In a young race that has enjoyed its fair share of great moments thanks to horses like Arrogate and Gun Runner, a 5-year-old with humble Maryland roots added his name to that sparkling list when the Korea Racing Authority’s Knicks Go rolled to a dazzling, front-running 2 3/4-length victory Jan. 23 in the fifth edition of the Pegasus at Gulfstream Park that left Cox gushing with pride.
“Great horses do great things and he did something great today,” Cox said. “I’m very proud of him.”
Cox’s pride is understandable considering how Knicks Go has morphed from a horse who couldn’t win to one who can’t lose since he moved into Cox’s barn last year.
A Grade 1 winner at 2 for trainer Ben Colebrook, the son of Paynter was 0-for-8 as a 3-year-old but he’s now 4-for-4 for Cox with Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and Pegasus victories in his last two starts that have placed him at the center of a remarkable renaissance tale.
“We’ve had some horses we’ve claimed who have won stakes, but I haven’t seen anything like this,” Cox said. “I wish I could say why it happened but I don’t know what was happening before. He was great at 2 and looked like a good horse when we got him.”
Now the fourth Breeders’ Cup winner to emerge victorious in the Pegasus, Knicks Go still has some running ahead of him, according to Jun Park, a representative of the KRA.
“It was an outstanding performance. We appreciate everything the [Brad Cox] team did with him. Everybody did a great job with him,” Park said. “We are honored to be here and he will continue to race.”
The next target could the $20 million Saudi Cup, a 1 1/8-mile Feb. 20 at King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh.
While Knicks Go received an automatic spot in the field for the world’s richest race through Saturday’s win, Cox knows a lot will have to go right between now and then to set up an international showdown with the Bob Baffert-trained Charlatan in the Saudi Cup.
“We’ll look at it,” Cox said. “It’s a lot to ask but we’ll let him tell us. I’d say it’s a 50-50 situation.”
Another option could be the $12 million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline, a March 27 test at 1 1/4 miles. While Saturday marked Knicks Go’s first start beyond 1 1/16 miles, Cox believes the son of the Outflanker mare Kosmo’s Buddy has the breeding to stretch his speed over a 10-furlong distance.
“He can go farther,” Cox said. “With Paynter and Awesome Again [the sire of Paynter], it’s a mile-and-a-quarter pedigree. I actually think the mile-and-a-quarter around two turns is better for him than a mile-and-an-eighth around one turn. He excels on turns.”
Knicks Go excelled from start-to-finish Saturday as he led throughout in the no raceday Lasix stakes and turned aside a bid from Grupo 7C Racing Stable’s Jesus’ Team to underscore the strength of the Dirt Mile. About 2 1/2 months ago, Knicks Go and Jesus' Team finished 1-2 at the World Championships, with Knicks Go prevailing by 3 1/2 lengths.
Jockey Joel Rosario took Knicks Go right to the lead when the field of 12 broke from the gate in the Pegasus and they were ahead by 1 1/2 lengths over 41-1 shot Last Judgment after a half-mile in :46.16.
Right behind were WinStar Farm, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Twin Creeks Racing Stables, and RKV Racing’s Independence Halland Tax, the 5-1 third choice.
As Knicks Go continued to motor along through six furlongs in 1:09.91, Last Judgment and Tax dropped back and Jesus’ Team moved up from fifth to join Independence Hall and mount the lone serious rally from the back of the pack.
Not that it mattered in deciding the outcome.
Rosario had Knicks Go in front by a comfortable three lengths at the eighth pole and covered the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:47.89.