May 15th, 2024

By Nicolas Stecher

“When I first got into Thoroughbred horseracing, everybody had a collective challenge: How do we engage young people?” Belinda Stronach asks rhetorically about her initiation into the Sport of Kings. “Well, our efforts to engage young people are about curating an experience that we feel is compelling and relevant to what they would like to do. So we combine fashion, music, all forms of entertainment, hospitality, and we partner with the best in each jurisdiction to curate this experience. And that’s what Pegasus is.”

We’re sitting in an expansive VIP suite overlooking Gulfstream Park, a storied horseracing track built in 1939 here in Hallandale Beach, Florida, that Stronach’s company 1/ST (under The Stronach Group umbrella since 2011). Beyond Gulfstream, 1/ST also owns a suite of preeminent thoroughbred properties including Santa Anita Park, Golden Gate Fields, the Maryland Jockey Club and Pimlico, home of the Preakness. The beautifully designed suite is no match for the Chairwoman and CEO of 1/ST, impeccably dressed in a pink blouse, not a hair or detail out of place.

Stronach prepares an espresso, sits at her desk and sips. “What makes the Pegasus World Cup unique,” she says of one of the richest races in America, boasting a $3 million purse, “is we wanted to curate an experience that attracts a whole new generation of fans to thoroughbred horse racing…. We have a legacy sporting platform here, so how do we keep the traditions that people love—getting dressed up for the experience, putting on the fascinators, all of that stuff—but modernize it in a way that’s compelling and yet consistent with the social mores of today?”

It doesn’t take long to recognize Stronach as a force to be reckoned with. Highly refined, with a quiet potency that suggests this is someone who does not bend when she knows what she wants, but also exuding an intelligent empathy that belies she knows exactly when it’s time to compromise. Credit her two terms in the Canadian Parliament (under two different parties, no less), as well as her time as CEO of automotive supplier Magna International, where she grew the company’s revenue from $11 billion to $24 billion during her four-year tenure.

The next day we head back to Gulfstream Park, passing the towering 110-foot, steel-and-bronze “Pegasus and Dragon” statue, its gargantuan height second only to the Statue of Liberty in all of America. Paired with the warm and brilliantly sunny afternoon, the entire tableau makes an ideal setting for the day’s upcoming spectacle. While 1/ST also owns the Preakness, one of the esteemed Triple Crown races, we’re beginning to sense the Pegasus World Cup just might be its most important racing event of the year.

The pageantry, it turns out, unfurls exactly as Stronach had predicted. Entering directly into the Carousel Club via the VIP entry, the tented venue—designed around the namesake merry-go-round rotating bar—echoes the scenes of wealth and beauty witnessed on the greens of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, except with one crucial variable added to both of these events: youth. The sprawling open-air Carousel Club brims with young women of stunning beauty, dressed in Retrofête and Proenza Schouler dresses, showing off plenty of tanned skin and diamond jewelry.

Sharply dressed men clink glasses of Don Julio Rosado, and enjoy cigars handed out from the Davidoff booth. Camila Cabello can be seen laughing with friends from under a furry black bucket hat; Ricky Rozay, aka Rick Ross, parts the throng in cherry-red leather pants and a white Givenchy hoodie. Throughout the day we’ll catch views of Alix Earle, Anuel AA, Camila Coelho, Tua Tagovailoa, and Joakim Noah and his model wife Lais Ribeiro mixing it up in the crowd.

The vibe is heightened, festive, pregnant with the giddy excitement of sport. We order a bourbon on the rocks and watch three of the early 12 pre-races, including the $1-million Pegasus World Cup Turf race. Before each, the famous “First Call” bugle chime cuts through the humid Miami air. While the reputation of the horse racing has, in recent decades, taken a hit, the rarefied air at The Pegasus quickly reminds you of the wealth associated with the Sport of Kings.

Well over a dozen billionaires deeply invest in the sport, including Chanel scions Alain and Gerard Wertheimer (who inherited La Presle Farm from their father, Jacques), Under Armour founder Kevin Plank (owner of Maryland’s Sagamore Farm), and Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and owner of über-successful Godolphin stables, winners of more than 5,000 races worldwide.

When the time comes, we make our way downstairs to the Baccarat Garden. As the headline sponsor the renowned crystal house supplies the dazzling championship trophy (with a reported $47,000 price tag), but also hosts their own ropedoff VIP garden, replete with a life-size rose gold horse hanging a Baccarat Solstice chandelier from its mouth. Whispering Angel rosé and handcrafted cocktails are poured in Baccarat’s beautiful crystalware as the buzz builds towards the day’s headline race.

Soon the 11 horses are loaded into their starting grid, and we move to the rail to watch the marquee event. Before we know it they’re off in an explosive display of equine ferocity; the 1-1/8 mile race is as thrilling as billed, with Hoist the Gold, Il Miracolo and co-favorite National Treasure battling throughout the two minutes of high-wire tension. With a last minute streaking Señor Buscador threatening, 2023 Preakness winner National Treasure wins the 8th edition of the Pegasus World Cup literally by a nose.

With most Thoroughbred horse races the day would be concluded. But not so at the Pegasus, where after watching handlers spray down the horses, TikTok star Xandra Pohl climbs up to the concert stage and starts spinning beats. The audience’s attention turns from the track back to the Carousel Club, the mood quickly shifting from sporting event to post-game festivities as the sun sets over the towering Pegasus statue. In about an hour Scottish powerhouse producer Calvin Harris will take the stage to play 90 minutes of continuous anthems, much to the swaying delight of diligent revelers. The packed dance floor confirms few if any left after National Treasure’s razor-thin victory.

As night falls the drinks pour from the merry-go-round bar like tall tales. At the peak of his set Harris drops into a remix of “Feel So Close,” and a group of delirious partiers spill onto the ground in a happy mess their four-figure outfits may not forgive. While debaucherously playful, the moment underscores just how quickly the Pegasus World Cup has grown into something so much more than a day at the track. The carefully curated spectacle not only organizes a marquee day for Thoroughbred racing here at Gulfstream, but could very well have a profound effect on how the Sport of Kings is perceived through the eyes of the young and beautiful worldwide.

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