From the ashes rises the Phoenix. Were they talking about a racehorse when they made that famous statement? Well, we are because it absolutely pertains to the magnificent Knicks Go as he prepares for the final start of his racing career.
Back in 2018, this now six-year old son of Paynter shocked the Thoroughbred racing world as a 70-1 longshot that enjoyed a spectacular gate-to-wire win in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. Trained at the time by Ben Colebrook, Knicks Go followed that up with a solid second place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Five starts into his career a record of two wins, a second, and a third rallied thoughts of superstar three-year old and dreams of Kentucky Derby glory.
As can be the case for many hopeful young horses, things did not go according to plan. Nine starts and a year later, Knicks Go still had only two career wins to his credit. Maybe this brilliantly marked Maryland-bred wasn’t what people originally thought.
The calendar turned to 2020 and ownership decided it was time for a leadership change. Transferring their $87,000 yearling purchase to the barn of Brad Cox, Korea Racing Authority held hopes this hard-working conditioner could cultivate this once-coveted colt back into a winner.
As arguably the top trainer in the game today, Cox instituted a program for this speed merchant and saw immediate results. A 7 ½ length front-running score in an allowance race at Oaklawn Park on February 22 broke the losing streak. After a summer strictly in the training program, October 4 saw Knicks Go roll to a 10 ½ length win in gate-to-wire fashion in allowance company at Keeneland. Giving him a shot at Breeders’ Cup glory with a start in the Dirt Mile on November 7, Knicks Go responded with another resounding win. Establishing a new Keeneland track record for the distance (1:33.85), it appeared as though Brad Cox had certainly found the light switch. Spreading his wings even more, Knicks Go opened 2021 by flying gate-to-wire in the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on January 23.
“We had no idea Knicks Go was going to be this kind of horse”, says Cox. “We knew we had inherited a horse with talent. He was a grade 1 winner at two, but people would have thought we were crazy if we had said he’s going to set a track record in the Breeders’ Cup and win the Pegasus. Honestly, the allowance race at Keeneland was going to be a prep for a start in the Clark at Churchill in late November. When he ran such an eye-popping race there we thought, why not try the Dirt Mile.”
The four-race win streak was broken in an overseas trip for the Saudi Cup and the one turn
Met Mile was not to his liking either. Loving two-turn races, Knick Go got back to his winning ways with a blistering score in the Cornhusker at Prairie Meadows on July 2. The mile and an eighth whipping he put on a very talented Whitney field at Saratoga on August 7 was legendary. A tour de force triumph in the Lukas Classic at Churchill in September was another jaw-dropper. Closing his 2021 campaign with perhaps the most impressive win, Knicks Go became a Breeders’ Cup champion again. In his first-ever start at a mile and a quarter, Cox’s charge amazingly carried his incredible speed throughout. Finishing a geared down 2 ¾ lengths ahead and covering the distance in 1:59.57, he was just off track record time (1:59.11) at Del Mar.
After an incredible eight wins from ten starts over two years in the Brad Cox barn, Knicks Go will make the final start of what has become an amazing career. Looking to defend his Pegasus World Cup title at Gulfstream Park on January 29, this one-time reclamation project will face another talented field. Hoping to add to his over $8.6 million in on-track earnings, his strategy will likely be the same as it has been under Cox. Make the lead early and let the big dog eat has been VERY successful thus far and his conditioner sees no reason to change his stable star now.
“We want him to be him”, says Cox. “He has been very good for two years now and that is a really huge statement. Some horses may be good for a few races, but he has competed on the biggest stages and been very good doing it. The Pegasus is bittersweet for us. He has been such a bright spot for our barn we hate to see him go but we are also very proud he gets the chance to compete in a race like this again. We are looking forward to seeing his greatness on display. I just hope to see him go out a winner.”
Given the tale of this Phoenix, it appears as though Brad Cox shouldn’t worry. No matter what happens in the Pegasus on January 29, Knicks Go will exit the game as a real winner.