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TrackNotes: Pegging The Pegasus

I've had God, and the gods, on my mind lately.

Last week, I got Matt "Guitar" Murphy'd when a Beachwood reader criticized my review of Disney's Secretariat: The Impossible True Story"from 2010.

"Why do you have a problem with the Christian element? It made the movie that much better . . . just because you don't believe in God does not mean others don't . . . get over it," she said.

For me, the review stands for itself, so I'm putting a halt to all of this right now before it goes totally whack.

But I had occasion to delve a bit into the world of Greek mythology and its gods (why the different capitalization?) in preparing for Saturday's (first annual?) Pegasus World Cup Invitational (Grade I, 1-1/8 miles, $12,000,000, NBC-TV) at Gulfstream Park.

What a Pandora's Box - we're in deep now - it turned out to be. I remember the penguins in Catholic grammar school taking a couple of days to touch upon the gaggle of gods those goofy Greeks made up to explain all the stuff they couldn't figure out. I zoned out.

How in the hell do I, or they, remember all of it? Leah Remini had it a lot easier.

Everything, and I mean every single thing, they did or saw was explained, commanded or caused by a god. I might dig Bedrock, but Sparta or Athens? Nope. The nuns soon went on to Romulus and Remus, so as to lay the base for the Romans and segue into what they did to Jesus of Nazareth.

And I dated a Greek girl once. When I told her I'm a lot Italian, she made it very clear, without a smile, that Aristotle and his crew invented everything, right down to civilization itself, and that the (goddamn) Romans stole ALL of it. With no sense in throwing gasoline on that Olympic torch, I never brought it up again.

So who, or what, was Pegasus? Go as far as you want, but here's the short on it. "When Perseus struck off the head of Medusa (who apparently bumped uglies with everyone and everything in the known world), with whom Poseidon (race five on Saturday's card, handicap, 1-1/8 miles, $400,000) had had intercourse in the form of a horse or a bird, there sprang forth from her Chrysaor and the horse Pegasus."

What?! That's some real moldy feta gyro and bad pita goin' on right there!

Today, Pegasus is not much more to us than a really cool winged horse, apparently mostly good, a real go-to in branding or even for naming a race horse. My memory's a bit sour, as years ago Pegasus, the seven - Kojak might have been aboard - came out of the clouds as the chalk and ruined an exacta at Thistledown for me. But I'm over it.

There's your ancient Pegasus, Pegasus in the sky, your rockin' Pegasus, and Chicago's own beloved Pegasus, 800 West and 130 South.

I'm really looking forward to this race, although I really wonder how much we've evolved from toga times, what with the madness in Washington this week and the spectacle of this, a monstrously out of proportion statue of our hero near the track in Hallandale, Florida, natural gas-breathing dragon and all. It's 330 hands tall at the shoulder by my math; Secretariat and Man o' War were both 16.2. It's part of a big development of a casino, shopping, residential, condo tower and, oh, Gulfstream Park.

The ancient god of television, Sid Caesar, has begat that we see plenty of this socially justifiable $30-million idol on NBC Saturday. Can't wait, but will we get the same angle as the guy in the subdivision who said all he ever sees is the anatomically correct horse's ass every day?

Although I'm confident the "hemlock" set (1.5 oz. ouzo in highball glass, splash optional, no ice) raced and bet on horse and chariot races, they surely didn't have speed figures, pace scenarios and photo finishes.

I probably won't need any of the overload of modern data to handicap this race either.

Frank Stronach, owner of Gulfstream and Santa Anita and a lot of other stuff, came up with the idea of 12 owners throwing in a million dollars apiece to create the richest race in the world. The Dubai World Cup, at least the last time they raced it, is $10 million. The very first whisper was that it would be winner-take-all, but sense prevailed and it will be $7 million to the winner, $1.75 million for second, and $1 million for third. The rest of the connections will receive $250,000 each.

Because of such a high outlay to get into the race, the 12 entries were treated like commodities and stakeholders had the option of lining up another horse for the race. For example, Jim McInvale's Runhappy, intended for this race, was retired early. So McInvale went shopping and imported Eragon, an Argentine horse to take his place. If California Chrome can't go, California Chrome LLC will run Madefromlucky. Same for Arrogate with understudy Stanford and Breaking Lucky with Sea Raven.

All horses will carry 124 pounds, except for Eragon. Although he rarely uses it anyway, McInvale took advantage of a condition in the race where horses who run without Lasix, a common race-day medication in America that helps prevent respiratory bleeding, will get a five-pound weight allowance. Eragon will carry 119, including Edgar Prado.

As for the race, it's shaping up to be a spectacular showdown between American darling California Chrome, 2016's Older Horse of the Year and overall Horse of the Year, and the new sensation Arrogate.

