The 5-year-old son of Paynter entered off a dominant win in November at Keeneland in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and made the Pegasus the third Grade 1 score of his career. Knicks Go covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.89, returning $4.60 as the 6-5 favorite.
Knicks Go is the winner of the 2021 Pegasus World Cup! :racehorse: pic.twitter.com/HgYbSTJ2qq— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) January 23, 2021
“Great horses do great things,” Cox, an Eclipse Award finalist for 2020’s top trainer, told NBC. “He just did something great.”
Knicks Go went to the lead under jockey Joel Rosario, as expected, but long shot Last Judgment hustled him through the early fractions. He went 22.90, 46.16 and 1:09.91 through the first six furlongs.
Turning for home, Knicks Go held a length lead and showed no signs of slowing down. He drew off from there, geared down in the final stages by Rosario to win by 2 3/4 lengths.
“When a horse is up front and they’re going that quick, you’re always a little bit concerned,” Cox said. “Joel, he 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.”
Jesus’ Team crossed second behind Knicks Go, just as he did in the Dirt Mile. Finishing third was Independence Hall.
The Pegasus World Cup marked Knicks Go’s first try at 1 1/8 miles and the 5-year-old proved he had no problem with that distance. Knicks Go could try nine furlongs again next month in the $20 million Saudi Cup, to which he received an automatic berth with his Pegasus victory.
“It’s a very prestigious race," Cox said of the Pegasus, which ran Saturday for the fifth time. "I know it hasn’t been around that long, but when you look at past winners, it’s a very prestigious list of horses that have won it – world champions, actually, with Gun Runner and Arrogate.
“They weren’t just national horses. They competed and won on the world stage, so it’s a big race.”
Korea Racing Authority campaigns the Maryland-bred Knicks Go, who now sports a career ledger of 18: 6-3-1 with nearly $3.1 million in earnings. Four of those victories have come since he joined Cox's barn for the 2020 season.
Ben Colebrook formerly conditioned Knicks Go, who upset Keeneland's Breeders' Futurity (G1) in October 2018 at 70-1 odds. He and Code of Honor were the only two multiple Grade 1 winners entering the 2021 Pegasus, which lost star power due to Tiz the Law's sudden retirement and trainer Bob Baffert's decision to train Charlatan up to the Saudi Cup.
“He’s a very special horse," Rosario said of Knicks Go. "He just goes faster and faster. …He was really enjoying what he was doing out there, so I was never worried about somebody getting close to me.”
For Jesus' Team, Saturday's runner-up effort marked another board-hitting performance in a high-profile race. The Jose D'Angelo trainee ran third behind Swiss Skydiver and Authentic last October at Pimlico in the Preakness Stakes, then was second as a 63-1 shot in the Dirt Mile.
Jesus' Team entered the Pegasus off a Gulfstream victory last month in the Claiming Crown Jewel Stakes. The 4-year-old went off Saturday an 11-1 shot under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. and never threatened Knicks Go but was best of the rest.
"The horse put me in a nice position," Ortiz said. "I just waited for my time to go and he responded when I asked. At the 3/8-pole, he started picking it up real good, but the winner was much the best."
Another 4-year-old, Independence Hall, juiced up the trifecta by running third Saturday as a 27-1 long shot for trainer Michael McCarthy, who saddled City of Light to 2019 Pegasus glory. He bobbled at the break but recovered to stalk Knicks Go before Jesus' Team passed him in the final yards before the wire.
"He broke well and put me in the race without asking him for anything," Independence Hall jockey Flavien Prat said. "I was traveling well. To be honest with you, at the quarter pole I though I was going to make a move on Knicks Go but he was too good.”
Finishing fourth through 12th Saturday were Sleepy Eyes Todd, Code of Honor, Coastal Defense, Kiss Today Goodbye, Last Judgment, Math Wizard, Tax, Mr Freeze and Harpers First Ride.