Irad Ortiz Jr.’s move paid off, and Mucho Gusto’s earnings more than doubled in a couple of minutes.
Ortiz made a last-minute decision to take the mount aboard Mucho Gusto, and picked the right time to let the 4-year-old kick into high gear Saturday in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park.
Ortiz was going to ride Spun to Run, then made the tough call about a week before the race to switch to Mucho Gusto. As it turned out, Spun to Run was scratched because of a health-related issue -- and Mucho Gusto took the $1.8 million winners’ share of the purse.
“I want to thank my agent and I want to thank (trainer) Bob Baffert for letting me ride the horse,” Ortiz said.
Mucho Gusto finished the 1-1/8-mile trip around the dirt in 1:48.85. Mucho Gusto paid $8.80, $5 and $3,80. Mr Freeze returned $7.60 and $5.20, and War Story paid $6.80 to show.
Mucho Gusto’s career earnings went from about $780,000 to roughly $2.6 million. He could seriously add to that if, as expected, he makes his next start at the $20 million Saudi Cup — the world's richest horse race — on Feb. 29.
The Pegasus was a wide-open betting race, especially after the two morning-line favorites — Omaha Beach and Spun to Run — were scratched on Thursday. Omaha Beach was going to run the Pegasus as the final race of his career.
Those departures took a 12-horse field down to 10, and without a big favorite.
Mucho Gusto took advantage.
“So happy to win this race," Ortiz said.
It wasn’t even close at the finish: Ortiz was cruising, as the nine others were all racing for second. Ortiz guided Mucho Gusto to the outside and easily to the lead at the top of the stretch, then simply pulled away from there.
“Bob started working on that early and thank God he did," said Jimmy Barnes, an assistant trainer for Baffert. “I'm just so happy for Irad. He did everything we needed him to do."
The Pegasus series was run under no-race-day-medication rules, something the sport will be pivoting to broadly over the next couple of years — a change that many prominent trainers said has been overdue.
“We said, ‘Let's point to the future,’” said Belinda Stronach, the chairman and president of The Stronach Group, which operates Gulfstream. “Let's really create an opportunity for those horsemen and trainers that would like to run medication free and under the international standards, and really create an invitational that invites some of the best horses and trainers to be able to do so.”
In the $1 million Pegasus turf earlier Saturday, 11-1 shot Zulu Alpha emerged from an extremely tight pack by heading to the rail and running down Magic Wand — who had been leading the whole way.
Magic Wand started on the far outside and wasted no time getting to the front, and there was an enormous cluster of horses — “It was a mess,” said Luis Saez, who was aboard fifth-place finisher Arklow — not far from his heels for most of the 1-3/16-mile trip. Jockey Tyler Gaffalione guided Zulu Alpha to the inside and to what became his 10th career victory in 1:51.60.
“I’m thrilled,” Gaffalione said. “I’m on Cloud Nine right now.”
Zulu Alpha, whose career earnings got to just about the $2 million mark with the win for trainer Mike Maker, paid $25.60, $11.40 and $7.60. Magic Wand returned $5.40 and $3.80 and Instilled Regard paid $6.60 to show.