At last Tuesday's post position draw for the $9-million Pegasus World Cup, William Warren Jr., co-owner of City of Light with wife Suzanne, went out of his way to wish John Sadler good luck with Hronis Racing's Accelerate, complimenting the trainer on the skill with which he's guided the 6-year-old son of Lookin At Lucky's 22-race career over the previous three racing seasons.
On Saturday, over a rain-drenched Gulfstream Park racing strip, Accelerate, the 3-2 favorite, came up short in his bid for a fifth consecutive Grade 1 triumph. Warren's City of Light, trained to the minute by Michael McCarthy and the second choice in the wagering at 9-5, was too good on the day, romping over a sloppy racetrack by 5 ¾ lengths, with 34-1 longshot Seeking the Soul second and Accelerate another 1 ½ lengths back in third.
As Warren descended the stairs at Gulfstream Park to greet City of Light in the winner's circle, the first person to congratulate him was Sadler.“I think John is a class act, wonderful man. He's a great trainer,” Warren would later say.
“The winner ran a beautiful race,” Sadler said of City of Light, a 5-year-old son of Quality Road who was winning for the sixth time in 11 career starts. “You have to give him credit. He was the better horse today. But our horse certainly didn't disgrace himself.”
This is a game where winning once every five times is considered a success, so you have to learn how to lose. That's not always easy, especially for the owners who put up big money to buy horses, or in the case of the Pegasus and its new partner race, the $7-million Pegasus World Cup Turf, put up $500,000 each to fund the purse.
People with that kind of money often are driven to succeed, and they are not used to losing.
William H. Lawrence, who partners with Klaravich Stable's Seth Klarman on a number of horses, rode an emotional roller coaster on Saturday, winning the Grade 1 Pegasus Turf with Bricks and Mortar, then watching Patternrecognition being eased late in the Pegasus after setting the early pace.
“It was the old 'thrill of victory, agony of defeat,'” Lawrence said, a reference to the opening of television's long-running “Wide World of Sports” series.
Like any owner, Lawrence has had to get used to losing, though he admits he doesn't like it and doesn't always handle it well. He grew up near Saratoga Springs, N.Y., going to the races with high school buddies and made a pledge that if he ever had the money he'd buy some horses. That day came when he found success in the financial world and started his own stable; in 2006, he began partnering in horses with investment guru Klarman. The two have enjoyed considerable success together.
Lawrence and wife Gloria have a winter home in Jupiter, Fla., an hour and 15-minute drive from Gulfstream Park, but she doesn't always go to the races with him. “She says, 'I can't go to the track because he's swearing for the whole 75-minute drive,” Lawrence recalls of the long trek after one of his horses gets beat. “I thought I did swear the last two minutes once, but she said, 'No, you got in and you kicked the garage door and (said) why am I in this bleeping dumb sport.'”
But then there are those winning days, like Saturday's victory in the Pegasus Turf.
“It's better than you can ever dream about,” Lawrence said.
“I think anybody that puts money in this sport,” Lawrence said, “we all know we're probably one-third stupid, one-third optimistic and one-third crazy. … We're very much optimists, for sure.”
Competitive fires run deep with William and Suzanne Warren and their six children. They've made horse racing a family affair.
“We compete at everything we do: Scrabble, gin, poker, you name it,” said Suzanne Warren. “I've had the Scrabble board turned over on me, but (horse racing) is a way to compete that is different from golf or tennis or any of the other things we would do at a time in our life, and it does bring our friends and family together. We load up a plane. We virtually go to every race … So it's just been really, really a wonderful experience.”
One might say the Warrens deserve those wonderful experiences and the successes they've enjoyed in racing with runners like 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam and now with City of Light, who came into the Pegasus off a front-running score in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. Especially when you consider how much the Warren family has done for the quality of life for others: the William K. Warren Foundation, established in 1945 by William Warren Jr.'s father, funded the Saint Francis Health System in Tulsa, Okla., in 1960, and it continues to support countless organizations focusing on health, science, education and Catholic charities.
Kosta Hronis, who operates Hronis Racing – owner of Accelerate – with his brother, Pete, accepted an Eclipse Award last week as outstanding owner of 2018. The racing operation is supported by his family's produce business, one of the largest in Central California, and Hronis said he enjoys a good relationship with Sadler, in part because, “John doesn't tell me how to grow grapes; I don't tell him how to train horses.”
Warren has a slightly different philosophy with McCarthy, who left a secure job as Todd Pletcher's assistant five years ago to return to his native California and spend more time with family. When he hung out his shingle as a public trainer, McCarthy had one horse. Warren liked that he had spent a dozen years working for Pletcher.
“He's very much a detail man. He's very devoted to each of his horses and that means a lot to me,” Warren said during the post-Pegasus press conference. “He's not out trying to get 150 or 200 horses. He wants to get horses that he feels he can make champions, and that's what attracted me to him.
“I think he's a man of great character. He makes good decisions, which I need because sometimes I have some pretty wild ideas. I won't go into those …”
“I promise you, he does,” McCarthy interjected.
And so this third Pegasus is in the history books. It was a day run under challenging conditions (rainfall of more than two inches fell on Saturday), but one that confirmed that the concept – owners putting up significant money to run against each other – might have staying power. After all, this is a sport whose roots trace back to one owner challenging another to see who has the fastest horse. Those same competitive fires burn among modern-day owners. William Lawrence recounted last year's Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational when Catholic Boy, co-owned by Robert LaPenta, re-rallied in deep stretch to beat Lawrence's Analyze It. “He high-fived me and said, 'I kicked your ass.'” Lawrence said of LaPenta.
If there was any letdown following this third running of the Pegasus World Cup it was the knowledge that this was the final race for Accelerate and City of Light, who both boarded a van heading north to Lane's End Farm in Versailles, Ky., the following morning. They'll begin stud duty there next month.
“I like that Vin Scully line, 'Don't be sad that it's over. Be glad that it happened,'” McCarthy said, referring to the sentiments shared by the legendary baseball broadcaster when he ended his 67-year career in October 2016. “I'm very glad that it happened: a horse like this, a once-in-a-lifetime horse.”
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