Owner Michael Hui is upbeat on the chances of Zula Alpha defending his crown in the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational to kick-start 2021.
The Mike Maker-trained seven-year-old is recovering from a minor setback that forced him to miss the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland this month.
He’s expected to be back in work at Maker’s yard come the second week of December as preparations begin for the January 23 Gulfstream Park contest.
Hui admits there was an enormous sense of disappointment when the phone call came to say Zula Alpha wouldn’t be heading to the Breeders’ Cup Turf. He had finished fourth in the 2019 renewal at Santa Anita and connections were confident he’s excel at Keeneland, a track where he had won before.
“You could have heard a pin drop when I answered [the call],” Hui said, “because he didn’t speak for a few seconds.
“He was ready. He was kind of a horse for that course,” Hui added. “I was confident we were going to improve on our fourth-place finish the previous year, Europeans or no Europeans. It was in Mike Maker’s back yard.”
The setback – which Maker believes came when Zula Alpha “bumped it somewhere” – resulted in slight swelling above Zulu Alpha’s left front ankle and required only time and rest to overcome. He has been given that over the last month and will return to Maker’s South Florida base in December to prepare for the $1m Pegasus Turf.
The son of seven-time graded-stakes winner Street Cry has a formidable record on the turf track at Gulfstream, with four wins in six starts. He went into last year’s race off a similar absence and boasts a strong CV for the 2021 renewal as the winner of 12 races in 35 career starts, with five runner-up finishes and six third-place efforts, ensuring he boasts $2,260,114 in earnings.
While all roads are leading towards a positive start to the New Year, owner Hui says no time will be wasted in retiring Zula Alpha if there are early signs that he doesn’t retain his racing desire as an eight-year-old. He will dine at the top level or enjoy his retirement.
“If he’s not competitive in graded stakes, he’s going to be retired,” the owner said. “He’s taken very good care of us. We’re going to take very good care of him.”
If Zula Alpha can retain his crown, he’ll become the first back-to-back winner of the Pegasus World Cup Turf since its inception in 1986, while joining Einstein (2006 & 2008) as just the second repeat winner of the one-mile-one-furlong contest.