Knicks Go Ends Horse Of The Year Debate With Front-Running Breeders’ Cup Classic Win

Sent straight to the lead at the start by Joel Rosario, Korea Racing Authority’s Knicks Go was never headed in Saturday’s Grade 1, $6-million Breeders’ Cup Classic in Del Mar, Calif., repelling a challenge from Hot Rod Charlie at the top of the stretch, then drawing away to a 2 3/4-length victory to give trainer Brad Cox his first victory in the Classic and clinch Horse of the Year for the 5-year-old Maryland-bred son of Paynter.

Medina Spirit, winner of the G1 Kentucky Derby, finished second, with G1 Belmont and G1 Travers Stakes winner Essential Quality three-quarters of a length back in third and G1 Pennsylvania Derby winner Hot Rod Charlie another length back in fourth in the field of nine. Stilleto Boy, Art Collector, Tripoli and Max Player completed the order of finish. Express Train was scratched from the race Saturday morning.

Knicks Go covered 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 1:59.57 after setting fractions of :23.16, :45.77, 1:10.04 and 1:35.28. The track record of 1:59.11 was set by Candy Ride in the 2003 Pacific Classic.  Knicks Go paid $8.40 on a $2 win mutuel.

Going into the Breeders’ Cup, leading Horse of the Year candidates included the Cox-trained duo of Knicks Go and Essential Quality, along with Bob Baffert-trained Medina Spirit competing in the Classic. Distaff favorite Letruska and Sprint favorite Jackie’s Warrior rated outside chances if the Classic resulted in an upset. They both lost, however, and Knicks Go’s dominating performance ended any debate on the subject.

Bred by Angie Moore out of the Outflanker mare Kosmo’s Buddy, Knicks Go was competing in his third Breeders’ Cup race. In 2018, when trained by Ben Colebrook, Knicks Go finished second to Game Winner in the G1 Juvenile after posting a wire-to-wire win at Keeneland in the G1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity. That runner-up finish in the Juvenile  commenced a 10-race losing streak that continued until the conclusion of 2019, after which Knicks Go was transferred to Cox.

Knicks Go won all three of his races for Cox in 2020, culminating with a wire-to-wire victory in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland, then scored a similar victory around two turns in the G1 Pegasus Invitational at Gulfstream Park in January of this year.

Cox discovered Knicks Go was not as effective going one turn after fourth-place finishes in the G1 Saudi Cup in Saudi Arabia in February and G1 Metropolitan Mile Handicap in June. He found an easy spot for Knicks Go to dominate by 10 1/4 lengths in the G3 Cornhusker Handicap July 2 at Prairie Meadows, then scored by 4 1/2 lengths in the G1 Whitney in Saratoga on Aug. 7. His final prep before the Breeders’ Cup came in the G3 Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs, where he cruised to a four-length victory at 1-10 odds.

Going in to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the only question that remained was whether Knicks Go could stretch his devastating speed out to a mile and a quarter, a furlong farther than he had ever traveled. He answered that question resoundingly as the sun was setting over the Pacific Ocean in Del Mar late Saturday afternoon.

“He ran a tremendous race,” said Cox. “Obviously, the race went really well. He broke, was able to establish position early. Once he was able to do that, he’s a hard horse to catch. I’m very proud of him.”

Breaking from the No. 5 post position, Rosario sent Knicks Go to the lead, with Bill Mott-trained Art Collector, front-running winner of the G1 Woodward, trying to press him early from the outside under Mike Smith. Medina Spirit and jockey John Velazquez tried to keep up with the top pair, going three wide around the clubhouse turn.

As the field raced down the backstretch, Knicks Go was moving comfortably with a clear lead ahead of Art Collector. Hot Rod Charlie and Flavien Prat were saving ground on the inside and gained on the leader on the turn for home, briefly challenging Knicks Go as Rosario allowed him to drift well off the rail.

That challenge was brief, however, as Knicks Go found another gear approaching the eighth pole and cruised to the wire without ever being seriously threatened.

