Integration Getting ‘Litmus Test’ in $1M Pegasus Turf (G1)
Co-Owner West Point: ‘He’s as Exciting a Horse as We’ve Had’
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Going into what will be his second try in the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) Invitational at Gulfstream Park, Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey knows he has a horse short on experience but long on talent.
West Point Thoroughbreds and Woodford Racing’s Integration, undefeated in three starts, will put his perfect record to the test against 11 seasoned rivals Saturday that include three millionaires and four Grade 1 winners led by European filly Warm Heart and defending Pegasus Turf champion Atone.
“It’s a big jump. I realize that and they realize that,” McGaughey said. “We’re coming from 3-year-olds to 4-year-olds, but he’s showed a lot of talent in all three of his races. He’s going to have to show it again Saturday.”
McGaughey, who respectively ran ninth and 10th with Breaking the Rules and North Dakota in the 2019 Pegasus Turf, showed the same kind of faith last summer in Integration, a bay son of Quality Road, himself a four-time graded-stakes winner at Gulfstream led by the 2009 Florida Derby (G1) and 2010 Donn Handicap (G1).
After going unraced at 2, Integration debuted with a 6 ½-length maiden special weight win over his elders last August at Colonial Downs. From there, McGaughey returned the bay colt to the 1 1/8-mile Virginia Derby (G3) four weeks later, where he rallied five-wide for a 1 ¼-length triumph over Program Trading, who would come back to take the Hollywood Derby (G1). The third-place finisher, Runaway Storm, subsequently won the Bryan Station (G3).
“He’s a colt that I always sort of liked, and he just had some little things get in his way,” McGaughey said. “I was really impressed with his maiden win. It’s kind of not my persona to run them back in a stake but I had some other horses going over there and he was doing really well so I said, ‘Let’s take a shot.’ He ran a big race, so that’s what got us to the next one.”
The next one was the Hill Prince, also contested at 1 1/8 miles in mid-November at Aqueduct. Integration settled in third before taking a two-length lead into the stretch and powering home to win by five as the favorite over I’m Very Busy, also entered in the Pegasus Turf.
Integration broke from Post 3 of nine in the Hill Prince, the same spot where he’ll break in the 12-horse Pegasus Turf under Tyler Gaffalione, who was aboard for his maiden journey.
“I think it’s fine. If he breaks good, he showed in New York he’s got enough speed if we want to use it for wherever we want to lay,” McGaughey said. “We’ll just have to leave that up to Tyler, but I’d rather be on the inside with the configuration of the turf course than be on the outside and something happens where you’d have to use him a little bit more and get hung out the whole way.”
Integration is the latest success story for West Point, the syndicate founded by Terry Finley which in recent years was partners in 2017 Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Always Dreaming as well as Flightline, the champion older male and Horse of the Year in 2022 that was retired with a perfect 6-0 record.
“He’s as exciting a horse as we’ve had. He’s just a super exciting horse. It took him a while to really get rolling and find his stride. If you look back, he had a lot of works and a lot of base. Shug was always, ‘I like this horse,’” West Point executive vice president Tom Bellhouse said. “He’s rewarded all the confidence Shug had in him. To win the race at Colonial first time out and to come back a little less than four weeks later and win the Virginia Derby the way he did, it was spectacular. I was lucky enough to be at Aqueduct for the Hill Prince and it was one of those races that was never in doubt. It was really an amazing performance.”
Out of the Scatt Daddy mare Harmonize, a five-time stakes winner including Gulfstream’s Sanibel Island as well as the Del Mark Oaks (G1), Jessamine (G3) and Glens Falls (G3), Integration fetched $700,000 as a yearling at Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga sale in 2021.
He represents West Point’s second straight try at the Pegasus Turf, after when Grade 1 winner Decorated Invader ran 11th off a runner-up finish in Gulfstream’s local prep, the Fort Lauderdale (G2), behind Christophe Clement-trained stablemate City Man, who finished last in the Pegasus.
“His breeding is impeccable,” Bellhouse said. “I remember when we bought this horse. When you have a horse like that with that kind of pedigree, you’re just hoping, and he’s come to fruition. It’s going to be a very tough spot. [Warm Heart is] just a superstar and some of the grizzled veterans like last year’s winner. It’s always a great group. We were lucky enough to run in it last year, but I don’t know if we’ve ever walked into the Pegasus with this level of confidence with any of the runners we’ve had than we do with this horse. He’s really special.”
Bellhouse credited the patient approach from McGaughey as being a key in Integration’s development and success. When Integration needed time to overcome some minor issues before he ran, McGaughey sent him to the Fair Hill Training Center., a bucolic facility in northeast Maryland where the trainer keeps a string of horses.
“It’s really all Shug and his team. He’s a Hall of Famer and somebody that we always dreamed we’d have horses with 10 years ago. He’s the gold standard. He’s on the Mount Rushmore,” Bellhouse said. “It’s a great ownership group, and it’s neat for Shug. He’s obviously had a lot of great horses over the years, but even he said after the Hill Prince to his assistant, Anthony Hamilton, ‘Listen, you’re going to be around a lot of great horses in your life, but you’re not going to be around many better than this one.’ I was like, ‘Wow.’ That was unsolicited.
“[It’s been great] just watching how Shug has planned and basically plotted the course with this horse,” he added. “When he was willing to come back off the maiden win at Colonial and run in the Virginia Derby, I think that raised a lot of eyebrows. For us it was like, ‘Oh, wow. Ok, this is serious.’ We’re really excited.”
In addition to getting the season started, the Pegasus Turf will help give the connections an idea what kind of course to plot for Integration moving forward.
“It’s a massive step up in class, but it’s exciting. He’s going to face older horses. He’s going to face horses that have been around the world, and it’s a great litmus test. We’d love to start out the year and map out a campaign like maybe Bricks and Mortar did a few years back, or horses like that where we can pick our spots. Maybe after this race we can give him a break and come back at Keeneland or Aqueduct, something like that, Belmont at Saratoga or something,” Bellhouse said. “He’s legitimate. You just hope he comes and runs his race and we’ll see where we land.”
Along with its experience in the Turf, West Point was partners in millionaire Breaking Lucky, who ran eighth in the 2017 Pegasus World Cup (G1) Invitational.
“We love Gulfstream. We love being down there for the Championship Meet and being part of the Pegasus. It’s been a number of years over here where we’ve either had runners in the World Cup or in the Turf, and it’s great for our partners,” Bellhouse said. “We always have a big group. We have a big get-together in the Breezeway the day before and this year we’re going to have 30, 40 people coming into town, so it’s exciting.”