Gulfstream Park media notes (Coady Photography photo of Knicks Go leading turning for home in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile):
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Knicks Go, the likely favorite for next Saturday’s $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Park, signaled he’s on “go” Saturday morning with his final workout in preparation for the 1 1/8-mile stakes at Fair Grounds.
The record-setting winner of the Nov. 7 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) worked five-eighths of a mile in 1:00.60 seconds, the fastest of 35 workouts at the distance at the New Orleans track. Brad Cox, a finalist and the favorites for Eclipse Award trainer later this month, definitely liked what he saw with Knicks Go.
“He was really good – well, well within himself,” Cox said by phone from New Orleans. “He galloped out in 1:14. The rider was very, very happy with him; we were happy with him. He’s as ready as he’s going to get.”
Knicks Go will fly from New Orleans to South Florida on Tuesday. Joel Rosario has the mount.
The Korea Racing Authority (KRA) sent Knicks Go to trainer Brad Cox for the 2020 season after the horse struggled in 2019 following a 2-year-old campaign during which he won Keeneland’s Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at 70-1 odds and finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at 40-1. It was the KRA’s first horse with Cox, but the owners’ American-based representative, Jun Park, said he had one of his own horses with the trainer several years earlier.
Knicks Go blasted to a 7 ½ -length victory Feb. 22 in a second-level allowance race at Oaklawn Park in his first start for Cox, then was sidelined 7 ½ months with a minor ankle injury. That led to some consideration of retirement, simply because it knocked out the anticipated spring and summer campaign. However, on his return to racing on Oct. 4, Knicks Go won a third-level allowance at Keeneland by 10 ¼ lengths in a track-record 1:40.79 for 1 1/16 miles. That got Cox thinking about the Breeders’ Cup.
“His performance was very impressive off the layoff,” Cox said. “I thought, ‘Well, it’s going to be five weeks back’ and there was no guarantee he’d even get in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. We were looking toward that race or the Clark (G1) at Churchill Downs. We said, ‘Let’s see what happens with the Dirt Mile. He really loves Keeneland.’”
The allowance victory was enough for the Breeders’ Cup selection committee to give Knicks Go a berth in the oversubscribed Dirt Mile even though he hadn’t been in a stakes all year. The betting public backed up the selection with Knicks Go winning as the 9-5 favorite, prevailing by 3 ½ lengths over fellow Pegasus contender Jesus’ Team. His time of 1:33.35 established another Keeneland record.
“When he had the little problem with his ankle, it was early spring,” Park said. “We tried to make the right decision for the horse. His injury was not major, and the prognosis was favorable. We decided to keep going. The breeding farms already had their plans and it was going to be hard to bring a new stallion in. But everything went well, and we made the right decision to keep going.
“It was the owners’ dream to have a horse in the Breeders’ Cup. The KRA had a horse run before, but they’d never won. That’s one of the reasons they have a racing stable in the United States. They developed their own genetic test, and they like to use that tool to find the proper horse, the elite horse. They proved to themselves how the tool works when the horse won the Breeders’ Cup.”
The Korea Racing Authority has sole authority over horse racing and breeding in that country, with its small American operation part of the mission of improving those industries. Knicks Go was a home run as a 2-year-old and a grand slam winning the Breeders’ Cup. The ultimate goal now is a post-racing stallion career in Kentucky.
“The KRA is aware of the importance of the Pegasus as one of the top races for older horses in the United States,” Park said. “If he can beat them, that’s quite important for the KRA to have a nice stallion prospect.”
There exists some confusion over how to pronounce the first word in Knicks Go’s name. The Go part is easy and sums up the running style of the roan son of Grade 1-winner Paynter. Knicks Go has gone virtually wire-to-wire in all five of his wins out of 13 starts, including his three races in 2020. The defection of Charlatan from the Pegasus further stamps Knicks Go as the one to catch.
Many American racing fans assume Knicks Go is named for the New York Knicks in the NBA. Rather, Knicks is pronounced K-Nicks by the horses’ owners and refers to the KRA’s program for selecting horses that includes nicking patterns and genetic testing. The K is for Korea, with nicks being a bloodstock term referring to selecting certain sire lines to breed to the daughters from other specified sire lines with the belief the combinations enhance the chance for success. (The KRA also has a 3-year-old named Knicks Front with Cox.)
“If you can call him K-Nicks Go, that would be great,” Park said. “But it really doesn’t matter. Everybody knows him as ‘Nicks’ Go.”
Park says any way Knicks Go is pronounced will be just fine as long as the name is called in front at the wire.
Jesus’ Team, True Timber Breeze for Pegasus at Palm Meadows
Grupo 7C Racing Stable’s Jesus’ Team breezed a half-mile at Palm Meadows Saturday morning in preparation for a start in next Saturday’s $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Park.
The Jose D’Angelo-trained 4-year-old was timed in 48.50 seconds. Regular exercise rider Simon Rodriguez was aboard for the workout at Gulfstream’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach County.
“Jesus’ work today was perfect. I think, with this work, he will be ready for the Pegasus World Cup,” D’Angelo said.
Jesus’ Team, who broke his maiden for a $32,000 claiming price at Gulfstream last March, has been stakes-placed in his last five starts, including a third-place finish in the Oct. 3 Preakness Stakes (G1) and a second-place finish behind Knicks Go in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. The Kentucky-bred colt most recently captured the Dec. 2 Claiming Crown Jewel at Gulfstream.
Jim Bakke and Gerry Isbister’s Mr Freeze, who finished second behind Mucho Gusto in last year’s Pegasus, breezed five-furlongs in 59. 83 seconds Saturday morning at Gulfstream for his second Pegasus start. The Dale Romans-trained son of To Honor and Serve produced the fastest of 40 workouts recorded at the five-furlong distance. Romans also sent Pegasus also-eligible Coastal defense to the Gulfstream track for a half-mile breeze in 47.11 seconds.
Calumet Farm’s True Timber breezed five-furlongs in 1:01 at Palm Meadows Saturday for a third start in the Pegasus. The Jack Sisterson-trained 7-year-old son is coming off a victory in the Dec. 5 Cigar Mile (G1) at Aqueduct by 5 ½ lengths.
The son of Mineshaft, who was transferred to trainer Jack Sisterson’s stable upon the retirement of Kiaran McLaughlin in the spring, finished seventh and eighth, respectively in his first two Pegasus tries.
Trainer Todd Pletcher sent his three candidates for the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) to the Palm Beach Downs track for final five-furlong tune-ups for the 1 3/16-mile turf feature. Largent, who captured the Dec. 12 Fort Lauderdale (G2) at Gulfstream, and multiple graded-stakes winner Social Paranoia, who came off a 5 ½-month layoff to win a Dec. 16 optional claiming allowance at Gulfstream, were timed in 1:01.49. Colonel Liam, who captured the Dec. 26 Tropical Park Derby by 3 ¼ lengths, was clocked in 1:01.49.