DEL MAR, Calif. (Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021) — A year ago, Brad Cox won a record-tying four Breeders’ Cup races at Keeneland. While he came three victories shy of that total this year, Cox’s triumph came in North America’s richest race as the reigning Eclipse Award-winning training continued to add to his fast-growing resume.
That gray blur Saturday at Del Mar was the Cox-trained Knicks Go carrying his dazzling speed to a 2 3/4-length victory over Kentucky Derby first-place finisher Medina Spirit in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“It means a lot to show up on this stage at the Breeders’ Cup; it’s the world’s stage,” said Cox, a graduate of Iroquois High School in Louisville’s South End who grew up a couple of furlongs from Churchill Downs’ backstretch. “We saw that this week with so many Euros and horses from Japan and now an ownership based out of Korea with an American horse winning the Classic.
“There are a lot of things we want to accomplish at the Derby, the Saudi Cup, Dubai World Cup, and this was one was very, very high on our list of races we wanted to win. We capped it off, but we would like to win it again as well.”
Cox also finished third in the Classic with Essential Quality, the Belmont and Travers Stakes winner who was making his last start before going to stud at owner Godolphin’s Jonabell Farm in Lexington.
Knicks Go, running 1 1/4 miles for the first time, came home the final quarter-mile in a sensational 24.29 seconds to complete matters in 1:59.57, not far off Candy Ride’s 1:59.11 in 2003.
“He just took off again,” said jockey Joel Rosario. “He just like keeps going with the speed he has, and at the mile and a quarter he was amazing.”
Eighth Breeders’ Cup victory for Cox since 2018
The ascent of Cox — a multiple leading trainer at Churchill Downs, Keeneland and Ellis Park— to the top ranks of horse racing also is amazing.
Since Monomoy Girl became his first Grade 1 winner and first champion in 2018, Cox has powered to eight Breeders’ Cup victories to put him in a tie for ninth all-time with Britain’s Sir Michael Stoute and Steve Asmussen. D. Wayne Lukas leads the way with 20, followed by Bob Baffert (18), Chad Brown (15), Aidan O’Brien (13), Todd Pletcher (12), Bill Mott (10) and Richard Mandella and Shug McGaughey (nine).
Knicks Go was foaled in Maryland, is owned by the Korea Racing Authority and has raced all over America as well as Saudi Arabia, with Del Mar being his 14th racetrack. At $8,673,135, he has paid back the KRA’s $87,000 tenfold.
But his racing career began with a victory at Ellis Park on July 4, 2018. Then trained by Lexington-based Ben Colebrook, Knicks Go also won Keeneland’s Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at 70-1 and took second at 40-1 odds in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs.
Knicks Go was sent to Cox after a 3-year-old season that included finishing second by a half-length to Gray Magician in the 2019 Ellis Park Derby. He sped to a 3-for-3 record for his new barn at age 4, capped by a romp in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, part of Cox’s Cup quartet at Keeneland. In seven 2021 races at seven tracks, he has lost only twice, those being the Metropolitan Mile and Saudi Cup with one-turn configurations.
If Knicks Go didn’t race at Ellis Park this year, he certainly was a visiting dignitary, with Cox sending him to the Pea Patch to train under the oversight of assistant trainer Jorje Abrego between a 10 1/4-length laugher in Iowa’s Grade 3 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker and a 4 1/2-length tour de force in Saratoga’s prestigious Whitney. As with Iowa, Cox similarly took a path of lesser resistance before the Breeders’ Cup by running Knicks Go in Churchill Downs’ Grade 3 Lukas Classic.
Knicks Go could race in Pegasus before heading to Taylor Made
Cox now has trained 10 different Grade 1-winning horses, with Knicks Go virtually assured of being his fifth to win at least one championship as the overwhelming favorite to be voted Horse of the Year and top older male. Essential Quality, last year’s 2-year-old champion, makes a strong case as leading 3-year-old, though Medina Spirit will have a lot of support as well.
Cox, who also finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies with Ellis Park maiden and Keeneland’s Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades winner JuJu’s Map, is well-poised to repeat as Eclipse Award-winning trainer. His barn’s earnings lead North America at $29.18 million while the Classic was Cox’s 229th win of the year, ranking No. 4. In addition to Essential Quality’s Belmont Stakes being his first Triple Crown victory, Cox will also become the Kentucky Derby-winning trainer with Mandaloun should Medina Spirit be disqualified for a medication infraction.
Knicks Go could follow the path of Gun Runner, the Asmussen-trained 2017 Classic winner the first time the Breeders’ Cup was at Del Mar, and race one more time in Gulfstream Park’s Pegasus World Cup. Knicks Go, who won the Pegasus in January to start his season, ultimately will head to Taylor Made Farm in Jessamine County to begin a stallion career.
“I think he’s got everything it takes to be a stallion,” Cox said. “He was a Grade 1 winner at 2, and obviously Ben Colebrook was responsible for that. He did a great job with him. He was a Grade 1 winner at 4, 5. He’s traveled around the world and he’s a very tough, durable horse. He’s extremely sound. And I think we’re in a day and age where horses go to stud so early, and he’s a little bit of a throwback horse in that he’s raced at 4 and 5 and raced as much as he has. So very proud of what he has accomplished this year and ending last year and hopefully he’ll pass it on as a stallion.”