Joseph O’Brien gatecrashes Saratoga party with longshot State Of Rest as Knicks Go ‘runs huge’ in Whitney

Horse Racing State Of Rest
State Of Rest (John Velazquez) wins the G1 Saratoga Derby for trainer Joseph O’Brien. Photo: NYRA/Janet Garagulo (Coglianese)

By Nicholas Godfrey

Saratoga Derby: State Of Rest a surprise winner

Saratoga: Saratoga Derby Invitational G1 $1m, 1m1½f, turf, 3yo
State Of Rest (Joseph O’Brien/John Velazquez)

With Bolshoi Ballet sent off a hot favourite at a shade better than 11-10, an O’Brien victory was widely forecast. So it came to pass – but not the O’Brien expected, as Joseph O’Brien eclipsed his father Aidan with 21-1 longshot State Of Rest, who finished really strongly for a decisive victory in this $1m second leg of the New York Turf Triple.

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Having missed the kick, State Of Rest was allowed to find his stride in mid-pace under John Velazquez. In contrast, Bolshoi Ballet was prominent under Ryan Moore, perhaps mindful of how his mount had laboured off the pace before staying on to win the $1m Belmont Derby a month ago.

Not only was this a shorter trip, but Saratoga is a sharper track than the ‘Big Sandy’ – but either way, the tactics did not come off as Bolshoi Ballet looked woefully one-paced in the stretch.

He was fourth after being swamped close home as State Of Rest challenged three wide to give his 28-year-old trainer another high-profile international triumph to add to his two Melbourne Cups and a Breeders’ Cup.

State Of Rest, a son of Coolmore’s Aussie sprinter Starspangledbanner, was scoring for the first time since he broke his maiden at Fairyhouse in June 2020. He won by a length over ex-French Soldier Rising, with Du Jour back in third.

Of the other European contenders, Godolphin’s Secret Protector had little chance after being marooned out the back and was nearest finish in fifth, while Cadillac weakened out of it in the stretch.

Shall we talk about it?

Joseph O’Brien: “He was unlucky not to win his last race. He ran really well and we knew that getting more distance today would suit him well. We figured this was a lovely spot and that the conditions would suit him well. We weren’t sure how he would handle this level and he had never been around these turns before, but he handled everything really well.
“I thought Johnny gave him a fantastic ride. The pace was pretty strong and he got him comfortable and came home strong. We knew he would like the firm turf and getting more distance today.”

John Velazquez: “The horse is actually a very, very nice horse and he was not really paying attention out in the post parade, so I was a little bit worried that his mind wasn’t on the business and that’s what he did. He didn’t break very well. I didn’t panic; I just saved all the ground, looking for somewhere to go down the stretch and when I got him out, he responded really good.”

Knicks Go wows in Whitney to set up Classic bid

Horse Racing Knciks Go Saratoga
Out on his own: Knicks Go (Joel Rosario) wins the Whitney at Saratoga. Photo: NYRA/Coglianese

Saratoga: Whitney Stakes G1 $1m, 1m1f, dirt, 4yo+
Knicks Go (Brad Cox/Joel Rosario)

Knicks Go is set to be pointed towards the Breeders’ Cup Classic after a commanding performance for his fourth G1 win in the $1m Whitney.

The five-year-old was a brilliant winner of the Dirt Mile at last year’s Breeders’ Cup before following up over a furlong further in the Pegasus World Cup.

Now, having demonstrated his liking for two turns in this Saratoga highlight, the grey son of Paynter is set to step up another furlong for the Classic at Del Mar on November 6.

“We’ll come up with a plan somehow,” said trainer Brad Cox. “We’ll just let the dust settle but it will probably be the Classic.”

Knicks Go’s 4½-length victory over market rival Maxfield was all the more impressive in that he had to battle to get the lead early with star filly Swiss Skydiver equally sharp at the gate. 

Once he did get in front, however, there was to be no looking back as he cruised along at a strong pace (46.76s for the half-mile) before pressing on in the stretch and winning under hands and heels in the end. Final time for the 1m1f was 1m47.70s.

Godolphin’s Maxfield fought hard for second ahead of Met Mile winner Silver State, whose six-race win streak came to an end.

Shall we talk about it?

Brad Cox (Knicks Go trainer): “He ran huge. Maybe down the lane at the sixteenth pole I thought, ‘Oh wow – he’s going to win this thing’, and at that point I was thinking, ‘what a horse. What a performance.’
“For him to go 46 and change and spread out down the backside and get away from them and just kick on at the eighth pole and have to fight off some really, really good challengers – this was an incredibly deep group of horses and I’m very proud of the effort of my horse today.
“Turning for home, I thought he’s going to have to do some running. With that big of a lead up the backside I could envision him maybe continuing to have that type of lead and maybe hold on down the lane, but he really showed some fight down the lane, and I thought, ‘Wow, they’re running at him’ – and he responded really well and kicked on home.”

Joel Rosario (Knicks Go jockey): “I was challenged a little bit going to the first turn, but [Swiss Skydiver] sent a little bit and I was just going to see what they were going to do and take it from there. I was a half-length in front going into the turn and I just decided to keep him going forward.
“The way he was moving he just skipped to the last quarter-pole. He loved what he was doing. He was very relaxed and going forward. I was really happy with the way he was going turning for home.”

Brendan Walsh (Maxfield’s trainer): “He ran his race – no excuse, really. I think the best horse won on the day. Jose said he got to a point where he thought he was going to get him but he [Knicks Go] didn’t stop and didn’t come back to him. But he ran well. Second is no disgrace. We’re always proud of this horse and there will be other days.”

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