Next Shares heads into Saturday’s $7 million Pegasus World Cup Turf off of a 3-for-4 win streak that started in Kentucky Downs’ Old Friends Stakes.
The 6-year-old gelding drew post 5 and is 15-1 in the program odds for Gulfstream Park's 1 3/16-mile Pegasus Turf, America's richest turf race in Hallandale Beach, Fla. Yoshida, winner of Churchill Downs' Grade 1 Old Forester Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby Day, is the 5-2 favorite.
Bought at Keeneland’s 2017 November sale for $190,000, Next Shares was running well — including a second and third in Grade 1 races in California — but was 0 for 7 for his new owners until trainer Richard Baltas shipped the gelding to Kentucky Downs for the $250,000 Old Friends. Next Shares clearly found his mojo, winning by 1 3/4 lengths, then a month later dominating Keeneland’s Grade 1, $1 million Shadwell Turf Mile at 23-1 odds. While tripped up in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile -- finishing 13th but losing by a total of only six lengths -- Next Shares began this season with a rallying nose victory in Santa Anita’s Grade 2 San Gabriel on Jan. 5 as a prep for the Pegasus Turf.
“I think the horse has a lot of confidence,” said the California-based Baltas. “He won a couple of races pretty easy, so yeah, maybe knowing he’s not a bridesmaid anymore, he sure acts the part. You never know. Sometimes horses just get happy and they run better. That’s my job.
“… He’s putting a good series of races together. We were unfortunate in the Breeders’ Cup, I thought, because of the rains. It was really rainy and he had an inside post. He got stuck behind horses and was kind of spinning his wheels - and it was a pretty good horse that won the race. He won the other day here, ran a very big number going against a slow pace. He just keeps getting better.”
Next Shares has brought Michael Iavarone, best known as co-principle in the IEAH Stables that won the 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Big Brown, back into the racing limelight. Iavarone had been out of the horse business for five years after IEAH’s implosion and was dabbling into re-entry when he saw Next Shares close from well back to finish second in a $100,000 stakes over Santa Anita’s downhill, 6 1/2-furlong turf course on New Year’s Day.
“He hadn’t run in a while, and I saw he’d changed ownership and trainers,” Iavarone said of Next Shares. “I knew the horse that won was a really good horse and made to go 6 1/2. This horse is kind of a big, heavy horse. He closed just unbelievably fast, ran some really fast fractions. I said ‘Wow, this horse is really eager. I think if they can get this horse to go a little more ground that they’ve got something.’”
He and his wife, Jules, bought 50-percent interest in Next Shares last March not long after the horse finished a close second in Santa Anita’s Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile. He did not go to Kentucky Downs for the Old Friends, planning to watch from home on television before encountering a glitch.
“We had a massive thunderstorm that came through right as the race was about to go off and knocked the power out,” Iavarone said. “Of course, my phone is blowing up afterward, and we ended up catching the replay.”
Iavarone and Baltas hope to bring Next Shares back to Kentucky Downs this September for the $750,000 Tourist Mile. This time Iavarone plans to be there.
“I’ve heard amazing things about the place,” he said. “I know the course is amazing. I love betting the races there. As long as he’s sound, that’s definitely a race we want to make. And by the way, everybody that runs over that course comes back and runs well in their next start. Like (Shadwell runner-up) Great Wide Open.
“… Look, there’s nothing like the Derby, and I’ll be back in that game, no question. Next year or so I’ll be looking for Derby horses again. But having a horse to take you to the dances and - knock on wood - he’s made almost every race we’ve tried to get him to. Those horses are not easy to find. I’m fortunate to have a piece of this horse.”
The entire Pegasus card, which includes the $9 million Pegasus World Cup headed by Breeders' Cup winners Accelerate and City of Light, will be simulcast at Kentucky Downs. The Pegasus Turf is scheduled for 3:50 p.m. CT, followed by the Pegasus World Cup at 4:40 CT, with both races shown on NBC.
“It’s a tough race,” Baltas said. “The only question mark I have is coming back in three weeks off that last race, because we ran such a big number. It’s a lot of money to put up, but it’s a lot of money to run for.”
(Photos of Next Shares winning the $250,000 Old Friends Stakes under Drayden Van Duyke. Reed Palmer Photography and Grace Clark)