Several weeks ago, it looked like Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert wouldn't have a horse in the fourth running of the G1 Pegasus World Cup. When 4-year-old Mucho Gusto put in a particularly good work from the gate on Jan. 16 at Santa Anita, Baffert decided to send the colt over to Gulfstream to contest the race.
Scratched down to a field of 10 with the loss of probable favorite Omaha Beach and of Breeders' Cup winner Spun to Run, the $3 million Pegasus was billed as a wide-open betting affair.
Instead, His Royal Highness Prince Faisal bin Khalid's Mucho Gusto made it under the wire an easy winner, pulling away from Mr Freeze by 4 1/2 lengths. The son of Mucho Macho Man, sent to post as the second choice at odds of 3-1, gave jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. his third win on Saturday's card, running nine furlongs over the fast main track in 1:48.85.
“You know what, the horse shipped really well and I wasn't really planning on taking him there, but he worked really well the other day,” Baffert said by phone from California. “I was going to run in the San Pasqual next week but after he worked so well I thought, 'You know what, I'm just going to take a shot at the mile-and-an-eighth and maybe that will get him ready.' He didn't get an invite to the Saudi Cup, so I thought maybe if he runs well enough he'll get an invitation.
“Who would know that the race fell apart there [with the scratch of Omaha Beach and Spun to Run], unfortunately. But he looked great in the warm-up; Irad Ortiz did a pretty masterful job. He had me a little bit worried the way he was down inside like that, but he knew what he was doing. When he tilted out at the quarter pole, all I could say was 'Damn, I wish I would have flown down there!' But it was pretty exciting.”
Mucho Gusto was extremely quick out of the starting gate, making his way to the lead and the rail in the short run up to the clubhouse turn. Mr Freeze rushed up on his outside to demand the early lead, followed by Bodexpress and Higher Power, leaving Ortiz and Mucho Gusto to settle in a perfect stalking position in fourth.
Mr Freeze set fractions of :23.37 and :47.78 on the front end, with Ortiz saving ground at the rail on Mucho Gusto. Bodexpress was always tugging hard at the bridle, and he was the first to challenge Mr Freeze in the far turn.
When Ortiz tipped Mucho Gusto out to the three-path to make his run, it took the colt a few strides to increase his momentum. Meanwhile Mr Freeze had managed to pull away from Bodexpress, but Mucho Gusto got to rolling by the head of the lane and the race was over.
“I had a great trip,” said Ortiz, just crowned with the Eclipse Award for leading jockey in 2019. “He got a great start and felt good. He relaxed so well and we were able to save ground. At the three-eighths pole I tipped him out and he took off. He was much the best. I think he just took off and opened up easy. He's a nice horse.”
Cruising under the wire an easy Winner, Mucho Gusto defeated Mr Freeze by 4 1/2 lengths. War Story closed from the rear of the field to finish third, while Diamond Oops checked in fourth.
The remaining order of finish was: Bodexpress, Tenfold, Seeking the Soul, True Timber, Tax, and Higher Power.
Bred in Kentucky by Teneri Farm Inc. and Bernardo Alvarez Calderon, Mucho Gusto is out of the winning Giant's Causeway mare Itsagiantcauseway. A sales veteran, Mucho Gusto went under the hammer four times in his formative years, eventually bringing $625,000 from Michael Lund Petersen at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-old in training sale.
The colt broke his maiden on debut, then won the G2 Bob Hope in just his second career start. He closed out his juvenile season with a second-place finish in the G1 Los Al Futurity, and started out his 3-year-old campaign with a win in the G3 Robert Lewis. After finishing third in the Sunland Derby, he returned to Santa Anita to win both the G3 Laz Barrera and G3 Affirmed before striking out east to run in the G1 Haskell.
Second behind Maximum Security in the Haskell and third in the Travers, Mucho Gusto's last start of 2019 came in the form of a fourth-place finish in September's G3 Oklahoma Derby. The layoff appeared to work in his favor as Mucho Gusto dominated the Pegasus, improving his overall record to 6-2-2 from 11 starts for earnings of well over $2 million.
“The way he broke, I told Irad to warm him up well so that he would get away from there, and he did,” Baffert continued. “He could have won from the 12-hole. He just showed up. We've always wanted to see him run a race like that, but he got beat by Maximum Security, he's been chasing some really good horses. It was a different field today. I want give a shout out to Flavien (Prat). He worked him for me and was going to ride him in the San Pasqual.”
— XBTV (@WatchXBTV) January 25, 2020
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