By Mike Farrell
Lately in thoroughbred racing, it’s Brad Cox’s world … and we’re just living in it.
Cox is on a seemingly unstoppable roll with four victories in the most recent Breeders’ Cup, the long-range favorite for the Kentucky Derby (G1) in Essential Quality and his first designation as an Eclipse Award finalist for Trainer of the Year.
We’ll discover Saturday if the Cox express is still barreling full speed down the track when he sends out Knicks Go in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Park.
As we’ve seen recently, you wager against the Cox onslaught at your financial peril.
Knicks Go, the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winner, is the 5-2 favorite in the first big-money event of the year.
Things keep falling in place for Cox. Under any circumstances, Knicks Go would be a viable PWCI contender. He moves way up the scale in a field that lost many leading figures from last year to retirement pastures.
Can’t fault a horse, or a trainer, for being in the right place at the right time.
Knicks Go has been viciously good since switching from Ben Colebrook to the Cox barn for the 2020 campaign. The roan 5-year-old is a perfect 3-for-3 after the transfer.
He doesn’t simply win for Cox. He annihilates the competition with brazen speed that runs rivals off their feet.
If there is any knock, it’s the distance question. Knicks Go is untested at 1 1/8 miles.
“I’m a big believer that speed is good at a mile-and-an-eighth and beyond,” Cox said. “Obviously, it depends on how much other speed is in the race.”
That begs the larger question: who might be the sacrificial victim pushing and pressing Knicks Go in the early stages? If you don’t soften him early, it’s hard to catch him late.
“Once he gets free and loose, he runs with a lot of confidence,” Cox said.
And the bettors start running to the windows to cash their tickets.
Joel Rosario has the return call.
The return to Gulfstream might be the needed tonic for Code of Honor, the 9-2 second choice. He had a nice run here in the winter/spring of 2019, winning the Fountain of Youth (G2) and finishing third in the Florida Derby (G1). That was the prelude to a highly productive, and controversial, 3-year-old campaign in which he was elevated to second in the Kentucky Derby when Maximum Security was disqualified from the victory and was subsequently placed first over Vino Rosso in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1).
His 4-year-old campaign was nothing special, featuring a lone victory in the Westchester Stakes (G3).
John Velazquez didn’t stick around for another try. He bailed out to take the mount on longshot Mr Freeze (15-1), second in this race to Mucho Gusto last year.
Tyler Gaffalione picks up the Code of Honor assignment.
“He rides this racetrack very well and he’s very familiar with it,” trainer Shug McGaughey said. “He’s a very patient rider and that’s what Code of Honor wants.”
Value shoppers should give Harpers First Ride a long look at 10-1. He has won three of his last four in Maryland, including the Pimlico Special (G3).
Trainer Claudio Gonzalez is having another fine meet at Laurel, operating away from the national spotlight. He sends out a horse with the ideal stalking style to pick up the pieces should Knicks Go falter.
The Pegasus, and the companion event, the $1 M Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1), top a 12-race card that gets underway at 11:40 a.m. (ET). NBC provides live coverage from 4:30-6 p.m. (ET).
The Pegasus is a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the $20 million Saudi Cup. The Pegasus Turf sends that winner to the $1 million Middle Distance Turf Handicap. Both stakes are Feb. 20 at Riyadh.
Todd Pletcher sends out three entrants for the Pegasus Turf: Colonel Liam (7-2), Largent (9-2) and Social Paranoia (8-1).
Colonel Liam was a winner over the course most recently in the Tropical Park Derby. It was the third win in five starts for the gray 4-year-old. A Pegasus win would justify his $1.2 million purchase price as a 2-year-old.
“We’ve always had high hopes for him, so it’s nice to see him living up to those,” Pletcher said.
One of the more notable names in the Pegasus Turf is Storm the Court (12-1), the stunning 45-1 upset winner of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on the main track.
He is winless in eight races since then, switching from dirt to turf for trainer Peter Eurton.
Mike Farrell has worked in thoroughbred and harness racing for much of his career in journalism. Mike is a turf writer, harness writer, and handicapper, covering and analyzing races at dozens of racetracks around the country. Based on the East Coast, Mike has covered the Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup for a number of publications, including Daily Racing Form, as well as The Associated Press. He spends time at Gulfstream Park taking in the races, and also hits the harness racing circuit in the Northeast region. He’s been a fixture at The Hambletonian and the Haskell Invitational for longer than he’d like to remember.