05/13/2016 2:50PM

Hovdey: Pegasus World Cup could Eclipse racing galaxy


The Donn is dead, or so reads the fine print on the announcement this week of plans to run the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park in January.

In order to secure a Grade 1 rating for the 1 1/8-mile main-track event, which is advertising a purse of $12 million plus incentives, track officials had to cannibalize one of their existing Grade 1 events that most closely matched the proposed conditions of the Pegasus World Cup’s nine furlongs on dirt. That race was the Donn Handicap, named for the family that owned and operated Gulfstream Park from 1944 until 1989.

More than a quarter of a century later, the Donn name became disposable in the face of Frank Stronach’s vision for a race that would challenge the Dubai World Cup for global purse supremacy. The legacies of James Donn Sr., his son James Jr., and grandson Doug already had receded into the mists of time, hurried along by a succession of owners and obscured by Stronach’s razing of the Gulfstream facility in favor of the shopping/racetrack complex of today.

The Donn Handicap was still a nice touch, though, acknowledging that Gulfstream Park had something of a history prior to its purchase by Stronach in 1999. Stronach, however, is more interested in making history rather than celebrating it, and so comes the Pegasus World Cup, fascinating in the abstract and a curiosity on paper that raises more questions than it answers.

The Dubai World Cup’s purse has been $10 million ever since the event was moved to Meydan in 2010. Along with a mega-day that tops $25 million, the Dubai World Cup is funded by the oil, trade, and tourist commerce run by the ruling Maktoum family and its friends.

The Pegasus World Cup is being advertised at $12 million, theoretically funded by a dozen million-dollar antes for the 12 proposed starters. Or, more accurately, the 12 starting positions because the actual starters need not be named right away, and the 12 starting positions can be syndicated, resold, or creatively monetized in ways that neither the racetrack nor the Florida racing authorities have yet to imagine.

In essence, the $12 million comes from a mash-up of the tried and true Quarter Horse futurity model – in which owners fund a huge purse with their own eligibility fees – and a variation on the classic calcutta. As for the Pegasus World Cup shareholders participating in television, handle, and sponsorship money, pie in the sky comes in all sorts of flavors.

In recent years, the North American racing year has settled into three distinct dramatic acts, and it seems to work pretty well. Act I is the Triple Crown season, including the rich 3-year-old preps and the three races of the Crown itself. If there is no shot at a Triple Crown winner, the all-star program now offered by Belmont Park on Belmont Stakes Day at least provides sizzle to what used to be a routine afternoon and serves as a pivot to the summer season, anchored by Saratoga and Del Mar. Act III is comprised of the final Breeders’ Cup preliminaries and the Cup itself, usually run in early November.

The Pegasus World Cup would skewer the current balance with a one-shot event so unusual that it could hardly be ignored. The massive statue of Pegasus dominating the Gulfstream skyline seems here to stay, but the Pegasus World Cup is ephemeral, so questions are worth asking, such as –

Why 1 1/8 miles? If you want a true championship event taken seriously, it should be 1 1/4 miles, especially when it is offered on an oval like Gulfstream Park’s, with its foreshortened run to the first turn in nine-furlong events. The last thing you want to do is put the chance of a bad post position in play for a million-dollar buy-in.

Why worry about a conflict with the Dubai World Cup? Put the race right in Dubai’s face in terms of both distance and date. Even if Dubai matches the Pegasus cash ($12.1 million Dubai World Cup, anyone?), American horses will stay home in droves rather than traveling half a world away.

No one should have a problem with innovation. That is where the Breeders’ Cup came from, as well as the Washington, D.C., International, the Arlington Million, the Maryland Million, and the Claiming Crown.

Still, it is hard to understand what Stronach has against Santa Anita Park, which at last glance was a key part of The Stronach Group’s holdings. The Santa Anita Handicap in early March already was suffering from its 20-year proximity to the Dubai World Cup. Surrounded now by a $12 million pot on one side and a $10 million race on the other, the Handicap could shrivel away to nothing, and any chance that the Pegasus World Cup could rotate between the prime Stronach properties was scotched by the appropriation of the Donn, a race that was fun while it lasted.

The Stronach Group already has a prime product called the Preakness. Want to shake things up? Move the middle jewel of the Triple Crown to a reinvigorated Laurel Race Course, give it a $5 million purse, and run it a week later. You could even put Pegasus on a flatbed and put him in the infield for the day. He’d fit right in.