Jon White: Pegasus Picks, Plus Kentucky Derby Top 10 Changes

This country’s most lucrative race during the first half of the year, Gulfstream Park’s $3 million Pegasus World Cup, will be renewed at 1 1/8 miles this Saturday (Jan. 27).

An overflow field of 13 has been entered, including one also eligible.

From the rail out, the main body of the race is comprised of Nimitz Class (20-1 on the morning line), O’Connor (8-1), Dynamic One (15-1), Hoist the Gold (12-1), Trademark (15-1), Senor Buscador (20-1), National Treasure (9-5; pictured above), First Mission (7-2), Grand Aspen (8-1), Il Miracolo (20-1), Crupi (20-1) and Skippylongstocking (8-1).

Castle Chaso (20-1) is the lone also eligible.

Below are my selections for the Pegasus World Cup:

1. National Treasure
2. First Mission
3. Senor Buscador
4. O’Connor

I tried and tried and tried to pick someone other than National Treasure on top. Might he be vulnerable as the 9-5 morning-line favorite? Yes. He’s been the favorite only once in his 10 career starts. How did he do? He lost, finishing third as the 3-5 favorite in Santa Anita’s Grade III Sham Stakes early in 2023.

If National Treasure is vulnerable, then why is he my top pick? There are three main reasons.

--First, post positions are extremely important in this race. That’s because in 1 1/8-mile contests on Gulfstream’s main track, there is a short run to the clubhouse turn. Outside posts historically win a low percentage of the time. Poor Skippylongstocking had dreadful luck by drawing post 12.

--Second, National Treasure now is a 4-year-old. When he was 2, he was good enough to finish third to Forte and Cave Rock in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Prior to the Breeders’ Cup, National Treasure’s Hall of Fame trainer, Bob Baffert, told me that this “was a good 2-year-old, but he should be even better on down the line.”

On down the line as a 3-year-old, National Treasure became a classic winner by capturing the Grade I Preakness Stakes. Granted, that probably was far from an especially strong edition of the Preakness. But when National Treasure won the middle leg of the Triple Crown, it was to his credit that the vanquished included Kentucky Derby winner Mage, who finished third.

After the Preakness, National Treasure failed to hit the board in his next three starts. He finished sixth in the Grade I Belmont Stakes, fifth in the Grade I Travers Stakes and fourth in the Grade I Awesome Again Stakes.

I think a case can be made to draw a line through those three defeats. The Belmont? Possibly just too far for him. The Travers? It was on a wet track listed as muddy. The Awesome Again? He didn’t get to race on dry land this time, either, as it was a wet-fast track.

We then saw National Treasure’s best performance to date by far. Sent off at odds of 9-2, the Kentucky-bred Quality Road colt set the pace and finished second in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. He got nailed in the last jump by 4-5 favorite and multiple Grade I winner Cody’s Wish.

National Treasure recorded a 107 Beyer Speed Figure in the BC Dirt Mile. His previous top Beyer was the 98 he got in the Preakness.

--Third, I just can’t go against National Treasure in the Pegasus because of the verve with which he has been training at Santa Anita. This past Saturday (Jan. 20), in a solo drill, he stepped four furlongs in a sharp :46.80 to suggest it’s all systems go for his 2024 debut this Saturday.

You can view National Treasure’s most recent workout on XBTV.

I was tempted to make First Mission my top pick instead of National Treasure. But when push came to shove, I decided to go with National Treasure, a Preakness winner and big BC Dirt Mile runner-up, rather than First Mission, whose most significant victory so far came in a Grade III race, last year’s Lexington Stakes.

Will I be surprised if First Mission wins the Pegasus? No. I look for the 4-year-old Kentucky-bred Street Sense colt to prove a tough customer in his first start since losing the Grade II Clark Stakes by a scant nose at Churchill Downs on Nov. 24.

Brad Cox trains First Mission, who has finished first or second in all five career starts.

Senor Buscador, trained by Todd Fincher, comes off a second in the Grade II Cigar Mile on a muddy Aqueduct oval Dec. 2. At 20-1 on the morning line, I like Senor Buscador to come running late and perhaps get into the exacta, trifecta or superfecta at what could be a juicy price, though I think it’s possible he will be a shorter price than his 20-1 morning line odds, maybe a much shorter price. I am not even ruling out an upset win by the Kentucky-bred son of 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft and grandson of 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy.

