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$12 million Pegasus gives racing big buzz, huge purse

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) The idea was most unusual: Put together the richest horse race in the world, and do so by getting 12 stakeholders to invest $1 million apiece just to have a spot in the starting gate.

Farfetched as that sounded in the beginning, it's now reality.

The biggest purse offered in thoroughbred racing - $12 million - is up for grabs Saturday at Gulfstream Park, where California Chrome and Arrogate headline the field of the inaugural Pegasus World Cup. The winner's connections will walk away with more than $7 million between purse money and a share of what could be a massive amount of wagering on the race.

''You see owners putting their money where their mouth is,'' said Eddie Olczyk, the former hockey player and coach who is now an analyst for NBC's covering of racing and the NHL. ''That's what makes this so intriguing. You have people taking a shot and that's what horse racing is all about. You have an opportunity, you have a starting gate ... and you just don't know what's going to happen.''

That's precisely what Frank Stronach envisioned when he and his group came up with this plan.

Gulfstream features a 110-foot-tall statue of Pegasus, one that cost around $30 million to build. So when it came time to come up with a name for this race, Pegasus was the logical choice. And once the idea was put on paper, the 12 starting spots were sold quickly

''We want to make things exciting,'' Stronach said. ''I think this is to tell the world, horse lovers, we can do great things if we work together.''

It is perhaps more of an event than a horse race. Celebrities have been invited, big-name musical guests are rumored, and it seems to be catering to an elite crowd.

The souvenirs were already being sold Thursday, like $199 jackets, $149 vests, $99 polo shirts, $49 caps, $29 T-shirts and $6 golf balls. Fencing to block the entrances is in place; Gulfstream ordinarily has no charge for admission and parking, but the cheapest ticket to get into the facility on Saturday will be $100. Security will be tight, and the hope is the crowd will be large.

''This is like Mayweather-Pacquiao. This is pay-per-view stuff and we don't have that,'' Arrogate trainer Bob Baffert said. ''If you're a real fan and you go to the Super Bowl, you'll pay whatever it costs.''

The timing for the race is not accidental.

The Pegasus isn't competing with the Breeders' Cup, the Dubai World Cup or anything on the Triple Crown trail, so there's no established marquee event within the sport to pull interest from. There's no football of consequence this weekend, with Atlanta and New England getting ready for the Super Bowl next weekend. And breeding season doesn't start in earnest until next week, which worked out perfectly for California Chrome's schedule.

''By no means are we perfect in the way we got everything structured,'' Gulfstream chief operating officer Tim Ritvo said. ''I think we'll get better as we continue to have years running. Like anything else, you get better with practice. But we're happy. We're really thrilled to get the No. 1 and No. 2 horses in the world in a rematch, and really a good field of a bunch of other Grade 1 winners in this race.''

It's not just the stakeholders and ticketholders who shelled out big money for this.

The ownership group at Gulfstream did the same.

The race will be aired by NBC - which is giving the Pegasus the same treatment a Triple Crown race would get - though there isn't one cent of ad revenue from television coming into the race. The Stronach Group bought all the commercial inventory for the race, doing so with hopes that strong ratings will lead to competition for those TV rights in the future.

''It was worth the marketing initiatives in the long run to try to have a bigger reach,'' Ritvo said.

And for the stakeholders, it was worth betting $1 million to essentially try and cash in at 7-1 - plus say they won the biggest payday in racing history.

''It's crazy in one sense,'' said Ron Paolucci, who owns Pegasus starter War Story. ''And it's unbelievably great in another sense.''