Omaha Beach installed as big favorite in the Pegasus

Belinda Stronach, Irad Ortiz Jr., Bricks and Mortar

Belinda Stronach, chairman and president of the Stronach Group, speaks during the draw for the Pegasus World Cup Horse Race, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, in Hallandale Beach, Fla. The race will run Saturday, Jan. 25 at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Omaha Beach has been installed as the favorite for Saturday’s $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational, the final race of his career.

The 4-year-old who was the morning line favorite for the Kentucky Derby last season but had to miss the entire Triple Crown series after throat surgery will be retired to stud after the Pegasus, and his finale could be lucrative. Omaha Beach has already earned about $1.6 million and could more than double that if he wins Gulfstream Park’s biggest race.

He’s been at Gulfstream for about a month, getting used to the surroundings.

“He’s settled in nice,” trainer Richard Mandella said. “He’s had plenty of time. We’re kind of getting bored from walking around back there. It’s time to get serious.”

Mike Smith will ride Omaha Beach, the 7-5 morning line favorite for the Pegasus — to be run this year for the first time under a no-medication rule. Spun To Run is the 7-2 second choice, followed by Mucho Gusto at 9-2 and Higher Power at 6-1.

It’ll be a full field of 12 for the Pegasus, as well as 12 in the field for the $1 million Pegasus Turf that will also be held Saturday at Gulfstream. Magic Wand — a 5-year-old mare who’ll be racing against males — is the 7-2 favorite there, even after drawing the farthest outside post.

Magic Wand was second in last year’s inaugural running of the Pegasus turf, losing to Bricks and Mortar — the favorite to win Horse of the Year honors when the Eclipse Awards are handed out at Gulfstream on Thursday night.

The Pegasus races will require horses to be medication-free on race day for the first time and will have substantially reduced purses from the previous three editions of the event.

The banning of race-day medication has been a major topic within racing for some time. Starting this year, 2-year-olds at many U.S. tracks will not be permitted to take the commonly used diuretic Lasix within 24 hours of racing. Lasix is given to horses to prevent bleeding, though most international tracks do not allow it to be taken on race days.

By 2021, the Triple Crown races also will have the no-medication-on-race-day rules as well.

“I have to first thank the owners and the trainers for running with us,” said Belinda Stronach, the president and chairman of The Stronach Group — which operates Gulfstream. “I owe everyone a bit of an apology because we announced that Pegasus would be medication-free quite late, and that was not our intention to do so. But as we always think about how we can evolve and create new opportunities for horsemen … we put our heads together and said this is the year we wish to do it.”

The Stronach Group also made significant changes to the purse structure late last year. Entry fees, which had been as much as $1 million for past far-more-lucrative runnings of the Pegasus, are now waived.

The inaugural Pegasus in 2017 was then the world’s richest race, offering a $12 million purse to owners who put up $1 million for a spot in the field. The purse went to $16 million in 2018. And last year, when the turf race was added, purses went to $9 million for the dirt race and $7 million on the grass.

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