Trainer Michael McCarthy spent much of the 2 1/2 hours he was at Gulfstream Park Sunday morning in the stall with William and Suzanne Warren's City of Light, winner of Saturday's $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1).
“I try to spend as much time as I can with him, to sit around,” McCarthy said before having to catch a flight back to California. “I'm sure by the end of the week he's sick of me sitting here staring at him all day long.”
In his racing finale, City of Light topped his impressive victory in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs with a 5 3/4-length romp over 34-1 Seeking the Soul in the winner's first start on a wet track. Late Sunday morning, City of Light and Accelerate, the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) winner who finished another 1 1/2 lengths back in third, were to load onto a Sallee horse van for the trip to Lane's End Farm in Versailles, Ky., where both are joining the elite breeding operation's stallion roster.
“A little bit bitter-sweet, but hopefully we get something good enough to send back to Kentucky, or go see him during the sales,” McCarthy said.
“Obviously, we'd been waiting quite a while to get to the Breeders' Cup,” he said. “That was the plan all along, to see it through and actually have all the stars align and him show up and win a race like the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile was very exciting. This was sort of icing on the cake; $9 million is a lot of money. I'd mentioned before it really wasn't about the money for me. It was about him and not wanting to let him down. He'd been so good to me and my family and everybody around him. I'm so appreciative of the people who helped me get to this point. Obviously the owners, but all my staff, everybody who helps look after him. To see him go out like that was phenomenal.”
As if stretching out the goodbye, McCarthy had City of Light walk for about a half-hour around the shedrow, then get a bath, followed by another lengthy walk, much of it with the trainer on the shank.
McCarthy, a long-time assistant to Todd Pletcher, opened his own stable with one horse almost five years to the day of the Pegasus.
“He's the horse of a lifetime. I don't know what else I can say,” he said. “Unfortunately he got beat a couple of times late in the spring and in the summer, in the Forego, I thought he did everything right (when second). He's redeemed himself.”
McCarthy acknowledged it will be tough going back to his Santa Anita barn with City of Light not being there.
“So we'll kind of hit the ground running and try to replace him,” he said. “I don't know that we ever can, but we'll try to find something.”
City of Light, a son of Quality Road, concluded his career with a 6-4-1 mark in 11 races, his career bankroll exploding to $5,662,600 with the $4 million Pegasus payday.
The 5-year-old horse also ended with a 2-1 record against Accelerate, owned by Kosta and Pete Hronis. City of Light was the only one last year to defeat the champion older male while taking the 1 1/8-mile Oaklawn Park Handicap (G2) by a neck in April. Accelerate then took the 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup at Santa Anita, with City of Light third.
“I tell you what, it's really been neat for the people in California,” McCarthy said. “To have two horses like this come back here and win Breeders' Cup races and compete on a stage like this. We were fortunate enough yesterday to get the upper hand.
“Both horses were brilliant in the Breeders' Cup. Accelerate, you can't say enough about him. John Sadler did a marvelous deal, it was nice for him to get his first Breeders' Cup. The Hronises are the Eclipse Award-winning owners, which is a tremendous feat. They put a lot of money into the game. So to be able to line up in the gate with a horse like that and actually win is pretty special.
“Like I said yesterday, it was out of body. Still pretty wild to think.”
McCarthy knew City of Light was on his game heading into America's richest horse race. The X factor was that the 5-year-old horse had never raced on a wet track.
“In California, we don't get the opportunity to work on racetracks like this,” he said. “We close them when the racetrack isn't ideal in order to maintain them for the afternoon. His pedigree suggests he might like it. He's a very athletic horse. For a big horse, he's very nimble. When they turned up the backside, and Javier had (early leader) Patternrecognition to his inside, whether he won or was last he was in the perfect spot. It was kind of up to two of them from there.”
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