While trainer Brad Cox has some important decisions to make in the coming weeks and months, Knicks Go may have answered one of them with an electrifying performance on memorable Aug. 7 afternoon at Saratoga Race Course.
On a day when trainer Steve Asmussen won the fifth race at the Spa to become North America's all-time leader in wins with 9,446, Knicks Go won the $925,000 Grade 1 Whitney Stakes by 4 1/2 lengths in a performance that vaulted him into the top spot among older dirt males.
"Maybe down the lane at the sixteenth pole, I thought, 'Oh wow. He's going to win this thing' and at that point I was thinking 'What a horse. What a performance.'" Cox said. "For him to go 46-and-change and spread out down the backside and get away from them and just kick on at the eighth pole and have to fight off some really good challengers. This was an incredibly deep group of horses and I'm very proud of the effort by my horse today."
By virtue of his front-running win over Godolphin's Maxfield, Korea Racing Authority's gray multiple grade 1 winner earned a free spot in the Grade 1 Longines Breeders' Cup Classic, which begs a few answers.
Will Knicks Go run in the Classic at 1 1/4 miles, a distance he has yet to cover, or will he return to defend his title in the Grade 1 Big Ass Fans Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile? Beyond that, with the Breeders' Cup three months away, what race, if any, will the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes winner use to prep for the World Championships?
After what he saw Saturday, Cox certainly was not fearful of testing the highly speedy son of Paynter at a 10-furlong distance.
"I think with the Classic being at Del Mar, it gives you a little more confidence about trying the mile-and-a-quarter as opposed to say Churchill Downs where there's a little longer stretch. He does have speed and that's his weapon which was on full display today," Cox said about the son of Outflanker mare Kosmo's Buddy bred in Maryland by Angie Moore. "We're going let the dust settle and we'll come with a plan to end up at Del Mar in either the Dirt Mile or the Classic. There's obviously a big difference in the purses but we'll see how things go."
Picking a final Breeders' Cup prep for the $5 million earner could be a tricky issue as Cox has said Knicks Go's days of running in one-turn races are over after his only two 2021 losses (both fourth-place finishes) came at a single turn and the Oct. 2 Grade 1 Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park is at one turn. The Oct. 2 Grade 3 Lukas Classic, a 1 1/8-mile two-turn stakes at Churchill Downs, could be an option.
"It's going to be a timing thing not a graded thing or purse thing," said Cox, who also trains Classic contenders Essential Quality and Mandaloun for different owners. "We just want to get a run into him between now and then."
Knicks Go's affinity for turns-with the emphasis on the plural version of the word-was quite evident in the prestigious Whitney. After breaking quickly under jockey Joel Rosario, Knicks Go and the filly Swiss Skydiver went out for the early lead. But once they reached the first turn, Knicks Go put in a dazzling burst of speed and in an instant opened a several-length lead on the 2020 Grade 1 Preakness Stakes winner.
After a half-mile in :46.76, Knicks Go was cruising along with a comfortable five-length lead. Turning for home Maxfield and Silver State took a run at him as the frontrunner floated out a bit, but in the stretch, no one could reel him in. Ahead by three lengths at the eighth pole, Knicks Go extended the margin while running a final furlong in :12.86 to cover the 1 1/8-mile in 1:47.70.
"He ran huge. He really showed some fight down the lane," Cox said.
Godolphin's Maxfield, a homebred son of Street Sense, was second by 1 3/4 lengths over Winchell Thoroughbreds and Willis Horton Racing's Silver State.
For Maxfield, it was just his second loss in nine career starts.
""It was a small field and no one took on (Knicks Go) and we tried to come and get him but he didn't back up," Walsh said. "Hats off to them but I don't think Maxfield lost anything in defeat today. He's still a very good horse."
Silver State, a son of Hard Spun who beat Knicks Go in the one-turn Grade 1 Hill 'n' Dale Metropolitan Handicap, had his six-race win-streak for Asmussen snapped on a day the Hall of Fame trainer will long remember winning an earlier race on a card that attracted a crowd of 38,525 to Saratoga and generated $36,820,234 in all-sources wagering.
2021 Whitney S.
August 7th, 2021
- Owner / Korea Racing Authority
- Breeder / Angie Moore
- Owner / Godolphin, LLC
- Breeder / Godolphin
- Owner / Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC and Willis Horton Racing LLC
- Breeder / Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings LLC
- Owner / Peter J. Callahan
- Breeder / WinStar Farm, LLC
- Owner / Allied Racing Stable, LLC and Spendthrift Farm LLC
- Breeder / Don Ladd