Tom Pedulla presents five key takeaways from the command performance of Knicks Go in the Lukas Classic Stakes at Churchill Downs and other major developments on the Road to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships on Nov. 5 and 6 at Del Mar:
GATE TO WIRE: Trainer Brad Cox got the easy prep for the $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic that he wanted as Knicks Go popped out of the starting gate and never looked back in coasting to a four-length victory against Independence Hall in the Lukas Classic. Confidently ridden by Joel Rosario, Knicks Go blazed the mile and an eighth in a stakes-record 1:47.85 for the eighth edition of the race. The track record stands at 1:47.28, set by Victory Gallop in 1999. “He’s a fast horse and he’s dangerous when he gets to show that speed around two turns,” Cox said. “Joel gave him an easy trip on the front end. He seemed like he was able to take a breather and open back up around the turn. On to the Breeders’ Cup!” Or as track announcer Travis Stone exclaimed after the emphatic victory, “It’s Knicks All Systems Go to the Breeders’ Cup!”
ON TO JUVENILE: Jack Christopher, making only his second career start, secured a berth in the $2 million TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, the centerpiece of Future Stars Friday on Nov. 5 at Del Mar, with a decisive score in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park. The son of Munnings had dominated his debut by 8 ¾ lengths on Aug. 28 at Saratoga Race Course. He handled the huge step up to the Champagne with ease, crossing the wire 2 ¾ lengths ahead of Commandperformance for trainer Chad Brown and jockey Jose Ortiz. “He was a horse that identified himself as early on as his first work,” Brown said. “I was on the phone with the connections saying, ‘This is potentially a really good horse. I can’t believe what I just saw.’ He’s just been brilliant in every work. There was some buzz around him before he ran and he lived up to it.”
STREAKING: Bruce Lunsford’s homebred Art Collector made it three in a row since Hall of Famer Bill Mott took over his training in winning the Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park by 1 ½ lengths to secure his first Grade 1 victory. Art Collector and jockey Luis Saez completed the mile and an eighth in 1:49.22, filling Mott with confidence that they should take a shot at the Longines Classic. “I’m not afraid. I’ll talk to Mr. Lunsford. He makes the final decision, but I don’t know what we have to lose,” Mott said. “I’d run him a mile and a quarter. A mile and an eighth hasn’t been a problem for him, so why would I cut him back?” Art Collector previously won the Alydar Stakes at Saratoga and the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic at Charles Town Races for his new barn.
OVERCOMING ADVERSITY: Even the loss of jockey Flavien Prat’s right rein could not keep Dr. Schivel from a 3 ¼-length triumph in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes at Santa Anita Park and a fees-paid berth in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint. “I just had the left rein after we left the chute at around the five- and-a-half (furlong) mark. It was kind of scary. This has never happened to me before,” Prat said. “The horse was very proficient. Everything was normal otherwise.” Dr. Schivel clocked 1:09.44 for the six furlongs. In his previous start, in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar on July 31, he defeated older horses, helping to stamp him as potentially the top choice in the Sprint.
SPIRITED WINNER: Controversial Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve winner Medina Spirit displayed his indisputable quality with a front-running five-length victory in the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita to gain a fees-paid berth in the Classic. “He’s not very big, he’s not very beautiful. But, obviously, he’s all heart and you can’t ask for anything else,” said winning jockey John Velazquez. “The way he ran (Saturday), that was impressive. Maybe they will give him the credit he deserves now.” Medina Spirit’s Derby victory was tainted when he tested positive for betamethasone, a corticosteroid that is banned on raceday. Trainer Bob Baffert has been embroiled in a legal battle since then. Owned by Zedan Racing Stables, Medina Spirit won for the fifth time in nine career starts. He has never finished off the board, pending the long-awaited ruling on the Derby outcome.