Timeform's Mark Milligan previews the inaugural Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on Saturday night.
"...with the prospect of Espinoza able to put pressure on Smith from the outside, that may just tilt things California Chromes way..."
Pegasus World Cup
Saturday 27th January, 22:40 (GMT)
ARROGATE (Bob Baffert)
The winner of five of his six starts, Bob Baffert's top-class colt broke the track record when winning the Travers Stakes by thirteen and a half lengths at Saratoga in August before going on to prove that no fluke when he defeated California Chrome in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita. Stall one is potentially tricky, though, and does limit Mike Smith's options somewhat. Currently the highest-rated horse in the world on Timeform ratings.
PRAYER FOR RELIEF (Dale Romans)
Formerly a smart performer but lost his way towards the end of a spell in Dubai with Mike de Kock. Has shown little sign of a revival in his first two starts since re-joining previous trainer Dale Romans.
NEOLITHIC (Todd Pletcher)
Represents the powerful Todd Pletcher / John Velazquez combination, although little in his form suggests he can trouble the major players in this contest. Still relatively lightly-raced, however, but would need a career-best by some way to even get in the placings.
NOBLE BIRD (Mark Casse)
Not the most consistent, but does have a Grade 1 win to his name and is very smart when on a going day. Put up a career-best effort when winning a Grade 2 at Keeneland in Octobe before disappointing on his most recent start in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.
WAR STORY (Jorge Navarro)
Produced an impressive performance when winning a non-graded stakes contest at Aqueduct last time, but that form is a long way off the level needed here. Beaten over twenty five lengths by Arrogate in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
WAR ENVOY (Mick Ruis)
Not worth a place in this line-up on everything we know. Was well beaten in allowance optional claiming company on turf last time and is surely just making up the numbers.
SHAMAN GHOST (James Jerkens)
Has benefitted from the addition of Lasix on his two most recent starts, the first of those a narrow win in the Woodward at Saratoga. Far from discredited when third to Gun Runner and Breaking Lucky in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs last time.
SEMPER FORTIS (Doug O´Neill)
Has just two wins to his name in twelve starts, the last one coming in allowance optional claiming company over a year ago, and was well beaten by Mind Your Biscuits in the seven-furlong Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita last month. Return to this longer trip will help, but still has plenty to find to even press for a minor placing.
KEEN ICE (Bob Baffert)
A very smart performer when things go his way (best with a strong pace to run at), he was the only horse to defeat American Pharoah in that horse's Grand Slam-winning year. Was third behind Arrogate and California Chrome in the Breeders' Cup Classic and could well fill the same position again.
BREAKING LUCKY (Reade Baker)
A Grade 3 winner on Woodbine's all-weather surface, proved he was equally adept on dirt when fourth (beaten just a neck) to Shaman Ghost in the Woodward at Saratoga before finishing in front of that foe when runner-up to Gun Runner in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. Probably needs further improvement to hit the places here.
ERAGON (Laura Wohlers)
Argentinian import making his first US start. Has won ten of his twenty career starts (eight of those on turf). Won a Grade 1 at Palermo on his most recent outing in November but much more needed here.
CALIFORNIA CHROME (Art Sherman)
America's Horse of the Year in 2014 and scooped that honour once again at the recent Eclipse Awards, Art Sherman's top-class horse was just defeated in the final strides by Arrogate in the Breeders' Cup Classic. That was his only reversal in eight 2016 starts, when he notably won the Dubai World Cup, the Pacific Classic and the Awesome Again Stakes. This 9f distance probably plays more to his strengths than Arrogate's, although the outside draw makes things tricky.
STANFORD (Todd Pletcher)
Only runs in the event that Arrogate is scratched and would struggle to hold a candle to California Chrome should that eventuality unfold.
SEA RAVEN (Kelly Rubley)
Is the reserve for Breaking Lucky but his form is miles off the required standard and would be booked for a tailed-off finish should he get in.
MADEFROMLUCKY (Todd Pletcher)
California Chrome's substitute, and similar comments to stable companion Stanford apply. Unlikely to trouble Arrogate should he get a run.
This is all about the rematch between Arrogate and California Chrome with the rest looking very much bit-part players. Both have slight doubts to overcome in terms of post position, Arrogate's draw in one meaning he will probably have to go forward, while California Chrome's very wide berth means he could be forced to cover more ground than ideal. However, with the prospect of Espinoza able to put pressure on Smith from the outside, that may just tilt things California Chromes way, and he is the token selection in what should be a race for the ages. As in the Classic, Keen Ice may stay on well enough to pick up the pieces for third.