When the starting gates were drawn for the $3 million Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational 2021 this week, it strengthened the confidence of bettors in Knicks Go, the 5/2 favorite who will jump from gate four.
Run over a mile and a furlong at Gulfstream Park on Saturday (5.34pm ET; TV: Live on NBC), the 12 runners will reach the first turn fairly fast making the draw particularly important.
This fascinating five-year-old son of Paynter will be ridden by Joel Rosario for the third time since he has been saddled by Brad Cox. Originally trained by Ben Colebrook for the Korean Racing Authority, Knicks Go shocked racegoers by winning the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at 70/1 and finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile a month later in 2018.
An unproductive period in the wilderness ensued and this striking gray achieved nothing until he was moved to Cox in January last year. He is unbeaten in his three starts since and was last seen taking the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, beating Jesus’ Team more than three lengths.
Cox does not send many of his trainees to Gulfstream Park but believes Knicks Go has the speed necessary to operate effectively at the venue. He also thinks the track suits horses who race prominently as the stretch is not the longest, lessening the chances of late closers.
Knicks Go only has one style of running, he leads from flag fall and will have to keep galloping for an extra half furlong to succeed here. If he manages to maintain his advantage he will be the first horse to do so in this race.
The draw was less kind to the second favorite, Code of Honor, who will break from gate 10 under Tyler Gaffalione. Only one horse has ever finished in the first four from that stall, the mighty Gun Runner who won the 2018 renewal. This five-year-old son of Noble Mission trained by Shug McGaughey for his owner and breeder, Will Farish, has scored at the track before. He outran his 10/1 odds to win the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth in 2019 under John Velazquez but benefited from the best possible starting point on that day.
Shug believes he has Code of Honor in peak condition to perform, he will certainly have freshness on his side as he was last seen finishing second behind Bodexpress in the Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs in late November. Run over this distance he was beaten a length and may be at his most effective over a furlong further. Code of Honor won the Travers in 2019 and was awarded the Jockey Club Gold Cup after Vino Rosso bumped into him and beat him a nose, both races are run over a mile and a quarter.
Code of Honor is not a horse that can be hurried into a prominent position but usually finishes strongly, especially when the pace has been generous. The statistically disastrous draw could be less of an issue as he was never going to try to lead the pack going into the first turn. Expect him to race midfield and appear when it matters if the leaders have overdone the speed.
It will be the first time that Code of Honor has run without the widely used anti-bleeding medication Lasix. Lasix was prohibited in the Pegasus last year and that ruling (on welfare grounds) continues. Knicks Go raced without it three times as a juvenile, scoring on one of those occasions, but has used it ever since. This unusual scenario presents an additional challenge for anyone looking to find the winner, the effect of its absence will only be discovered after the race.
The significance of the draw has to make Sleepy Eyes Todd, a five-year-old son of Paddy O’Prado, interesting as he has the inside post. Saddled by Miguel Silva for Thumbs Up Racing, he weakened when tried over this distance at the top level but his surprise second place in the Oklahoma Derby (G3) at 40/1 provides a glimmer of hope.
His last two starts were both successful and contested over seven furlongs, most recently at this track in the Mr Prospector Stakes (G3) in December. He was ridden by Gaffalione who knows how to ride it better than most but Sleepy Eyes Todd will rely on the assistance of Jose Ortiz instead.
The six-year-old Mr Freeze finished second to Mucho Gusto in this race last year for Dale Romans but, having proved that he can (or could) cope without Lasix, is not fancied to do well this time. Most recently he weakened in the Clark Stakes and finished fifth, beaten three lengths by Bodexpress. His five-year-old stablemate Coastal Defense also emptied in the closing stages but crossed the wire a length ahead of him.
Danny Gargan is confident that Tax is in much better shape than he was when disappointing at 4/1 in the 2020 Pegasus. He fell out of the stalls, never looked comfortable and finished with only one horse behind him, the favorite who looked to be in dire need of Lasix. Now a five-year-old, Tax is reportedly stronger and much heavier and his odds suggest that bettors believe in him. He starts from gate seven and will be partnered by Luis Saez.
Knicks Go comes into this race with the most impressive recent form but his one-dimensional running style makes him vulnerable if he is forced into unsustainable fractions, especially over this distance. Picking the likely beneficiary of that scenario for this Pegasus World Cup preview is tricky but Code of Honor has realistic claims despite his unfavorable draw as he has the help of course specialist Gaffalione to guide him.