O’Connor, conditioned by Saffie Joseph Jr., is seeking his third straight graded stakes victory. The 7-year-old Chilean-bred son of Boboman won Keeneland’s Grade II Fayette Stakes on Oct. 28, then took Gulfstream’s Grade III Harlan’s Holiday Stakes on Dec. 30.

Hoist the Gold, who like Senor Buscador is by Mineshaft, won the aforementioned Cigar Mile by a decisive 4 1/2 lengths and posted a laudable 109 Beyer Speed Figure, but I think he benefited greatly on that occasion by a speed-favoring muddy surface. Another concern I have for him in the Pegasus is this will be the first time he’s in a race longer than 1 1/16 miles. And in his only try at 1 1/16 miles, he lost by 6 1/4 lengths when fourth in a Grade III race named after his sire at Fair Grounds early in 2023.

While I am not on board with Hoist the Gold in the Pegasus, Jeff Siegel is one highly respected handicapper who is. This is Siegel’s top pick.

You are cordially invited to check out the digital 1/ST BET Pegasus World Cup Wager Guide, which includes the Pegasus selections by yours truly, Siegel and a number of others, plus lots of other information. It’s FREE! Here is the link.


The deadline looms.

Monday (Jan. 29) is when 3-year-olds trained by trainer Bob Baffert must be transferred to another trainer in order to become eligible to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points.

Consequently, I have decided that, for this week, I am taking Baffert-trained runners Nysos (No. 2 last week) and Muth (No. 4 last week) off my Top 10 while waiting to find out what their status is in terms of the Run for the Roses.

I then can adjust my Top 10 next week after seeing what happens with the Baffert-trained 3-year-olds. In other words, if we find out that a 3-year-old currently trained by Baffert has indeed been moved to another trainer, that 3-year-old then can either go back onto my Top 10 or debut on my Top 10 next week.

Maybe Nash and/or Muth and/or marvelous maiden winner Maymun will be transferred from Baffert to another trainer. Or maybe they won’t. We all should know after the Jan 29 deadline has passed.

On Monday (Jan. 22), Baffert announced via the social media platform X (formerly Twitter) that he and owner Zedan Racing are dropping their appeal of a Kentucky Horse Racing Commission ruling to disqualify Medina Spirit from his victory in the 2021 Kentucky Derby. Medina Spirit was disqualified after he tested positive for the presence of betamethasone, a medication that was legal to use, but not on race day.

“Zedan Racing’s owner, Amr Zedan, and I have decided that it is best to positively focus on the present and future that our great sport offers,” Baffert said in the social media post. “We thank the KHRC and Churchill Downs for listening and considering our point of view and we are grateful for the changes and clarity that HISA brings to our sport.”

After the Medina Spirit disqualification, Baffert was suspended from participating at tracks owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) in 2022 and 2023, effectively keeping the trainer out of the Kentucky Derby.

Last July 3, Churchill announced it was “extending the suspension of Bob Baffert through calendar year 2024 based on continued concerns regarding the threat to the safety and integrity he poses to CDI-owned racetracks.”

This year on Jan. 12, Churchill Downs announced that “horses under the care of any trainer suspended from competing in the 2024 Kentucky Derby or 2024 Kentucky Oaks must be transferred to a non-suspended trainer by Jan. 29 to become eligible for the applicable race. Horses under the care of a suspended trainer will become eligible to earn qualifying points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby or Road to the Kentucky Oaks on a forward-looking basis after the transfer is complete so long as the transfer is complete by the Jan. 29 deadline.”

When Baffert and Zedan Racing announced Monday that they were dropping their appeal, speculation arose that maybe, just maybe, Churchill Downs would lift its suspension of Baffert. However, hope of that happening seemed to be shot down Tuesday morning.

“On Tuesday morning, Churchill said in a new statement in response to an inquiry by DRF that ‘yesterday’s dismissal of appeal does not change the current [ban] or deadline to transfer horses’ for this year’s Derby,” Daily Racing Form’s Matt Hegarty wrote.

“Under Churchill’s ban, any horse that is in Baffert’s barn past Jan. 29 is ineligible to enter the Derby this year,” Hegarty added.

Meanwhile, chiefly on the basis of his five-furlong team drill last Saturday (Jan. 20) at Florida’s Palm Beach Downs, I am elevating Born Noble to No. 2 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week. He was No. 6 last week.

You can watch that workout by Born Noble on XBTV.

That’s none other than Fierceness that Born Noble worked with last Saturday. According to Equibase, the two colts trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher were timed in an identical :59.48.

