Art Collector scores in G1 Pegasus
Bruce Lunsford’s Art Collector drew off in the stretch to win Saturday’s $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) presented by Baccarat at Gulfstream Park while pulling off a 15-1 upset in the 2023 racing season’s first multi-million dollar event.
The Pegasus World Cup headlined a stellar 13-race program that also featured the $2 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) presented by Qatar Racing and the $500,000 TAA Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf Invitational (G3) presented by Pepsi, as well as four other graded stakes.
In the 7th running of the Pegasus, Art Collector prevailed by 4 ½ lengths over runner-up Defunded, while Cyberknife, the 2-1 favorite in a field of 12 of the top older horses in training, was never a factor in a sixth-place finish.
Although some would have had trouble envisioning a victory by Art Collector, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and jockey Junior Alvarado could see a way for Art Collector to win.
After breaking cleanly from the starting gate, Art Collector received an ideal stalking trip behind pacesetter Stilleto Boy and pursuers Defunded and White Abarrio. Stilleto Boy, who finished third in last year’s Pegasus World Cup, set solid fractions of 23.61 and 47.71 seconds for the first half mile and into the far turn with little change in the order along the backstretch.
Defunded ranged up alongside Stilleto Boy on the turn into the stretch as Art Collector made a menacing three wide move to make a strong challenge at the of the stretch. Defunded, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr, and Stilleto Boy with Hall of Famer Mike Smith up dug in gamely through the stretch run but were no match for the surging Art Collector in the closing yards.
“We scripted it that way and it turned out that way,” Mott said. “That doesn’t happen very often, but Junior rode him and did a great job. I told him just ride him like you ride Olympiad, and he rode him the same way.”
Alvarado, who rode the Mott-trained Olympiad to four graded-stakes victories and a runner-up finish behind Flightline in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year, was riding Art Collector for the first time.
“I don’t have the words to put it together. It’s just unbelievable. I’m so glad that I got a chance to ride this horse. He’s a very neat horse that I’ve been following for quite a while. I guess it was the perfect time and we got it done today,” said Alvarado, who recently rode his 2000th career victory at Gulfstream. “I don’t know how it gets any better than this. It’s unbelievable having this win with Mott. It’s unbelievable. I’m very grateful for the big support he’s given me over the years. I’m just very happy right now.”
Art Collector, who had won one Grade 1 stakes, the 2021 Woodward (G1) at Belmont Park prior to Saturday’s career performance, ran 1 1/8-miles in 1:49.44. The 6-year-old son of Bernardini has won back-to-back editions of the Charles Town Classic (G2) and entered the Pegasus with earnings in excess of $2.3 million during a career in which he has shown he can compete at the highest level on his best days.
“He’s done that before. These kind of races, you just have to wait and see. These are competitive races,” Mott said. “You get the horse as good as you can and hope the horse shows up.”
Cyberknife, a two-time Grade 1 winner and who finished a close second to the Mott-trained Cody’s Wish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) in his most recent start, was never in contention.
“I was right behind the speed the way I anticipated. I was right behind Skippylongstocking and I could tell already at the half-mile pole when he was not taking me, I knew he was pretty much done,” jockey Florent Geroux said. “He’s a horse that usually travels great and likes to do it on his own.”
Cyberknife’s trainer Brad Cox saddled Knicks Go for a victory in the 2021 Pegasus World Cup, as well as a second-place finish behind Life Is Good in last year’s renewal.
Bob Baffert-trained Defunded held second, 1 ¼ lengths ahead of third-place finisher Stilleto Boy.
“I had a beautiful trip. We wanted to have a clear break and we had it. He broke a step slow the last couple times so that was my goal to make him break,” Irad Ortiz Jr. said. “He put me in a perfect spot. I sat second and I just got beat. Second-best today.”