LAUREL, MD – MCA Racing Stable’s Harpers First Ride, a four-time stakes winner in 2020 including the historic Pimlico Special (G3), is set to launch his 5-year-old season in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) Saturday, Jan. 23 at Gulfstream Park.
Based at Laurel Park with trainer Claudio Gonzalez, Harpers First Ride was among the invitees to the 1 1/8-mile Pegasus for 4-year-olds and up, being held for the fifth consecutive year. Also on the list is another Maryland-bred, 2020 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) winner Knicks Go.
Harpers First Ride ended 2020 with back-to-back stakes victories at Laurel in the 1 1/16-mile Richard W. Small Nov. 28 and 1 1/8-mile Native Dancer Dec. 26.
“He came back really good after the last race, that’s why we try to go to the Pegasus,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a big race. It all depends. If he continues like how he’s doing, we’re going to go.”
The Pegasus will be the third time in graded-stakes company and first against Grade 1 competition for Harpers First Ride, who Gonzalez claimed for $30,000 out of a Sept. 14, 2019 win at Churchill Downs.
“The first time he ran over there he ran good, and he was a Maryland-bred. Why not bring him here?” Gonzalez said of the reason behind claiming the gelded son of Grade 1 winner Paynter. “What’s he doing over there? So, we decide to claim the horse.”
Harpers First Ride won seven of 11 races in 2020 with two seconds, one third and $495,623 in purse earnings, growing his career bankroll to $573,055. He won the 1 1/16-mile Deputed Testamony Sept. 5 at Laurel as a prep for the 1 3/16-mile Pimlico Special, where he dueled up front with favored Owendale to win by two lengths.
“He surprises me every day. Every day he goes better,” Gonzalez said. “He comes back from the races like nothing. He’s easy to train. He’s a classy horse. He does everything right.”
Gonzalez said the plans call for Harpers First Ride to breeze at Gulfstream and have regular rider Angel Cruz aboard for the Pegasus. Cruz has been up for each of Harpers First Ride’s last five wins and all four stakes.
“He knows the horse really good. And for me it’s better that he rides, and I think that he will,” Gonzalez said. “The plan is to go 10 days before the race to give him a breeze over there and let him get to know the racetrack and get used to the weather change. Here it’s cold and over there it’s going to be hot. That’s why we plan that. It gives him a couple of days to adjust.”
Claimed by Gonzalez for $30,000 out of a Sept. 14, 2019 win at Churchill Downs, MCA Racing Stable’s Harpers First Ride won for the seventh time in 11 starts in 2020, four of those wins coming in stakes – the Deputed Testamony, Richard W. Small and Native Dancer at Laurel and Pimlico Special at Pimlico Race Course.
A gelded 4-year-old son of Grade 1 winner Paynter, Harpers First Ride has earned $495,623 this year, growing his career bankroll to $573,055. He will figure in the conversation for Maryland-bred Horse of the Year along with Knicks Go, who went three-for-three in the Midwest this year topped by a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).
“The horse surprises me every race he runs. Every race he runs better and better. He walked today and he walked like he knows he won. It’s really good when you see that,” Gonzalez said. “He won four stakes, he won the Pimlico Special, and all the stakes he won he won good. It’s the first time I’ve had a horse like that. With Harpers, every day is special. From the day we claimed him, he started doing good.”
Among the early 2021 stakes for 4-year-olds and up going a route of ground at Laurel are the $75,000 Jennings for Maryland-bred/sired horses at one mile Jan. 16, the $100,000 John B. Campbell at about 1 1/16 miles Feb. 13 and $100,000 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial at 1 1/8 miles March 13. Gonzalez said the connections will keep all their options open for the soon-to-be 5-year-old.
“He proved that he won his races easy and maybe he has to take the next step and race with the big guys and see how he does,” he said.