“We had a beautiful trip,” said Rosario. “He does exactly what he wants to do. I tried to save as much as I could, because we had a mile and one quarter to go. But he was going easy. At the quarter pole he just took off again. He’s just an amazing horse.”

The victory was the 10th from 24 starts for Knicks Go and the $3,120,000 winner’s share of the purse increased his career earnings to $8,673,135. He will stand at Taylor Made Farm in Nicholasville, Ky., upon his retirement.

“I think the speed he has, I mean, he’s built for American racing on the dirt,” said Cox. “That’s what he’s done and I’m hopeful that he’ll pass that on to his offspring. … He’s got everything it takes to be a stallion.

“He’s traveled around the world and he’s a very tough, durable horse,” Cox continued. “He’s extremely sound. And I think we’re in a day and age where horses go to stud so early and he’s a little bit of a throwback horse in that he’s raced at 4 and 5 and raced as much as he has. So very proud of what he has accomplished this year and ending last year and hopefully he’ll pass it on as a stallion.”

Comments from other connections:

Trainer Brad Cox (Essential Quality, third) – “It looked like he was down on the inside. He stayed on. He ran well. I’m hopeful that is worthy of a championship honor for him. He’s been running all year. I thought he was the leader in the clubhouse and hopefully that was enough to get him a 3-year-old Eclipse championship.

“I feel fantastic. It was tough to watch both of those horses run against each other. It will kind of take a while for this to sink in. I’m very proud of both horses. It was a big effort by both horses. They showed up and ran their races. It was a big day.”

Trainer Bob Baffert (Medina Spirit, second) – “John (Velazquez) said he broke just a step slow, so he couldn’t be laying there where Mike (Smith) was, a little bit closer. I’m very proud of him. He ran a great race. The winner was just too much. I’m proud of the fact that he showed today that he beat those 3-year-olds. To me, he’s the best 3-year-old. He showed it today. That’s what racing is all about, proving it on the racetrack. And he proved it today that he’s the real deal.”

Jockey John Velazquez (Medina Spirit, second) – “I broke slow and by the wire the first time I had to take a little hold of him. I gave him his head around the first turn and around the second turn he came running and kept running. Who’s the best 3-year-old now?”

Jockey Luis Saez (Essential Quality, third) – “I wasn’t expecting the pace to be that slow. Everything was a mess. I thought there was going to be a lot of pace, but the plan was to wait, sit still and make one move but the pace was so slow, we couldn’t do anything.”

Trainer Doug O’Neill (Hot Rod Charlie, fourth) – “He ran a gutsy race. I’m super proud of Charlie.”

Jockey Flavien Prat (Hot Rod Charlie, fourth) – “I was in a good spot, able to save ground, and he ran his race. He made a move but they were just better than us today.”

Trainer Ed Moger Jr. (Stilleto Boy, fifth) – “He ran hard. There were four really good horses in front of him. He probably could have had a little bit better trip, but Kent (Desormeaux) rode the horse great. He did exactly what we said, we wanted to lay off the pace and let the speed go. He probably wasn’t good enough. We’re happy. Happy to be here.”

Jockey Kent Desormeaux (Stilleto Boy, fifth) – “I couldn’t have dreamt of a better race situation for the horse, he really carried me very well. And these are some very good horses.”

Trainer Bill Mott (Art Collector, sixth) – “It’s hard to deny the winner. We put the pressure on him. We were close. Johnny (Velazquez on Medina Spirit) wound up being second. I don’t have any excuses right now other than we went pretty fast early, but we were trying to win the race.”

Jockey Mike Smith (Art Collector, sixth) – “He broke well and we were tracking right behind (Knicks Go). On the backstretch, he started running with his head up, then just came up empty.”

Jockey Victor Espinoza (Tripoli, seventh) – “There’s not much to say. We were able to save ground, but couldn’t keep up.”

Trainer Steve Asmussen (Max Player, eighth) – “He just didn’t run his race here.”

Jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. (Max Player, eighth) – “I don’t know what to say. I don’t know if it was the track but he didn’t fire today.”

The post Knicks Go Ends Horse Of The Year Debate With Front-Running Breeders’ Cup Classic Win appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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