March 2, 2024

National Treasure came up a nose short in his previous race, finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile to Cody’s Wish at Santa Anita on Nov. 4. But on Saturday at Gulfstream Park, at a distance an eighth of a mile longer, he had plenty left and won the $3 million Pegasus World Cup.

It was third time trainer Bob Baffert has won the race in the eight years it has been held. He won in 2017 with Arrogate and in 2020 with Mucho Gusto.

Baffert was not in Florida, instead leaving the on-site training to his longtime assistant Jimmy Barnes.

“I have to give a lot of credit to [jockey] Flavien Prat,” Barnes said. “He just rode the horse excellent. … When I gave him a leg up I told him to get him out of the gate and get him in the race. He was able to give him a breather down the backside and we knew it was going to be a hot pace. He stepped up. He’s been running against good horses.”

His most memorable race was winning the Preakness Stakes this year, the second leg of the Triple Crown.

Baffert watched Saturday’s race on television at Santa Anita.

“I’ve always thought he was that good of a horse,” Baffert said. “He was just very immature and he’s getting better and better. He trained much better than he was going into the Breeders’ Cup. We felt good about it, but you still need a lot of luck. You have to ship well. You have to break well.”

Hoist the Gold broke on top with National Treasure setting up on his outside. The pace slowed on the backstretch, and around the turn National Treasure started to make his move. Senor Buscador and Crupi made late bids, but National Treasure held on to win by a neck.

National Treasure paid $7.20 to win. Senor Buscador was second followed by Crupi, Hoist the Gold, O’Connor, Il Miracolo, Dynamic One, Nimitz Class, First Mission, Trademark and Grand Aspen.

Skippylongstocking was pulled up entering the stretch but was said to be OK. The Daily Racing Form reported that jockey Tyler Gaffalione said “the horse got real weak on him, so he pulled him up. ‘Maybe the heat got to him,’ Gaffalione said.”

National Treasure crosses the finish line to win the Pegasus World Cup on Saturday.

National Treasure crosses the finish line to win the Pegasus World Cup on Saturday.

(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)

There were three other Southern California horses that ran on Pegasus Day. Hejazi, for Baffert, led most of the way but not at the end as his 2 ½-length lead at the top of the stretch turned into a fourth-place finish in the one-mile Grade 3 Fred W. Hooper Stakes. Tumbarumba ($18.80 to win), for trainer Bran Lynch, finished a nose ahead of Castle Chaos, who was three quarters of a length in front of Steal Sunshine.

Two Santa Anita-based horses ran in the Grade 2 $500,000 Filly and Mare Turf over 1 1/16 miles. Ruby Nell, for Richard Mandella, managed a third-place finish while Queen Goddess, last year’s winner for Michael McCarthy, finished ninth in the 11-horse race. Didia ($8.60) was the winner.

Warm Heart ($6.80) won the Grade 1 $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational in track record time over 1 1/8 miles. The 4-year-old filly is well traveled having finished second on Nov. 4 in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, followed by a third on Dec. 10 in the Hong Kong Vase. Then trainer Aidan O’Brien moved her to Florida for Saturday’s race.

On Friday, Belinda Stronach, chief executive of 1/ST, formerly known as The Stronach Group, told the Associated Press that the group will be adding a Grade 1 race for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita on Sept. 28. It would replace the Awesome Again Stakes. No purse amount was announced and it’s unclear how the perception of this will sit with horsemen. Adding a big purse to a track that is cutting overnight purses is a view the company will have to explain.

Aidan Butler, president of 1/ST Racing and Gaming, said he understood the issue.

“Absolutely, but that’s the reason we haven’t announced the purses,” Butler told The Times on Saturday. “We really need to understand what’s going on. There are a lot of criticisms in racing. The biggest one is nobody does any marketing, so you’ve got to market and put on these marquee events. Can’t give you an answer on the purses because I don’t know what they are going to look like.”

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