Division Rankings: Knicks Go on top, but for how long?

Division Rankings: Knicks Go on top, but for how long?
Photo: Derbe Glass

Knicks Go lived up to his billing as the strong 6-5 favorite in last weekend's Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup, easily defeating the 11 others who lined up against him. It was another tour-de-force performance and even better than his Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile track record win.

Normally, I would be eagerly awaiting what was next for the son of Paynter. But there is cause for pause here.

A Grade 1 winner at age 2, Knicks Go was a huge disappointment at age 3, going winless in eight starts. In a stunning reversal of form, Knicks Go is now in the midst of a career renaissance.

But the win in the Pegasus may be bittersweet.

Knicks Go is slated to be the star stallion for the Korean Racing Authority, and there was doubt about his racing future after the Breeders' Cup Mile.

After some time, the connections made the decision to run in the Pegasus World Cup and likely to keep him racing throughout 2021. But the Pegasus win added significantly to his asking price when it's time to begin his stallion career, and it may also mean he heads to the stud farm faster than anyone anticipated.

"It's a race that can make a stallion, and we're still trying to do that with Knicks Go," trainer Brad Cox said prior to the Pegasus. "Not only is it a great purse, but it's going to add a lot of value if he's able to win the race. If the right offer came up, it would be a possibility that he would be retired. The better he runs, the better that possibility is."

Knicks Go is easily the No. 1 ranked Older Dirt Male in the debut of the 2021 rankings, and an announcement is coming any day on the possibility of the Saudi Cup being his next race. I know I can speak for most racing fans who hope the connections keep Knicks Go in training for a potential showdown against Charlatan in the Saudi Cup.

Knicks Go has been so good in the four races since he was moved to the Brad Cox barn that we need to see more. Just how good is he? Can get duplicate his brilliance at 10 furlongs? After what I saw in the Pegasus, fast fractions and all, I am convinced he will have no problems with 10 furlongs. I just hope we get to find out later this season.

Don't confuse my pessimistic take on his racing future with my opinion on his talent and his place atop the sport right now. Should he win the Saudi Cup, he will have accomplished a historic feat. If kept in training for the entirety of 2021, he could race his way into the Hall of Fame — that is how good I think this guy is right now.

I believe the connections indeed will head to Saudi Arabia or perhaps Dubai for his next start, but I would be very surprised if he ran again after that. Given his value as a stallion to his connections, I won't fault them for retiring Knicks Go.

Whatever happens, Knicks Go certainly made an impression on me these last four races.

With that, here is a look at this week's Division Rankings.

Older dirt males

1. Knicks Go – Simply ran them off their feet in the Pegasus. With wins in his last four starts, there is only one horse I think who can run with him: Charlatan.

. Charlatan – His Malibu win in December was sublime, and now he heads to the Saudi Cup where an early season showdown with Knicks Go would have the racing world's attention.

3. Jesus' Team – Yes, he belongs here. He deserves this No. 3 ranking. I was not a believer, but now I am. His runner-up in the Pegasus was solid, and prior he was again runner-up to Knicks Go in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.

4. Maxfield – Unbeaten in four starts, he has trouble staying healthy enough to race but did return from a seven-month layoff in December to win the Tenacious Stakes at Gulfstream. Put in a work last Monday as well.

5. Happy Saver  – Won the Jockey Club Gold Cup last year at age 3, expected back this season.

Next 5: By My StandardsTacitus, Performer, Title Ready, Mystic Guide.

Older dirt females

1. Monomoy Girl – A certain Hall of Famer, she won her second Breeders' Cup Distaff. She now has the remarkable record of 13 wins in 15 starts. She will be back in 2021 at age 6 and is scheduled to make her first start at Oaklawn, in the Bayakoa (G3) on Feb. 15.

2. Swiss Skydiver – The Preakness winner over the presumptive Horse of the Year, Authentic, in 2020, she will be back this season. her 2020 season was historic, but history shows that she will be hard pressed to maintain that form at age 4. Might run in the Saudi Cup.

3. Gamine – Dominant winner of the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, she will be back in the spring. I expect her connections to try to stretch her out once again.

4. Sanenus – This daughter of Scat Daddy was scintillating in the La Canada (G3) in her first start of 2021. She was bred in Chile, and her first eight starts took place in Chile. She came to the United States last summer and has run four times, getting better each time. Now fully acclimated, she could make noise in this division. We have seen several future female stars in this division come from South America before.

5. Valiance – Won the Spinster last fall, then was a very good runner-up to Monomoy Girl in the Breeders' Cup. She is expected back in 2021.

Next 5:  Shedaresthedevil, Harvest Moon, Vexatious, Speech, Hard Not to Love.

-year-old males

1. Essential Quality – Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner likely will win the Eclipse and is slated to return next month. Has a hold on this spot for now.

2. Jackie's Warrior – He starts the year off here at No. 2 after a stellar juvenile campaign where he did very little wrong. The two turns might have been his undoing in the Breeders' Cup. He had the lead turning for home but yielded in the stretch and finished fourth, beaten a little over three lengths. He will have every chance to prove himself in the coming weeks.

3. Keepmeinmind - Flattered the top one with his race after his Breeders' Cup Juvenile third place finish, a win in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in late November.

4. Life is Good – Newcomer broke his maiden in late November and then won the season's first test, the one-mile Sham (G3) at Santa Anita. Yes, it was a nice race, but who did he really beat? I am skeptical of him going longer.

