The Week in Review, by Bill Finley
After last year's GI Breeders' Cup Classic, it seemed that every horse that mattered had been retired and that 2021 was going to be a bleak year for the handicap ranks. But 23 days into the year, it is apparent that's not going to be the case. First, Charlatan (Speightstown) turned in a sizzling performance in his comeback race in the GI Runhappy Malibu S. and, exactly four weeks, later Knicks Go (Paynter) could not have won the GI Pegasus World Cup Invitational any more easily. And the two may be on a collision course, with the possibility that they will meet in the Feb. 20 Saudi Cup.
Brad Cox reported Sunday that Knicks Go came out of the Pegasus in good shape and was on his way back to his base at Fair Grounds. Cox and his owner, the Korean Racing Authority, have yet to decide where Knicks Go will run next, but the trainer said that the Saudi Cup is “on the radar.” He added that the March 27 G1 Dubai World Cup is also a consideration.
A Charlatan-Knicks Go showdown in Saudi Arabia would be great theater. Not only are they both immensely talented, both are horses that combine brilliant early speed with stamina. If they were to meet, it would be possible that they could turn the event into a match race, going hard after one another every step of the way.
In the meantime, Cox will allow himself to enjoy what was a statement-making performance from Knicks Go Saturday at Gulfstream. Not only did he win decisively, he had no problem negotiating the mile-and-an-eighth distance, dispelling one of the few knocks against a horse who had never run beyond a mile and a sixteenth.
“We are hopeful that he can be a top horse in the handicap division,” Cox said. “On Saturday, he was able to get a mile and an eighth with solid fractions up front and was able to carry his speed. He's a very talented horse. He showed brilliance as a 2-year-old in the Breeders' Futurity and again in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. He came right back to that form.”
What makes Knicks Go so dangerous is that he is capable of ripping off fractions of 22.90, 46.16 and 1:09.91, his splits in the Pegasus, and keep going as if the pace took nothing out of him.
“Any time you are running races at a mile and an eighth or more, speed is deadly,” Cox said.
The Saudi Cup is a one-turn, mile-and-an-eighth race, while the Dubai World Cup is a mile-and-a-quarter event run around two turns. At some point, whether it is in the Dubai World Cup or the Breeders' Cup Classic, Knicks Go is going to have to show that he can get the 10 furlongs. Cox doesn't see it as a problem.
“I like the idea of him going two turns and a mile and a quarter,” he said. “I think he can handle that and that's why Dubai is an option.”
Though Knicks Go won the GI Breeders' Futurity as a 2-year-old, he did not put it together until joining the Cox stable before a Feb. 22 allowance at Oaklawn. He's 4-for-4 since and has turned in Beyer numbers of 107, 108 and 108 in his last three starts. His best number prior to entering the Cox barn was a 93.
“His works at the Fair Grounds leading up to the Pegasus, I thought he was as good or better than he was leading up to the Dirt Mile,” Cox said. “He's the type of horse that gives you confidence as a trainer.”
A Bright Future For Prevalence?
There were seven graded stakes races on the Saturday card at Gulfstream, but there was no overshadowing the performance by Prevalence (Medaglia d'Oro) in the sixth race, a seven-furlong maiden special weight event. Trained by Brendan Walsh, he ran away from what looked like a strong group on paper. Eased up at the end by Tyler Gaffalione, he nonetheless managed to win by 8 1/2 lengths, earning an 89 Beyer and 'TDN Rising Star' honors. The runner-up was Stage River (Pioneerof the Nile), the half brother to Triple Crown winner Justify (Scat Daddy).
“I thought he was a nice horse, but did I expect him to do that? No. It was impressive,” trainer Brendan Walsh said.
Walsh said he has yet to decide on what will be next for Prevalence.
Though it's a long way from a maiden race in January to the Kentucky Derby, Prevalence ran well enough to suggest that he could be a major factor going forward in the 3-year-old ranks. That's more good news for Godolphin. The stable has had no success when it comes to the GI Kentucky Derby and now has two candidates in Prevalence and GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Essential Quality (Tapit). This is easily the strongest hand Godolphin has had with fewer than 100 days to go until the Derby.
Larry King, Horseplayer
Long before he came to CNN, Larry King, who died last week at age 87, had a mid-morning show on WIOD radio in Florida in the 1970s. With his afternoons off, King spent plenty of days in the press boxes at the Florida tracks, where he was known as an enthusiastic horseplayer.
In his 2009 biography “My Remarkable Journey,” King wrote about a day at Calder in 1971 where he took the last $42 to his name and wagered it on a 70-1 shot named Lady Forli. He wrote that he had win tickets on the mare and also had the exacta and the trifecta. He went on to claim that he won $11,000 on the race and used it to pay child support and his rent for a year.
It's a good story, but…
Lady Forli was born in 1972, didn't start until 1975 and never won a race in the U.S., let alone at 70-1. And in 1971, trifectas were not offered at Calder.
“Larry King spun a sweet little tale of hitting it big at the racetrack, thanks to a plucky horse named Lady Forli. Are you sitting down? It's all a lie!” reads a line from a story on the book in Deadspin.
In 2003, the horse Larry King debuted at Santa Anita. Bred by Sid and Jenny Craig, the son of Deputy Minister won three of 20 starts.
Swiss Skydiver Was Snubbed
While Authentic (Into Mischief) will be named Horse of the Year, and deservedly so, it was more than disappointing that Swiss Skydiver (Daredevil) was not among the three finalists for the title.
In an era where a top horse may run four or five times a year and with eight, nine weeks off in between races, she was a breath of fresh air. Starting her year off in February and concluding it in the Breeders' Cup in November, she made 10 starts, running at nine different tracks. She won five stakes, including the GI Alabama S. and a historic win over Authentic and other males in the GI Preakness S.
Had she won the GI Breeders' Cup Distaff, I very well may have voted for her for Horse of the Year. Eclipse Awards are supposed to be emblematic of sustained success over the course of the year, and no horse embodied that more than Swiss Skydiver. The voters should have recognized this and rewarded a remarkable filly for her remarkable year.