Dan Liebman

(Dan Liebman)

Have to admit, when the idea of the Pegasus World Cup was announced I thought it was a stupid idea that would last one year and be done with.

I was too hasty in my judgment.

For one thing, I figured there was no way you could get a competitive field. Even though 12 people would put up $1 million each to fund the purse, I worried about what would happen with a heavy favorite.

Well, there were two heavy favorites in the inaugural running in January, Arrogate and California Chrome, yet the starting gate was full. Sure, after Arrogate ($0.90) and California Chrome ($1.20), the next lowest price was 16-1 but it was a damn site better than having a stakes race with a five-horse field.

You can argue the field was not competitive, since Arrogate won easily, by 43/4 lengths (California Chrome finished ninth). But, bettors love full fields, and the gimmicks were all fun to chase with so many long-priced horses in the field.

I also worried that most of those who ponied up $1 million would lose money on the deal, which was true. But everything about racing and breeding is a gamble and this was simply another wager – albeit a big one – by a dozen game people who understood what they were getting in to.

Not only that, those 12 entities took a shot at helping to promote the sport/business they are involved in at a time when the industry struggles to not only find new customers, but maintain its existing fan base.

While we don’t know all the deals cut for the starting spots, it is the ultimate gamble to hope you either have a horse that fits or can find someone who does and can come to terms for the use of that ticket in the starting gate.

What is indisputable is that the first Pegasus was a huge success. Because success in the racetrack business is measured by handle and at the end of the day a track-record $40.2 million had been wagered.

There is much you could say about Frank Stronach, who not only owns Gulfstream Park where the Pegasus World Cup is run, but numerous other tracks, a wagering company and an extensive breeding and racing operation.

So all he did after the race worked was announce Gulfstream would put up $4 million to move the purse for the Pegasus to $16 million for the 2018 running Jan. 27.

An important aspect of the Pegasus is the timing. Horses headed to stud and mares to the breeding shed have one more option for a start prior to retirement. As important, those considering the Dubai World Cup, previously the world’s richest race, have the perfect prep race.

OK, it seems ludicrous to call a $12 million, now $16 million race a prep race, but as Arrogate showed, it does provide a great place to run before shipping to Dubai.

The 2018 Pegasus will provide an even greater favorite than Arrogate should Gun Runner show up as planned. He won the Breeders’ Cup Classic and is the leading candidate for Horse of the Year honors.

It will be Gun Runner’s final start before heading off to stud, and how great that his owners may add to his racing bankroll before that happens.

If this writer had to complain about something related to the Pegasus, it would be that the American Graded Stakes Committee allowed the “Grade I” status to be transferred from the Donn Handicap.

“Graded stakes” may not be restricted races – and the Pegasus is restricted.

Not how you might normally think, like say a race for state-breds, but because not everyone can secure a starting berth under conventional measures.

Stakes races normally have a nominating and starting process and fee. The Pegasus does not.

You could try to make the case that anyone can cut a deal with someone holding a starting spot. But suppose you don’t agree to the terms, or they choose another starter.

With a $16 million purse, who really cares about grading, but bestowing a “Grade I” designation on the race is typical of illogical decisions often made in the Thoroughbred industry.

Now if Frank Stronach really wanted everyone to pay special attention to the Pegasus, he could whack takeout rates for betting on races during that one day only.

Imagine the impact that would have.

(Dan Liebman attended his first Kentucky Derby in 1973 when, from the infield, he saw a glimpse of Secretariat, still today the greatest horse he has seen race. He later worked full time in equine journalism for more than 25 years, his last full time position as Editor in Chief of The Blood-Horse. Today he owns Staxx BBQ in his hometown of Frankfort, Ky., but continues to follow Thoroughbred racing as a journalist, fan and handicapper.)