Handicapping-wise, this appears to be nearly a match race. First of all, because they mis-measured the Gulfstream track in its 2006 reconstruction, the race starts and ends nearly on the clubhouse turn! Arrogate is in the one hole, no great prize, as a few next to him figure to crowd towards the lead. Also, California Chrome starts from the dreaded 12 post. How much further, even with his class, will he have to run to win?

Daily Racing Form's Mike Watchmaker reports that only one of 18 starters, 2008's freaky Big Brown, has conquered nine furlongs from the 12 post. Only 10 of 223 starters from post 9 through 14 have ever won.

Keen Ice would need a carbon copy of a speed duel up front as when he beat American Pharoah and Frosted in the 2015 Travers, the last race he has won. 'Ice lost here last month by three in the Harlan's Holiday. Todd Pletcher's Neolithic would have to jump up a few pegs with the race of his life. He won a $37k allowance here last month to prep for this. I'll also keep an eye on the show pool.

Bob Baffert's Arrogate, out of Unbridled's Song and the Distorted Humor mare Bubbler, burst on the scene with a track- and race-record shattering of the Travers Stakes at Saratoga in August. Proving more than a one-hit wonder, he ran down 'Chrome in the $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic in November at Santa Anita.

This will be the final curtain call for California Chrome, who has seen and done an awful lot, up and down, in his six years on this earth.

Kind of a mutt, a Lucky Pulpit (Pulpit!) colt out of the Not For Love mare Love the Chase, 'Chrome teased the world, as many before him had done, by winning 2014's Kentucky Derby and Preakness. When beaten by Tonalist in the Belmont, it was 'Chrome himself who unfairly became a victim when then co-owner Charles Coburn sourly ranted after the race that any connections that did not run their horses right along with him in the two other jewels of the Triple Crown, and winning Belmont with a fresh horse, were "cowards." He lived down to his barn's name: Dumb Ass Stables.

California lost his next out in a money grab in the Pennsylvania Derby, finished a very tough third in the Breeders' Cup Classic and beat nobody in the Hollywood Derby at Del Mar.

Mismanagement set in when, after a home court win in the San Antonio at Santa Anita, he loaded into the Dubai World Cup gate without a Meydan prep, gallantly taking second, three lengths back. Then his people got the arrogant idea to take him to Europe and let him conquer the turf at Royal Ascot and maybe even the Arc de Triomphe. Out of sorts and gaunt, he never ran again in 2015.

Today the all-time leading money winner in North America ($14.5 million) and poised to become the richest horse ever, 'Chrome fell off the radar as American Pharoah had his epic 2015 in the Triple Crown and Classic.

Coburn gone, ownership tweaked, and the steady hand of trainer Art Sherman and his son Alan, it was hello mudda hello fadda as 'Chrome was wisely prepped with a race at Meydan before romping in the $6 million Dubai World Cup last March. With the race still in the concept phase last March, 'Chrome's connections committed to the Pegasus even back then. The race was announced on Preakness weekend.

"We jumped in real quick," said Frank Taylor, head of Taylor Made Farm, part owner and where 'Chrome will begin stud duty later this year. "We had 'Chrome and the timing was just right with just winning the Dubai World Cup so we had cash, we were kinda playing with house money. It sold out real quick."

Like ducks in a row, California Chrome reeled off wins in the San Diego Handicap, Pacific Classic, and the Awesome Again. With no favors from Victor Espinoza, his effort was brave as he was nipped a half length by the buzzsaw Arrogate in the BC Classic.

With the Pegasus clearly in their sights, 'Chrome blew off steam by 12 lengths in the Winter Classic, a race made for him, at his home Los Alamitos last month.

'Chrome's connections kept running him and why not? With the bluebloods ready to deem his breeding hoi polloi, they had a horse with heart, soul, speed, experience, beauty and star power. As much as I thoroughly enjoyed 'Pharoah's season, 'Chrome's 2016 was just a gut-wrenching delight. Throughout his entire career, he ran as hard and strong as he could, no matter how good or bad he felt. I know, I saw it.

The fact that 'Pharoah did not run after three years old, you sadly have to selectively erase that from your mindset.

But California Chrome ran. And ran. Through the dizzying heights of a legitimate Triple Crown quest. Through the down times, when he couldn't scream and yell at his ownership to get its shit together. Through a scintillating final season, winning strong and coping with a pesky kid taking on the old gunslinger, who I believe still has plenty of rounds left in his Colt .45.

It's going to be very difficult for California Chrome to win this race. If he does, I promise you it will be a performance for the ages. I've been around long enough to know it's a real race, and we'll soon come to see it in the permanent totality of his great career.

But I really, really, really want him to win.

God I hope he wins.


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

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