By Nicholas Godfrey
So you probably know that Knicks Go posted a brilliant all-the-way victory in the fifth edition of the Pegasus World Cup – for a short time, the world’s richest race, now a $3m contest – at Gulfstream Park on Saturday. Here’s some more stuff you might like to know …
What’s going on?
Knicks Go dominant from the front
Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Knicks Go ran his opponents off their feet for a ruthlessly dominant wire-to-wire triumph in the Pegasus World Cup.
After setting strong fractions, he belied worries about potential stamina limitations to keep on rolling home in the stretch for a 2¾-length victory over late-running Jesus’ Team.
Seemingly transformed since joining Brad Cox, the five-year-old has now won his four starts for the trainer by a cumulative 24 lengths, barely seeing another horse in the process.
Joel Rosario: ‘He just goes faster and faster’
Winning jockey Joel Rosario described Knicks Go as a “very special horse” who “just goes faster and faster”. It wasn’t quite true, but he certainly set a scorching pace in the early stages when harried by longshot Last Judgment, setting fractions of 22.90s, 46.16s and 1m09.91s en route to clocking a final time of 1m47.89s, enough for a Beyer speed figure of 108.
Saudi Cup: win and you’re in
As part of the ‘Road to Riyadh’, the Pegasus World Cup is a ‘Win and You’re In’ race for the Saudi Cup, offering a spot in the field for the world’s richest race on February 20. Last year’s Pegasus winner Mucho Gusto was fourth in Riyadh.
Colonel Liam, the Pegasus Turf winner, gets a spot in the Middle-Distance Turf on the same card in Riyadh.
G1-winning juvenile before losing his way
Owned by the Korea Racing Authority, Knicks Go is a Maryland-bred five-year-old by Paynter with a career record of 6-for-18.
A G1 winner at two in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland for former trainer Ben Colebrook, he was second to Game Winner in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile before totally losing his way the following season.
Nothing to do with New York Knicks
Contrary to popular assumption, the Pegasus winner was not named in homage to the New York Knicks NBA team.
Rather, the Korea Racing Authority says the horse should be pronounced ‘K-Nicks Go’ as the name refers to the nation’s programme for selecting horses according to nicking patterns and genetic testing.
‘Nicks’ are a bloodstock term referring to specific sire lines bred in conjunction with others. The KRA also has a three-year-old named Knicks Front with Brad Cox.
‘I am sure very soon that Jesus will be on top’
Jesus’ Team did his connections proud, claiming second by a neck over Independence Hall to continue a fine run of placed efforts in top-grade contests.
Although the four-year-old has only three wins in 14 career starts, the stat is misleading as he was highly tried last term and never finished out of the frame, running fourth in the Haskell, third in the Preakness and second (to Knicks Go) in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
He represents Jose D’Angelo, a former leading trainer in Venezuela now based in South Florida. He believes it is only a matter of time before the horse breaks his graded-stakes duck.
“I am sure very soon that Jesus will be on the top in big races,” said D’Angelo. “I feel proud of him.”
Popular grey Sleepy Eyes Todd was a gallant fourth.
Pegasus Turf: Colonel Liam leads home Pletcher one-two
Seven-time champion trainer Todd Pletcher recorded a one-two in the G1 Pegasus Turf as Colonel Liam launched a strong closing kick in the stretch to deny stablemate Largent in a photo. Pletcher also saddled fourth-placed Social Paranoia.
Sent off favourite despite never having competed in graded company, Colonel Liam was confidently handled by Irad Ortiz, who secured a ground-saving trip before angling out in the stretch to claim the $1m contest.
The lightly-raced four-year-old – a son of Pletcher’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Liam’s Map – took his career record to four-from-six.
Prevalence promises so much on debut for Godolphin
As well as the two G1s, there were other five graded stakes on the Pegasus undercard but perhaps the most noteworthy performance came in a $50,000 maiden over 7f in which Godolphin’s Prevalence (Brendan Walsh/Tyler Gaffalione) was a blowout debut winner.
After winning a fierce early battle for the lead in this 12-runner contest, the homebred son of Medaglia D’Oro powered home by 8½ lengths from Stage Raider, a much-touted half-brother to Triple Crown winner Justify trained by Chad Brown.
He stopped the clock in 1m23.0s under Tyler Gaffalione, who had four winners on the 12-race card.
Shall we talk about it?
Brad Cox (Knicks Go’s trainer): “Honestly, I was thinking it was much slower than the Dirt Mile. I felt comfortable. Joel had a hold of him. He was getting a little pressure from the outside, but he was pressured in the Breeders’ Cup. So I felt that he was confident he would stay on.
“He is one of the top handicap horses in the country now. He’s a top horse. This is what you get up for every day, seven days a week, long days for moments like this.
“It’s a very prestigious race. I know it hasn’t been around that long, but when you look at past winners, it’s a very prestigious list of horses that have won it – world champions, actually, with Gun Runner and Arrogate. They weren’t just national horses. They competed and won on the world stage, so it’s a big race.”
Joel Rosario (Knicks Go’s jockey): “He’s a very special horse. He just goes faster and faster. He was really enjoying what he was doing out there, so I was never worried about somebody getting close to me because I know he was going to have a little more left in the end. The way he was going, I thought he’d got something left.”
Jun Park (spokesman for Knicks Go’s owners, the Korea Racing Authority): “We came here with a couple of concerns. He never ran at Gulfstream, and then also a mile-and-an-eighth race. Today he proved himself he can handle distance and then different racetracks. Now we’re looking forward to continuing to race him the rest of the year, and then we will have a plan to retire for 2022. Hopefully, we can — some nice place that we can get nice support from the breeding mares.”
Jose d’Angelo (Jesus’ Team’s trainer): “I am very proud of Jesus, he’s a great horse. Today he didn’t have the luck to win, because Knicks Go ran again along in front. Soon Jesus will be on the top in big races. I feel proud of him.”
Michael McCarthy (Independence Hall’s trainer): “It was a huge race. I thought he got a fantastic trip. It looked like he was loaded all the way up the backside. Around the turn, obviously coming off a bad race, I was wondering and hoping he had a little bit left, and he was game.”
Todd Pletcher (Colonel Liam’s trainer): “He showed us a lot of ability in his couple of starts on the grass; we felt like he was getting better and better. We loved the way he handled the turf in the Tropical Derby and he had trained great. We were very optimistic, He’s a little less experienced than some of the other horses but I think this proves his quality. I couldn’t be more pleased with the way they all ran.”
Brendan Walsh (Prevalence’s trainer): “I thought he was a nice colt. He put in some nice work, but of course, you’re always looking for confirmation. Thankfully, we got it. It was a lovely experience, which is great for a young three-year-old first time out.”