He was going too fast. Way too fast. In his first start going farther than he had ever raced before, Knicks Go could not possibly win setting such a suicidal pace.
Have we not learned by now? Not about fast fractions but about this 5-year-old horse and his 40-year-old trainer.
Since he was transferred more than a year ago to Brad Cox, Knicks Go is now 4-for-4 – and 3-for-3 as a favorite. That is just what he was Saturday, when he was sent off at odds of 6-5. He led at every call, crushing 11 supposed rivals in the $3 million Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park.
“Great horses do great things, and he just did something great,” Cox told NBC. Then turning to TVG he grinned and said, “This was much slower than the Breeders’ Cup.”
What do you know? Cox was not exaggerating. That day at Keeneland in November, Knicks Go clicked fractions of 21.98, 44.40, 1:08.25 and 1:20.76 on the way to a winning time of 1:33.85. On the fast main track Saturday in south Florida, he went 22.90, 46.16, 1:09.91 and 1:34.82 on the way to a 1:47.86 time for the nine furlongs. That was 5-8 lengths slower at every quarter-mile.
And to think jockey Joel Rosario, now 3-for-3 on him, was easing Knicks Go late in the race.
“He just goes faster and faster,” he said. “He was really enjoying what he was doing out there, so I never worried about somebody getting close to me.”
Rosario might have been alone with those thoughts, if only briefly.
“When a horse is up front and they’re going that quick, you’re always a little concerned,” Cox said. “But Joel just has a lot of confidence in the horse, and the horse has confidence in him. So it worked out great.”
Wasn’t this field supposed to be the toughest that Knicks Go has yet faced? One by one they withered away.
Racing only a week after a minor stakes win over the same track, Last Judgment (41-1) tried to keep up, but he was gone at the end of the backstretch, fading to eighth. Then Tax (5-1), a three-time graded-stakes winner, tried to meet the challenge. By the time Knicks Go reached the top of the stretch, Tax was finished, a 10th-place result proving it. Second choice Code Of Honor (4-1) never had a chance breaking outside from post 10; he was a non-factor in fifth.
Leading by three turning for home, Rosario enjoyed an easy ride the rest of the way, cruising to win by 2¾ lengths over – what do you know? – Jesús’ Team (11-1). The second-place finisher in last year’s Pegasus to the recently retired Mucho Gusto and the 62-1 second-place finisher to Knicks Go at the Breeders Cup fattened the winning $2 exacta into a $43 payout. One-time 2020 Kentucky Derby futures favorite Independence Hall (25-1) was third, making the 50-cent trifecta worth $175.05.
Saturday’s performance continued the remarkable show of progress that Knicks Go has made since the Korea Racing Authority, which paid $87,000 for him as a yearling, moved him from trainer Ben Colebrook. At the time he was 2-for-14. Since taking residence in Cox’s barn, he has won allowance races by 7½ and 10¼ lengths, the Breeders’ Cup by 3½ and then Saturday by that mere 2¾. That is 24 lengths of collective daylight.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in him,” Cox said. “He gives us that confidence in the mornings watching him work. He’s a very nice horse, and he’s in great form right now.”
And he did it without Lasix, which Knicks Go will have to go without if he comes back in four weeks in the $20 million Saudi Cup. Saturday’s victory earned him an invitation to Riyadh, but Cox stopped short of saying they would make the long trip.
“We’re going to look at it,” he said. “It would be a lot to ask of him. We’re going to let him kind of tell us over the next week or so.”
That race is also 8½ furlongs – give or take 12 yards and/or a run-up. Long term – and Korean Racing Authority representative Jun Park said “we will continue to race this year” – Cox sounded like he might take aim on even longer races.
“If he gets the right set-up I do believe he can get a mile-and-a-quarter,” Cox said. “He’s from the Paynter-Awesome Again line. It’s a mile-and-a-quarter pedigree.”
That has the distinct fragrance of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. If Knicks Go shows up next fall at Del Mar, would it be too soon to suggest the track is already speed-favoring?
Colonel Liam closes to win Pegasus Turf
Todd Pletcher and Irad Ortiz Jr. combined for a victory at Gulfstream Park. Gee, where have we heard that before?
Maybe not so much on the grass, but the track’s 16-time training titlist and reigning two-time riding champion were responsible for Colonel Liam (5-2) delivering as the favorite in the $1 million Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational.
Typically patient when he needed to be, Ortiz eventually found the 4-year-old Liam’s Map colt the room he needed to display his ample turn of foot. That was at the top of stretch. With a powerful run down the middle of the track, Colonel Liam surged past the three horses ahead of him and finished a neck clear of Pletcher stablemate Largent (4-1). Cross Border (14-1) was another two lengths back in third, just ahead of Social Paranoia (9-1) and Pixelate (50-1).
With a winning time of 1:53.09 going 9½ furlongs on the firm turf, Colonel Liam did not need much room to win in his first graded-stakes start. Ortiz took him from post 5 to the rail into the first turn and settled him in mid-pack. The pacesetter Storm The Court (20-1) set lukewarm early fractions of 23.59, 48.69 and 1:12.85.
Lacking room in the final turn, Ortiz waited for the field of 12 to fan out turning into the stretch. Going four wide Colonel Liam saw real daylight for the first time since the start, and he left no doubt about who was best. It was just a question of whether there was enough race left for him to make up the 2¼ lengths in front of him.
With Saturday’s $549,000 easily the biggest check he has earned in six starts for owners Robert and Lawana Low, Colonel Liam brought his career earnings to $690,695 from four wins and a third. He is now 3-for-4 on the turf. The Lows bought him nearly two years ago for $1.2 million.
Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more frequently during coverage of big races, including a post-race report Saturday on the Pegasus World Cup. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod at VSiN.com/podcasts and via free subscription at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.