayed an electrifying series of works ahead of the Pegasus Cup, rattling off three straight bullet breezes in Southern California for Baffert. His last move, the third fastest of 111 half miles recorded the morning of Jan. 20, was clocked in a sizzling :46 4/5.

“Physically he looks tremendous, and it showed this morning in his breeze,” Ryan said. “He’s a beautiful mover, (exercise rider) Eric Garcia was motionless down the lane.”

National Treasure, breaking from the seven post with Flavien Prat aboard, would become Baffert’s third Pegasus Cup winner following his wins with Arrogate (2017) and Mucho Gusto  (2020).

There will be several contenders in the Pegasus field hoping the raw speed of National Treasure and gate-to-wire Cigar Mile Handicap (G2) winner Hoist the Gold  will open the door for a late-running type of horse to steal the victory. The notorious stretch-running Senor Buscador  is among several notable closers in contention such as Clark Stakes (G2) victor Trademark , longshot Il Miracolo , and trainer Saffie Joseph Jr.’s duo of O’Connor  and Skippylongsticking.

Skippylongstocking wins the 2023 Charles Town Classic
Photo: Coady Photo

Skippylongstocking wins the 2023 Charles Town Classic at Charles Town

The South Florida-based Joseph, a native of Barbados, will be attempting to win his first Pegasus. He saddled a trio in the 2023 edition, with White Abarrio finishing the best of the three in seventh. Skippylongstocking and O’Connor, a disappointing seventh and eleventh, return to the Pegasus starting gate as refreshingly improved horses into the new year.

A hard-knocking millionaire and winner of last year’s Charles Town Classic (G2), Daniel Alonso’s Skippylongstocking last surfaced in the Dirt Mile, finishing 3 3/4 lengths behind National Treasure in third.

“A mile and an eighth is probably one of his best distances,” Joseph said. “He’s coming off a freshening but that’s what we learned. He runs his best that way. Earlier in his career we were kind of inconsistent. One race good, one race bad, and since we started to space his races, he’s been very consistent.”

O’Connor, a Chilean group one winner owned by Michael and Julia Iavarone and Fernando Vine Ode, has just begun to his best stride in North America as a 7-year-old. Iavarone credits the bay’s change in form to a throat surgery performed last spring due to reoccurring epiglottic entrapment.

O'Connor, Palm Meadows Training Center, January 20 2024
Photo: Coglianese Photos

O’Connor works Jan. 20 at Palm Meadows Training Center

“We went in last year with a little bit of a question mark,” Ivarone said. “We weren’t even on the list of initial invites, we were on the second list. Then he drew post 12. And the only horse I can remember winning from that post position was Big Brown (Skippylongstocking will start from post 12 in this year’s race).”

“But then we had the procedure done and gave him time off,” Iavarone continued. “There weren’t any ideal spots for him race wise but we could see he was finding his way back to form.”

O’Connor polished off his 2023 campaign with thrilling back-to-back scores in Keeneland‘s Fayette Stakes (G2) and the Harlan’s Holiday Stakes (G3), Gulfstream’s local Pegasus prep, Dec. 30.

Other buzz-worthy Pegasus challengers include First Mission , an improving newly-turned 4-year-old with the chance to give powerhouse operation Godolphin their first Pegasus trophy, and the Todd Pletcher-trained Grand Aspen , beaten a neck by O’Connor last time out in the Harlan’s Holiday.

Entries: Pegasus World Cup Invitational S. presented by Baccarat (G1)

Gulfstream Park, Saturday, January 27, 2024, Race 13

  • Grade I
  • 1 1/8m
  • Dirt
  • $3,000,000
  • 4 yo’s & up
  • 5:40 PM (local)

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