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TrackNotes: Death, Destruction & The Pegasus


This horse racing game is really rough, and that does not include the bad beat bets.

In this installment, pay attention up top, because I may not be in the mood to elaborate the crap in the scroll down.

Spinning into 2020, there's nothing that even suggests the new season will be any better than any other year, or even any good. There's only one thing we know for sure: All of today's optimism or tomorrow's joy will halo from the horses themselves, nobody else.

Locally, our own racing palace - and I mean that - Arlington Park, this minute exists in a netherworld that evil corporations almost always universally create. You could say that Churchill Downs Inc., the confessed hater of horse racing, is strangling AP to death, but it's more like, and sadistically as painful as, a prolonged oxygen deprivation. Where the depraved murderer enjoys varying the grip to inflict more misery through the momentary deceptions of hope. When the cops ask why, "I had to erase my past."

Picture it this way: There is a big asteroid out in the solar system, shaped just like an oval wrecking ball, heading directly, for wont of a landmark, the Metra station between Arlington Heights and Palatine. Probably a little more than two years out, but don't expect a date or time in advance.

Pond-rippling out, horses are still dying at Santa Anita, the land of milk and honey, a place where politicians and people are both adept and apt to ban the game.

The family holiday letter tardily arrived just today. Our beloved Empire Maker passed just days ago. Although at 20 you could say he had a full life, he was still making babies for the very highly respectable fee of $85,000 per.

He was the son of the great Unbridled, the 1990 champion who won the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic that year. Empire Maker won $1,985,800 on the track in four high-profile races (Florida Derby, Wood Memorial, Jim Dandy) including the 2003 Belmont Stakes, where he turned tables in Funny Cide's Triple Crown bid after Placing to 'Cide in that year's Derby.

He was the sire of Emollient, Bodemeister and the great filly/mare Royal Delta. But you may remember him from such progeny as Pioneerof the Nile, who begat sensational American Pharoah, himself named top sire in this freshman year at Breeding U.

But there was also bad news about Uncle El-Ahmed and cousin Justin. It looks like their money problems may have caught up with them for good as their Zayat Stables went into receivership amid ugly tales of unpaid bills and clandestine asset liquidation, including breeding rights shares of 'Pharaoh.

Ahmed doesn't sound hopeful. "I am ready if needed to walk away and give you the keys and full control (of the stable's assets) if that is what you want," the e-mail (to creditors) said, according to the suit. While a puzzle that $287 million from Egyptian beer couldn't go farther, we'll keep great memories phorever of 'Pharoah!

So it's off to the races!

Well, OK. But we've got the haughtily-titled Pegasus World Cup Invitational (9 furlongs, 1-1/8 miles, dirt), from underachieving Gulfstream Park, Hallandale, Florida. Its $3,000,000 purse allows this Grade II-level-maybe race to hang on as a Grade I. There's proof.

The race already came a clunker when it was announced Thursday that 7-5 favorite Omaha Beach was scratched because of swelling in one of his legs. Winner of five of his last six, he was getting faster and faster, and had just won the Malibu Stakes Dec. 28 by a goosebumpy three lengths. And Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith rode the steed into history, passing HOF'er Jerry Bailey for the most Grade I wins ever: 217. Also for Saturday, Spun to Run, who bested 'Beach in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, was scratched from the race with a skin rash.

The race might be better for betting, but it will probably depend on which horse is on its best mettle. Pure darts handicapping.

It's disappointing.

I firmly believe Omaha Beach was the most talented horse in America in 2019. But he had a hard time getting to the gate. On the eve of the Derby, the pre-race favorite was found to have an entrapped epiglottis, a (minor) tissue obstruction of his windpipe. And he missed the Del Mar meet with a virus but roared back with a spectacular gut job in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship. Watch that finish and you will see Jose Ortiz taking the whip to Shancelot while Smith is merely race riding 'Beach as he glides the rail for the win. That, racing fans, is ultimate horse heart on display.

Omaha Beach has also been one of the most versatile horses, winning at distances from six to nine furlongs, fast and sloppy. Nice, huh? But it's early closure as Omaha Beach will never run competitively again.

A very little history on the Pegasus.

With a $1 million entry fee, cuttable by owners into shares, the very first mention of the race for January 2017 said winner-take-all. But that didn't last as a more traditional purse structure took hold.

Arrogate won, notably beating California Chrome, who was eased up perhaps because of the chicane at the start which may have caused an injury.

Gulfstream's rebuilt track already mismeasured, it uses a run-up in timing, meaning some yards are run before the clock starts! Naturally, the first Pegasus was mistimed, the clock and individual GPS disagreeing. This happens at Gulfstream ALL THE TIME. These kinds of races practically start on the first turn.

The race was more formful in 2018, with a beefed up $16 million purse, helped along by track ownership buying three entry slots, like the TV station buying Bears tickets to avoid the blackout. Gun Runner won.

The purse plunged last year to $7 million, City of Light winning in the slop. The $3 mil this year is horribly out of scale with the quality of Saturday's race.

As new years and new decades don't take their shapes until months or years in, the Pegasus is really a remnant of the last year's racing season. 2020's field is Grade II through slim name recognition at best, this year by two horses who won't even run. Only two of the remaining horses won their last race - Grade IIIs - with the others noticeably worse. There's no Omaha Beach or Spun to Run or Maximum Security in this race.

The Pegasus Turf will be a more well-rounded race. Tune in on the big peacock NBC, 3:30.

It's all for the best, though, as I won't be butt-hugging the couch the whole day. I'll be Pulling a Rosie and joining the festivities later.

Seems like the way to go.


Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

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