Knicks Go gets one more chance Saturday to show why trainer Brad Cox called him “a very rare talent.”
The 6-year-old races for the last time in the Grade 1, $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational before starting life as a stallion. He seeks the sixth Grade 1 score of his career, including a second straight in Gulfstream Park’s marquee event for older dirt routers.
Knicks Go will go down as a two-time Breeders’ Cup hero with one of those wins coming in the World Championships’ richest event, the Classic. That victory last November plus wins in the Pegasus and Saratoga’s Whitney Stakes (G1) make him a surefire bet to win 2021 Horse of the Year honors Feb. 10 when the Eclipse Awards are announced.
Would a second Pegasus triumph – this one against flashy up-and-comer Life Is Good – solidify his spot in the Hall of Fame?
“I would think that’s he’s probably worthy of being in the Hall of Fame now,” Cox said. “Obviously, I’m a touch biased.”
Five U.S.-based Thoroughbreds who raced in 2010 or later have been inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame: American Pharoah, Rachel Alexandra, Royal Delta, Wise Dan and Zenyatta.
A sixth Grade 1 win would tie Knicks Go with Royal Delta in that category and give him one more than Rachel Alexandra. He already matched Royal Delta, Wise Dan and Zenyatta as a two-time Breeders’ Cup winner and American Pharoah and Zenyatta as a Classic victor.
“I think (a second Pegasus win) could definitely help,” Cox said, “but I’m hopeful he’s already in someday.”
That the Hall of Fame is in reach for Knicks Go is a testament to the horse’s rise in prominence the last 16 months.
As a 2-year-old in 2018, Knicks Go upset Keeneland’s Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at 70-1 odds for trainer Ben Colebrook. The Maryland-bred son of Paynter then ran a game second to Game Winner as a 41-1 long shot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Knicks Go did not build on that success from 2 to 3. He went 0-for-8 in his sophomore season, missing the board in all six of his graded-stakes starts.
Cox assumed training duties for the 2020 season. The trainer remembered watching Knicks Go’s Breeders’ Futurity and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile efforts and thought placing him in allowance flight would “just let him get his feet underneath of him."
“He’s always had a lot of talent,” Cox said. “But he went through a 3-year-old patch where he just wasn’t what he was at 2 or what he is now. For him to reverse form and get back to his winning ways is really amazing.”
Knicks Go won an Oaklawn Park allowance that February in his first start for the new barn, but an injury put him on the shelf until the fall.
At that point, Knicks Go could have gone off to stud as a Grade 1 winner. Retirement discussions took place, but owner Korea Racing Authority chose to place him back in training.
Knicks Go returned to the starting gates in an allowance race in October 2020 at Keeneland. He promptly blazed through 1 1/16 miles in a track record 1:40.79, winning by 10 1/4 lengths and stamping himself worthy of a Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile invitation.
The Dirt Mile five weeks later over the same Keeneland oval was another Knicks Go romp. He kicked clear near the eighth pole and was geared down by jockey Joel Rosario to a 3 1/2-length win while setting another track record, this one 1:33.85 for a mile.
“Listen, I told people all along, … when this horse was running in (an allowance race), I never envisioned he’d be running in the Breeders’ Cup five weeks later, let alone winning,” Cox said. “He’s a horse that we just kind of let him do his thing.”
The Dirt Mile was a catapult to bigger things in 2021. He made seven starts last season and won five of them, including all five of his races at two turns.
Knicks Go led at every call of his three biggest victories, the Pegasus, Whitney and Breeders’ Cup Classic, and won those races by margins of 2 3/4 lengths, 4 1/2 lengths, and 2 3/4 lengths, respectively. He defeated 11 fellow Grade 1 winners between that trio of events, including Essential Quality, Maxfield, Medina Spirit and Silver State.
“He’s developed as he’s gotten older and gotten better,” Cox said. “I think that’s the one thing that’s taught me a lot over the last couple of years with horses.
“They get older. Sometimes they get faster. Sometimes they go the wrong way. Oftentimes they do due to injury or being not as good as we were hoping they were. But he’s been one that’s developed.”
Entering his career finale Saturday, Knicks Go sports a 24: 10-3-1 record with $8,673,135 earned.
There is precedent for Knicks Go's attempt to cap a standout career in the Pegasus. Gun Runner (2018) and City of Light (2019) both finished their time on the track with Pegasus scores months after winning Breeders’ Cup events to end the preceding year.
“For a horse like Knicks Go,” Cox said, “it’s his one last chance to show his brilliance before he’s off to stud.”