5. Hot Rod Charlie – Fresh off of a maiden win at Santa Anita, this guy almost shocked the world in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, just missing by 3/4 of a length at 94-1 odds as the runner-up. Will start his season in the Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita.

Next 5: Midnight Bourbon, Fire at Will, Golden Pal, Highly Motivated, Brooklyn Strong.

3-year-old females

1. Vequist – The two turns and 8 1/2 furlongs of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies is exactly what this gal needed as she was two lengths clear of Dayoutoftheoffice for the win. She finished her 2020 season with two Grade 1 wins. Will start her season at Gulfstream in the Davona Dale on Feb. 27.

2. Dayoutoftheoffice – The Frizette (G1) winner ran her race in the Breeders' Cup, but she couldn't hold of Vequist this time around.  Remember, she defeated Vequist in the Frizette, but that was at a mile around one turn. She too could be headed to the Davona Dale.

3. Girl Daddy – The best of the Midwest heading into last fall's Breeders' Cup, Girl Daddy looked like a contender as they entered the stretch in the Juvenile Fillies but was beaten a nose for the place spot by Dayoutoftheoffice.

4. Aunt Pearl - Three grass starts and three daylight wins. Her win last out in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf came at the expense of 13 others, five of whom were from overseas. Look for her to run overseas this season.

5. Travel Column – Third in the Alcibiades (G1), her stakes debate, to Simply Ravishing, she avenged that loss in her last start, a win in the Golden Rod (G2) at Churchill Downs.

Next 5: Malathaat, Varda, Simply Ravishing, Campanelle, Kalypso

Turf males

1. Channel Maker – Love the move by his connections to possibly point him to Saudi Arabia and Dubai for his first two starts of 2021. Back on the work tab now, and he is expected to run next in either the 2,100-meter, $1 million Middle Distance Turf Cup or the Long Distance Turf Handicap, run over 3,000 meters, both in Saudi Arabia next month.

2. Zulu Alpha – Missed the Breeders' Cup with an injury but was one of the best in this division in 2020. Will return in 2021.

3. Colonel Liam – Rolled late to win the Pegasus World Cup Turf by a neck. Prior to that, he won the ungraded Tropical Park Derby. The win in the Pegasus came over an extremely weak field, as Grade 1 events go.

4. Ivar – The winner of the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) last season, he came running at the end of the Breeders' Cup Mile but it was too late as he finished fourth, beaten less than two lengths. Will be back in 2021.

5. Mo Forza – Was brilliant in a short two race injury shortened campaign in 2020.  If he can stay healthy in 2021, he will be an Eclipse contender,

Next 5:
Arklow, United, Domestic Spending, Laccario, Largent.

Turf females

1. Mean Mary -
 Occupied this spot for a few weeks in 2020, she starts off 2021 at No. 1 based on her stellar campaign from last year.

Harvey's Lil Goil – She almost won the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf last season at age 3. She is back in 2021 and will be a player in this division.

Viadera - Winner of her last three starts, which included the Grade 1 Matriarch at Del Mar in late November.

4. Mucho Unusual - Now in the best form of her 19-race career, she has won two graded stakes in the last month. Won the Grade 1 Rodeo Drive last fall as well.

Jolie Olimpica – Returned from a six-month layoff to finish runner-up in the Las Cienegas (G3) a couple weeks back. Was one of the best in this division in 2020.

Next 5: Blowout, Civil Union, Quick, Magic Attitude, Always Shopping.

Male sprinters

1. Whitmore – Nearly four and a half years after his 19th-place finish to Nyquist in the 2016 Kentucky Derby, this guy wins the biggest race of his career, the Breeders' Cup Sprint, last fall. Now an 8-year-old, can he still compete in Grade 1 company? I wouldn't bet against it.

2. Charlatan – Has to be ranked here for now, but I doubt his connections will keep him sprinting. If they did, he would likely take over the top spot. Was sensational in his last, a win in the 7-furlong Malibu (G1) at Santa Anita in December.

3. C Z Rocket – His five-race win streak came to end in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, but only Whitmore beat him first to the wire. Won the Pat O'Brien last August and the Santa Anita Sprint Championship in his prior two starts. He is set to make his 2021 debut at Oaklawn.

4. Firenze Fire - Now a 6-year-old, he continues to fire in almost every race. A winner of three graded stakes last season, he finished a good third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Was recently a close second in the Mr. Prospector Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park in late December.

5. Nashville - Might be a bit high in this spot, but I will forgive his last out loss to Charlatan in the Malibu and give him another chance. He was sensational in three prior starts sprinting.

Next 5: Wildman Jack, Sleepy Eyes Todd, Yaupon, Vertical Threat, Empire of Gold.

Meet Chip Gehrke

Chip Gehrke has been with Horse Racing Nation since 2015 and currently serves as a Featured Writer. Based outside of Chicago, Chip can be found in the press box many weekends during the Arlington Park meet. The On The Air With Dr. Derby name originates from his local sports radio show appearances as an on-air racing expert. Now also a weekly contributor on FOX Sports radio's "The Fast Track," Chip can be heard giving his thoughts on the racing world every weekend.

In 2017, Chip was chosen to be a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association. As a part of the NTWAB, Chip became a voter for the year-end Eclipse Awards, something he takes very seriously. Some of Chip's favorite writings from the last couple of years is the best way to get to know him, along with following him on Twitter at @doctorderby.

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