Knicks Go asserted his superiority over his rivals by leading from flag fall and powering all the way to the wire in the 2021 $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park on Saturday (January 23).
Saddled by Brad Cox and ridden by Joel Rosario for the Korea Racing Authority, Knicks Go was the heavy favorite and became increasingly popular after he was allocated gate four.
Bettors were right to believe in him even though this was his first attempt at a mile and a furlong and he is not tactically versatile, always racing at the head of the pack. No other horse has managed to win this race from the front and there is a good reason for that, there is usually tough competition for the lead.
Knicks Go was challenged for the lead by the 40/1 shot Last Judgment. Ridden by Paco Lopez for Michael Maker, Last Judgment had won from the front too and raced on the winner’s shoulder for as long as he could. That battle resulted in rapid early fractions. Lesser horses would have folded but this five-year-old son of Paynter managed to maintain his momentum to score in a time of 1 minute 47.89 seconds. His dam, Kosmo’s Buddy, a daughter of Outflanker was a moderate five furlong sprinter but Knicks Go has speed as well as stamina.
Rosario pushed Knicks Go clear of his closest pursuers at the quarter pole and the response was so impressive that he was able to ease his mount down close to the wire. He finished almost three lengths clear of the Jose D’Angelo-trained Jesus’ Team (12/1) who had been ridden mid pack by Irad Ortiz. It was a case of déjà vu for Ortiz, who finished a similar distance behind Knicks Go when runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in November using exactly the same tactics.
Michael McCarthy’s Independence Hall outran his odds of 28/1 to take third under Flavien Prat from gate three, a neck behind Jesus’ Team. Sleepy Eyes Todd benefited from stall one and was fourth, beaten nine lengths. The 22/5 second favorite, Code of Honor, was drawn wide and never looked likely to get involved in the action, finishing fifth. The only other runner sent off at single figure odds, Danny Gargan’s Tax (6/1), was ridden prominently by Luis Saez and weakened when it mattered, finishing with only two horses behind him. He was equally disappointing in this race last year.
Knicks Go’s victory was his fourth consecutive win for Cox and extended his unbeaten run since joining his barn in January last year. Purchased by the Korea Race Authority as a yearling for $87,000, Knicks Go was an unexpected 70/1 winner of the Claiborne Breeders’ Cup Futurity as a two-year-old when saddled by Ben Colebrook. He went on to take second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but failed to achieve anything of note as a three-year-old. He could only place in minor races and looked to be a spent force.
Cox did not start by aiming high with his new trainee. In February he won an allowance optional claiming race at Oaklawn Park. When racing resumed post Covid, Knicks Go reappeared in a similar contest at Keeneland in October and won by over 10 lengths. It was an unusual preparation for the Breeders’ Cup but he proved a worthy favorite.
Joining Cox has completely transformed the fortunes of this horse and the handler admits that he has adapted his techniques to suit his needs and trains him ‘aggressively’. There is not much detail in the public domain about what that entails but the expression suggests that Knicks Go does plenty at home. Whatever Cox is doing, it is definitely working. Immediately after the Pegasus win a representative of the Korea Racing Authority stated in the winner’s circle that Knicks Go would continue to race rather than take the retirement route.
Pletcher Dominates in Pegasus Turf
In the previous race, the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational, favorite bettors were rewarded as the 5/2 market leader Colonel Liam did what was expected of him and prevailed by a neck under Irad Ortiz.
It was a triumph for his trainer Todd Pletcher who not only saddled the impressive winner but the runner-up, Largent (4/1) and the fourth placed Social Paranoia (9/1). The Michael Maker-trained Cross Border was the only infiltrator to spoil Pletcher’s party, ridden by the Gulfstream expert, Tyler Gaffalione to take third.
Owned by Robert and Lawana Low, Colonel Liam was an expensive purchase as a two-year-old, achieving a price tag of $1.2 million at Ocala in April 2019. This four-year-old son of Liam’s Map out of a Bernardini mare is certainly a looker and moves well but will have to win many more races to enable his owners to recoup their initial investment.
The second favorite, Peter Miller’s Anothertwistafate, was on edge before the race and did too much too soon. He challenged Peter Eurton’s longshot Storm The Court for the lead and weakened to finish last under Rosario. Fortunately that did not seem to affect the jockey’s confidence when partnering Knicks Go.
Like Knicks Go, Colonel Liam looked the likely winner in the preliminaries, he seemed happy and relaxed and had the demeanor of a horse who was looking forward to doing his job and was not suffering from any form of anxiety. Colonel Liam’s attitude helped him through the race and he was given a beautiful ride. Ortiz hugged the rail from flag fall and did not panic when he appeared to be trapped on it mid pack. He waited patiently under a similarly calm Colonel Liam and only angled out to make his run round the final turn.
January 23 was a good day for many US bettors with favorites delivering in the two big races. Both Knicks Go and Colonel Liam seem worthy of further support if they continue to demonstrate the same positive signals before being asked to race again.