By Mike Farrell
A tantalizing showdown between Knicks Go and Life Is Good could be just the cure for a racing fan’s winter blues.
The $3 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) on Jan. 29 at Gulfstream Park is the first headline event of the new year and it could be a classic. The track released the invitation list last week and the glitter names are Knicks Go, presumably the 2021 Horse of the Year and defending champion versus Life Is Good, the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winner.
Stop the presses … we have something to write home about.
That late January card will also include the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and the debut of the $500,000 Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf.
Knicks Go will make his first start since winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), the race that defined him as the sport’s brightest star. He bids to become the race’s first repeat champion.
Like Knicks Go, Life Is Good possesses brilliant early speed. The race could be a head-to-head showdown right from the break.
“Life Is Good we’ve been pointing for the Pegasus since the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “He got a short freshening at WinStar and he’s come in with that as our goal. Everything has gone according to plan. He’s never run at Gulfstream, but he’s the kind of horse where his style should suit Gulfstream well.”
The dynamic duo could be a terrific trio if the undefeated Flightline makes the race. Trainer John Sadler seems inclined to stay home in California with the stated goal of pointing Flightline to the Metropolitan Handicap (G1) on the Belmont Stakes (G1) undercard in June.
Racing misery in Maryland
The misery continues in Maryland where racing and training was canceled last weekend, and the future is uncertain.
The 2021 season was a rough one for Maryland owners, breeders and horsemen. The situation has now deteriorated to a point where dilapidated Pimlico is now considered an option. That’s a bad way to go.
Laurel Park has been plagued by safety issues with the racing surface and several winter storms. Knocking Maryland out of the picture is a blow to the entire Mid-Atlantic region where racing opportunities have dwindled. New Jersey once offered a year-round thoroughbred circuit that included Monmouth Park, Garden State Park, Atlantic City Race Course and the Meadowlands. All that remains in an abbreviated summer season at Monmouth and a handful of all-turf dates at the Meadowlands.
The shrinking New Jersey schedule shifted the burden to Pennsylvania (with Parx and Penn National) and Maryland to do the heavy lifting. And now Maryland is in chaos. The Maryland Jockey Club, to its credit, is working to find solutions to get training and racing back on course.
Here’s hoping it’s sooner rather than later.
Quiet weekend on the stakes front
Another quiet stakes weekend is on the immediate horizon.
Fear not … the tempo and excitement will build soon enough. State bred races dominate this Saturday’s stakes calendar. Aqueduct presents the $100,000 Franklin Square for 3-year-old filly sprinters while Gulfstream hosts a stripped-down edition of the Sunshine Millions with only a pair of stakes: the $75,000 Classic and the $75.000 Sprint. Out west, the $200,000 California Cup Derby tops the Santa Anita card.
Keep an eye on: Volcanic and Charge It
The 1-mile maiden special race for 3-year-olds last Saturday at Gulfstream produced a pair of potential stars that bear watching.
Volcanic was the winner over Charge It by a neck in a thriller that bodes well for both. Volcanic was hustled right into the race from post 10 by Edwin Gonzalez but never had an easy moment as Charge It, a first-timer trained by Pletcher, was eager for the lead from post 2. They battled side-by-side for most of the race, pulling well clear from the rest of the pack. Volcanic, making his fourth start and season debut for trainer Mark Casse, finally edged clear in the final strides.
Saratoga fans will recall Volcanic as a horse who flashed enormous potential when he missed by a head in a late July maiden race. Casse then took an aggressive stance, sending the colt into the Grade 1 Hopeful in his next start where he hit the starting gate at the break before finishing seventh at 47-1 behind dominant winner Gunite.
He was on the shelf until last weekend and returned with a substantial makeover: more distance, Lasix, and the addition of blinkers. The son of Violence has only scratched the surface of his talent.
You can’t ask much more from a horse in his debut than what Charge It delivered. Facing a more experienced foe in Volcanic, Charge It yielded grudgingly at the very end as the 7-5 favorite. Off that effort, the price will be much shorter next time out. The Tapit homebred for Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm showed the kind of determination that can carry him a long way in this game.
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.