Pegasus Day: A party, built around a $16 million race
By TIM REYNOLDS
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) The lineup of events at Gulfstream Park this weekend includes parties, concerts, fine dining, red carpet entrances for celebrities, tributes to fashion, even a popup night club.
There's also a $16 million horse race.
If the Pegasus World Cup isn't something completely unique, it's close. A race offering the biggest purse in the sport may be its centerpiece, but the way the Stronach Group - which operates Gulfstream and created the Pegasus event, which will be run for the second time on Saturday - sees things, the notion of marrying entertainment and racing was something long overdue.
"Horse racing is probably the last great sporting legacy platform that has not yet modernized," Stronach Group president Belinda Stronach said. "So I think the big difference now, from a number of years ago, is we view this as entertainment. We put everything through the entertainment lens. Horse racing and wagering is obviously at our core, but it's also our responsibility to curate the content at these great properties."
Pegasus day isn't the only time the entertainment and racing lines get blurred. A Breeders' Cup weekend has a similar feel, as do the three Triple Crown races and even a trip to a place like nostalgic Saratoga Race Course in the summer may not seem quite as all-about-the-racing as would have been the case in past eras.
What they've done at Gulfstream with Pegasus, though, seems to have raised the bar. Conor McGregor was part of the marketing scheme for the inaugural $12 million event last year, and Ludacris is among the headliners this year. The race - where owners buy a spot in the starting gate for $1 million - might even be considered an ancillary part of the day for many of the 25,000 or so expected to attend.
Even for Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who rode Arrogate to victory in the inaugural Pegasus, the day just felt different.
"The richest race in the world, and you could just feel it get thick," Smith said. "The air just kind of, you know, you say `Wow, you know, I mean this is pretty neat.' I think you're going to even see a more of a big race feel to it this year. Man, it's going to be incredible. I mean, I've already got goosebumps just saying it."
Still, the future of the Pegasus race isn't entirely clear.
It could remain at Gulfstream Park in 2019, or move to Santa Anita - another Stronach facility. There's talk of adding a turf event, possibly on the same day or a different event entirely, and there have been efforts to attract more elite horses from both the U.S. and around the world. Even some of the owners in this year's race, like the connections of Fear the Cowboy, have said they worry that the event isn't sustainable going forward without changes.
"One thing in racing that's happened through the years is people had a tendency and do sort of a big dance to avoid each other," Stronach Group Chief Operating Officer Tim Ritvo said. "This race that we've assembled here is an exceptional race of all the greatest talent in North America and some in Europe. We're still not completely satisfied until we get some Asian horses but we're getting there."
Belinda Stronach said she's thrilled at how Miami embraced the event so quickly, and certainly sounded like she wants to see Pegasus keep growing.
"We had a lot of good fortune last year," Stronach said. "Hopefully we will have a lot of good fortune again. We really want to create and curate a unique entertainment experience where people say, `Hey, I had a good time, and I'm going back next year.'"
Updated January 25, 2018