Finalists Revealed For The 2017 Derby Telegraph Sports Awards

This is an important week in horse racing. Thursday night is the Eclipse Awards dinner at Gulfstream Park, where the 2017 champions of our sport will be revealed. And on Saturday, the world’s richest horse race – the $16 million Pegasus World Cup – will be run at Gulfstream.

Unfortunately, the biggest drama this week might not involve the Eclipse Awards or the running of the Pegasus. Instead, the biggest drama of the week might well be the post-position draw for the Pegasus on Wednesday.

Of the 11 equine Eclipse Award categories on the flat, 10 appear to be devoid of uncertainty. Breeders’ Cup winners Good Magic and Caledonia Road appear likely winners in the 2-year-old male and female divisions. Three-time Grade 1 winner Abel Tasman and two-time Grade 1 winner West Coast, who was also third against older opponents in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, are probable winners of the 3-year-old female and 3-year-old male Eclipse Awards. And Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Roy H is about as sure a winner of the male sprinter championship as can be.

World Approval, who made the Breeders’ Cup Mile his third Grade 1 win of 2017, and Lady Eli, who won two Grade 1 races during the season before a terrible trip in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, are likely winners in the male and female turf divisions. Forever Unbridled, who completed a perfect, if brief, 2017 campaign with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, is a cinch in the older dirt female category, while Gun Runner, who made his decisive, against-the-track-bias Breeders’ Cup Classic score his fourth straight Grade 1 victory, is a slam dunk to be not only the champion older dirt male but also Horse of the Year.

The only equine flat division with any hint of uncertainty is female sprinter. For what it’s worth, I voted for Paulassilverlining because she won two Grade 1 sprints early in 2017, no one else had more than one Grade 1 win, and I am still having a difficult time taking Bar of Gold’s implausible 66-1 upset of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at face value. But Paulassilverlining did fall apart in the second half of 2017, and I can see how a significant portion of the Eclipse Award electorate might hold that against her.

As for the Pegasus, Gun Runner will conclude his career in it, and he will be heavily favored to go out on a winning note. Gun Runner is holding steady at 3-5 in future-book Pegasus odds at the Race & Sports Book at Wynn Las Vegas. Collected and West Coast, who finished second and third behind Gun Runner in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (Collected subsequently finished third in the San Antonio) fall in behind at 9-2 and 5-1. Sharp Azteca, the monster miler, is next on Wynn’s Pegasus line at 8-1, with Gunnevera at 12-1.

(As an aside, if Wynn’s prices are on the mark – and believe me, the folks at Wynn are very sharp – that leaves roughly 7 percent of the Pegasus win pool to be divided up among the seven other Pegasus entrants. This guarantees that a large percentage of the Pegasus field will be populated by massive longshots.)

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But what could change the Pegasus is the post-position draw.

Well before the inaugural Pegasus was run last year, there was much discussion among people familiar with the quirks of Gulfstream Park on how major a disadvantage outside posts are there in 1 1/8-mile main-track races like the Pegasus. For good reason. There is a very short run to the first turn in nine-furlong dirt races at Gulfstream. The first turn comes up in the blink of an eye, and horses from outside post positions are susceptible to losing ground so critical that it can’t be overcome.

When California Chrome drew post 12 in last year’s Pegasus, it sent everyone in search of stats, including yours truly. And what follows is part of something I wrote a couple of days before last year’s Pegasus:

“Since the rebuilt Gulfstream opened in early 2006, the only horse to win going nine furlongs there from post 12 was Big Brown in the 2008 Florida Derby. Now, that comes from a sampling of only 18 starters to break from post 12. But there have been 223 horses to break from posts 9 through 14 at the same distance over the same period, and only 10 of them won, roughly one-third of the success rate of posts 1 and 3 over the same timeframe. And at the current Gulfstream meet, posts 8 through 14 going two turns on the main track are 0 for 25.”

In fairness, California Chrome was so empty in last year’s Pegasus that his sound defeat shouldn’t be entirely attributed to his awful luck at the post draw. Still, make no mistake, California Chrome, who was four to five wide on the first turn, lost the Pegasus at the draw.

The point is that nothing has changed in the configuration of Gulfstream or in the conditions of the Pegasus over the last year. So, all of this merits repeating and makes Wednesday’s draw for the Pegasus more important than any other draw for a race I can think of.

Consider this: From the day after last year’s Pegasus through this past Friday, there were eight 1 1/8-mile races run on Gulfstream’s main track; granted, a small sample, but it’s there. Seven of those eight races were won by horses breaking from posts 1-4. The only exception was Flowers for Lisa, the 16-1 upsetter of the Claiming Crown Jewel on Dec. 2. Flowers for Lisa broke from – you guessed it – post 12, putting him in the same company with Big Brown as the only horses to win from post 12 since the rebuilt Gulfstream opened in 2006.

However, let’s add a little context here. Flowers for Lisa shot right to the front, cleared, and got to the 2 path by the first turn, and moderate early fractions of 23.60 seconds and 47.06 strongly suggest that no one else in the field went early. Less esoteric and more factual is that, thanks to Flowers for Lisa, posts 5 through 12 in 1 1/8-mile main-track races over the last year at Gulfstream are a combined 1 for 37. Yeah, not good.

That’s why I suggested that what happens at the Pegasus draw could, just for starters, change the way the race is bet. I can’t envision any scenario where Gun Runner isn’t strongly favored. But if Gun Runner draws a reasonably good post, I think he’s as big a cinch to be an odds-on favorite as he is to be named Horse of the Year. And good luck beating him. But if Gun Runner draws, say, post 10 or wider, I suspect his price will be higher than even-money, and he will suddenly become a vulnerable favorite.

Makes you wonder if post positions should ever have that kind of impact.

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Source : http://www.drf.com/news/watchmaker-post-position-draw-paramount-pegasus

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