Yes, Born Noble was clocked in the exact same time as scintillating Grade I BC Juvenile winner Fierceness, who is No. 1 on my Top 10. Fierceness also tops such other Kentucky Derby rankings as those by Bloodhorse’s Byron King, Countdown to the Crown’s Jeremy Plonk and’s Steve Haskin.

To be nitpicky, it appears to me on the XBTV video that Fierceness, on the outside, is a few inches ahead of Born Noble, who is on the inside. And so I think Fierceness’ time should have been maybe just ever-so-slightly faster than Born Noble’s in terms of hundredths of a second.

The pair continued head-and-head while galloping out on the turn before Fierceness edged just a head to a neck in front early on the backstretch.

But the point is, in this workout, Born Noble certainly held his own with Fierceness.

Born Noble kicked off his racing career in a seven-furlong maiden race at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 30. On a wet track rated good, the Kentucky-bred Constitution colt raced greenly in the stretch, yet drew away late to prevail by 5 1/2 lengths. He was credited with a 93 Beyer, a figure that compares favorably with Fierceness’ in his career debut.

When Fierceness won a six-furlong maiden race by 11 1/4 lengths on a muddy track when unveiled at Saratoga last summer, he recorded a 95 Beyer.

An item regarding Fierceness’ workout last Saturday can be found in the news section on Gulfstream Park’s website. It said in part:

“Repole Stable’s homebred Fierceness turned in a sharp five-furlong breeze Saturday at Palm Beach Downs as he continues to work toward his 3-year-old debut in the $350,000 Holy Bull [Grade III] Feb. 3 at Gulfstream Park…Fierceness was timed in :59.48, the fastest of 12 horses at the distance.”

Well, actually, Fierceness’ :59.48 was the co-fastest with Born Noble of 12 horses at the distance.

“Fierceness has trained super,” Pletcher was quoted as saying. “He’s such a terrific work horse. He does everything effortlessly. I think with Fierceness we feel like that quality’s there [and] the talent’s there. Like everyone else, we just need [him] to keep moving forward and stay healthy.”

Evidently Pletcher was not asked about Born Noble’s workout last Saturday, even though the colt held his own when working in company with Fierceness. It would have been nice for Gulfstream Park to get a comment from Pletcher as to what he thought of Born Noble in his team drill with Fierceness.

Speaking of Pletcher, he also trains Locked, who moves up to No. 3 on my Top 10 this week after I have taken Nysos and Muth off the list for the time being. In all the many years that I have been doing a Kentucky Derby Top 10, this is the first time that the same trainer has had the horses ranked No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3.

Locked is scheduled to make his first 2024 start in the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 10. The Kentucky-bred Gun Runner colt won Keeneland’s Grade I Breeders’ Futurity before finishing third as the 2-1 favorite to Fierceness and Muth in the BC Juvenile.

Below is my current Kentucky Derby Top 10:

 1. Fierceness
 2. Born Noble
 3. Locked
 4. Sierra Leone
 5. Dornoch
 6. Knightsbridge
 7. Hall of Fame
 8. Track Phantom
 9. Timberlake
10. Catching Freedom

Bubbling Under My Top 10: Book’em Danno, Carbone, Change of Command, Coach Prime, Conquest Warrior, Crimson Light, El Capi, First World War, Honor Marie, Imagination, Liberal Arts, Lightline, Maymun, Muth, Nysos, Otello, Otto the Conqueror, Parchment Party, Pilot Commander, Real Men Violin, Snead, Stretch Ride, The Wine Steward, Tuscan Sky and Wynstock.

Hall of Fame, Track Phantom and Timberlake are newcomers on this week’s Top 10.

Nash, along with Nysos and Muth, exits my Top 10 this week. After Nash’s impressive 10 1/4-length maiden win at Churchill Downs on Nov. 12, he has lost a pair of Fair Grounds races won by Track Phantom. Nash finished third as the 1-2 favorite in the Dec. 23 Gun Runner Stakes, then ran second in last Saturday’s Grade III Lecomte Stakes.

I thought Hall of Fame was extremely impressive when winning a Fair Grounds maiden race by 10 1/4 lengths last Saturday in his second career start. In his only previous appearance under silks, the Kentucky-bred Gun Runner colt finished second in a seven-furlong maiden race at Churchill on Nov. 26.

In his career debut, Hall of Fame recorded a paltry 66 Beyer Speed Figure. He soared to a 94 Beyer for his performance last Saturday when racing around two turns for the first time.

