HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Accelerate strode into the walking ring at Gulfstream Park earlier this week, part of a field trip to show him the route he’ll take on the way to the final race of his career.
He got shown the paddock, the grandstand, the path that leads to the track.
The finish line wasn’t part of the tour. Finding that comes naturally to Accelerate.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic champion will headline the field Saturday in the $9 million Pegasus World Cup dirt race, the third running of the Grade 1 event where owners buy a spot in the starting gate and take a shot at grabbing an enormous payday. It’ll be the final race of Accelerate’s career before he begins his life as a stud horse.
“He’s looking awesome,” said Juan Leyva, the assistant for Accelerate trainer John Sadler, as he watched Accelerate familiarizing himself with the Gulfstream surroundings. “Accelerate is just looking phenomenal. He’s a picture of health.”
City of Light — the only horse to beat Accelerate last year — is the second choice in the morning line, with oddsmakers putting his 5-2 chances just behind Accelerate’s 9-5. Like Accelerate, City of Light is also being retired after this race.
“He’s settled in nicely. We’re sticking to the same type of routine we’d have in California,” said City of Light trainer Mike McCarthy, whose horse shipped in to South Florida last week. “The horse seems to be enjoying himself.”
Gunnevera, second to Accelerate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the third-place finisher in the Pegasus race last year, is the likely third choice in the betting. And he’s had success at Gulfstream in the past.
“We hope to have a good pace,” Gunnevera trainer Antonio Sano said.
The field is loaded, with a combined 79 wins among the 12 horses and about $22 million in combined earnings. Audible, who won the Florida Derby at Gulfstream last year and ran third in the Kentucky Derby, is another notable in the field. So is D. Wayne Lukas-trained Bravazo and longshot Kukulkan — who has never lost in 14 career starts, including a 10-length romp at Gulfstream last month, but has never faced anything close to the quality of the Pegasus horses.
For the first time, the Pegasus organizers added a turf race to the day. The Pegasus started in 2017 as a $12 million dirt race, became a $16 million dirt race last year and now is a day of a two-race, $16 million purse — $9 million for the dirt race, $7 million for the turf race.
Yoshida, a winner on both turf and dirt, was pointed to the turf race for Pegasus day and is the 5-2 favorite. Yoshida won on a yielding course at Churchill Downs last May and that may be a good clue for success this weekend, since forecasters think rain may affect Gulfstream on Saturday and that means the grass could be a bit softer than usual.
“I always like to be the favorite, because it feels like you’re in the right spot if you’re the favorite,” said Yoshida co-owner Elliott Walden. “It doesn’t mean he’s going to win but it means he’s in with a big chance.”
Catapult is the second choice on the morning line in the turf race, and like Accelerate he’s trained by Sadler. Three-time reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown sends Bricks and Mortar (five wins and two thirds in seven career starts) to the turf, and Japanese shipper Aerolithe already has won $3 million in his career — by far the most of any entry in the 10-horse Pegasus turf field.
The winner of the Pegasus dirt gets $4 million, and the Pegasus turf winner gets $3 million. The winning connections in each race also get diamond-crusted championship rings.
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