By Richard Rosenblatt
Knicks Go grabbed the lead from the start and delivered yet another gate-to-wire performance, winning the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
The 5-year-old gray son of Paynter is now 4-for-4 since being sent to trainer Brad Cox – all of the victories on the lead from start to finish.
Knicks Go ($4.60), owned by Korea Racing Authority, won by 2¾ lengths over Jesus’ Team, with Independence Hall third at 27-1 and Sleepy Eyes Todd fourth.
Ridden confidently by Joel Rosario, Knicks Go – the 6-5 favorite — becomes racing’s newest star with a bright future that could include lucrative trips to Saudi Arabia and Dubai, and then wind up at the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar.
Cox, a finalist for an Eclipse Award as the nation’s top trainer, was a bit concerned by the fast early pace as longshot Last Judgment challenged Knicks Go early on.
“When horses up front are going that quick, you’re always a little concerned,’’ Cox said, “but Joel has a lot of confidence in the horse and the horse has confidence in him so it worked out great. I’m very proud of him.”
The early fractions were fast – 22.90 seconds for the first quarter, 46.16 for the half and 1:09.91 for three-quarters. Winning time for the 1 1/8 miles was 1:47.89.
With the victory at the longer distance, there’s little doubt in Cox’s mind that Knicks Go (who was 2-for-14 before Cox became his trainer) can win at 1 ¼ miles – the distance of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). The $20 million Saudi Cup on Feb. 20 is run at 1,800 meters (1.12 miles); the Dubai World Cup on March 27 at 2,000 meters (1.24 miles).
“If he gets the right set up, I do believe he could get the mile-and-a- quarter,” Cox said. “The Paynter-Awesome Again line, it’s a mile-and-a-quarter pedigree.”
Asked to describe his horse in one word after the race, Cox said :“I’d say greatness.
“Great horses do great things and he just did something great.”
Code of Honor, the second choice in the betting 4-1, was fifth, followed by Coastal Defense, Kiss Today Goodbye, Last Judgment, Math Wizard, Tax, Mr Freeze, and Harpers First Ride.
Knicks Go earned $1,740,000 with the win, boosting his career earnings to $3,088,995.
Previous winners of the race include Arrogate, Gun Runner, City of Light, and Mucho Gusto.
The race turned into a Todd Pletcher turf invitational as Colonel Liam edged stablemate Largent to give the trainer a 1-2 finish in the 1 3/16-mile PWCT Invitational.
The 4-year-old gray colt purchased for $1.2 million by Robert and Lowana Low, was settled in midpack under Irad Ortiz, Jr., then taken to the outside and launched his winning run.
Sent off at 5-2, Colonel Liam returned $7 to win, and covered the distance in 1:53.09, beating Largent, who made a bold run along the rail under Paco Lopez, by a neck.
Cross Border was third, and Pletcher’s third entry, Social Paranoia was fourth in the 12-horse field.
Colonel Liam won the 1 1/16-mile Tropical Park Derby on Dec. 26 in his previous start and his win Saturday was his first in a graded stakes race. His career record is 5-4-0-0, and the winner’s share of $549,000 boosted his earnings to $690,965.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the way they all ran. It was a heck of a race between Largent and Colonel Liam at the end,’’ Pletcher said. “I thought Social Paranoia put in a huge effort from the 12 post. Just really, really happy with all three of them.”
As for Largent, Pletcher said, “He’s run 10 or 11 times now and has never been worse than second (10-7-3-0). He ran a hell of a race today and just was on the tough side of a stretch duel there.”
As for Social Paranoia, who broke from the outside 12 post, Pletcher said, “He still dug in and put his head in front at one point. He made everyone run and it was a great effort from him. I think with a little better draw he would have been a little closer.”
Pacific Gale ended a 17-race, two-year losing streak by sweeping to the lead in mid-stretch for a 2 ¾-length upset in the $200,000 Inside Information as part of the Gulfstream undercard.
Trained by John Kimmel, the 6-year-old mare won her first graded stakes race, and posted her first win since Oct. 4, 2018 in an optional claiming allowance at Belmont Park.
Sent off at 16-1 in the field of eight fillies and mares 4 and up, Pacific Gale returned $34.20 on a $2 win bet. Winning time for the 7 furlongs was 1:22.60 over the main track. Pacific Gale, ridden by John Velazquez, settled into fifth place near the rail. Leaving the far turn, some room on the outside opened up and Pacific Gale made her winning move.
Thisismytime was second, Piedi Bianci third and 2-1 favorite Cinnabunny fourth.
“It’s a really emotional time, actually. Mr. Morton, he’s my primary owner, he passed away last month and they just loved this filly. Tobey has now taken over. We’ve kind of talked about this filly. She was kind of earmarked to go to Not This Time, and I told her this filly is training better than I’ve ever seen her train up at Palm Meadows.
“I was just very optimistic about her today,’’ he added. “Even though she’s oh-fer the last two years, just to see her fire like you’ve never seen her fire was just a tremendous accomplishment for a filly that’s been a bridesmaid against some top quality horses.”
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.