Hall of Fame the colt has a Hall of Fame trainer in Steve Asmussen, who also conditions the talented Track Phantom. The Lecomte was Track Phantom’s third consecutive victory after losing his first two starts.

According to Asmussen, the plan is for both Hall of Fame and Track Phantom to run next in Fair Grounds’ Grade II Risen Star Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 17.

While the Brad Cox-trained 3-year-old Nash has departed my Top 10 this week, the trainer has another 3-year-old, Timberlake, debut at No. 9.

Timberlake had his first workout of the year last Saturday, three furlongs in :36.20 at Fair Grounds. The Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt is targeting Oaklawn Park’s Grade II Rebel Stakes on Feb. 24 for his first 2024 start. He won the Grade I Champagne Stakes at Aqueduct last Oct. 7 before finishing fourth in the BC Juvenile.

Cox also trains Smarty Jones Stakes winner Catching Freedom, who again is No. 10 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week, which is the same position he held last week.


Not surprisingly, Fierceness was the favorite among 39 individual horses in Pool 3 of Churchill Down’ Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW) when betting closed last Sunday (Jan. 21). His odds were 8-1.

The “All Other 3-Year-Olds From The 2021 Foal Crop” option closed with the lowest odds at 2-1.

No 3-year-olds trained by Bob Baffert were included among the individual horses in KDFW Pool 3 because of the trainer being suspended from tracks owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated.

I wrote last week “three horses I plan to put money on if they stay anywhere near their KDFW Pool 3 morning-line prices are Sierra Leone at 30-1 Knightsbridge at 50-1 and Born Noble at 60-1.”

Sierra Leone? He closed at 13-1, a far cry from 30-1. And so I passed.

Knightsbridge? He closed at 26-1, well below 50-1. Again, I passed, especially since I already did make a $100 Kentucky Derby future wager on Knightsbridge a while back at 50-1.

Born Noble? Even though he closed at 41-1, well below 60-1, I thought 41-1 was an acceptable price. As mentioned earlier, Born Noble held his own in a workout last Saturday (Jan. 20) with Fierceness. In light of that workout, Born Noble’s 41-1 price in KDFW Pool 3 sure looked attractive to me vis-a-vis Fierceness’ 8-1.

And so I did put money on Born Noble in KDFW Pool 3. It was the only bet I made in Pool 3. This Born Noble wager at 41-1 goes along with the $100 that I bet on him at odds of 90-1 at Circa in Las Vegas on Dec 28, two days before the colt’s victorious debut.

Below are the final odds reported by Churchill Downs for Pool 3 of the 2024 KDFW:

   2-1 All Other 3-Year-Old Colts and Geldings
   8-1 Fierceness
 13-1 Sierra Leone
 15-1 Dornoch
 18-1 Conquest Warrior
 18-1 Locked
 18-1 Track Phantom
 25-1 Honor Marie
 26-1 Knightsbridge
 28-1 Catching Freedom
 30-1 Timberlake
 33-1 El Capi
 34-1 Forever Young
 35-1 Nash
 36-1 Carbone
 41-1 Born Noble
 51-1 Parchment Party
 59-1 Otello
 67-1 Book’em Danno
 69-1 Snead
 72-1 Liberal Arts
 74-1 Ari’s Magic
 77-1 The Wine Steward
 80-1 Imperial Gun
 83-1 Change of Command
 83-1 Ethan Energy
 88-1 Tuscan Sky
 91-1 Otto the Conqueror
 93-1 Resilience
 93-1 Time for Truth
 95-1 Stretch Ride
104-1 Amante Bianco
107-1 Deterministic
107-1 Just Steel
123-1 Real Men Violin
129-1 Merit
152-1 Cardinale
204-1 Stronghold
222-1 Lat Long
SCR   Drum Roll Please

Wagering on Drum Roll Please was suspended after the Jerome Stakes winner came out of an Aqueduct workout with an injury.

Drum Roll Please, who won the Jerome by 3 3/4 lengths on Jan. 6, worked four furlongs in :49.55 at Belmont Park on Jan. 19. Daily Racing Form’s David Grening reported that owner Al Gold said that after Drum Roll Please’s workout, the Hard Spun colt “was off in a hind leg and X-rays showed an apical medial sesamoid fracture of his left hind ankle,” an injury that will require surgery.

Three more KDFW pools will be conducted this year: Feb. 16-18 (Pool 4), March 15-17 (Pool 5) and April 4-6 (Pool 6). The lone Kentucky Oaks Future Wager will coincide with KDFW Pool 5.