By Brian DiDonato
With many of his would-be divisional challengers already off to the breeding shed, Korea Racing Authority's Knicks Go (Paynter) asserted himself as a major 2021 force while scoring his fourth straight victory in Saturday's $3-million GI Pegasus World Cup Invitational S. at Gulfstream. Last seen besting Jesus' Team (Tapiture) by 3 1/2 lengths in the GI Big Ass Fans Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland Nov. 7, the 6-5 chalk zipped right to the lead as expected and clicked off opening splits of :22.90 and :46.16. Still in cruise control as he got six furlongs in 1:09.91, the grey continued into the lane straight and strong, cantering home 2 3/4 lengths to the good in 1:47.89 in what was his first start beyond 8 1/2 panels. Jesus's Team nailed longshot Independence Hall (Constitution) for second.
“He is one of the top handicap horses in the country now. He's a top horse. This is what you get up for every day, seven days a week, long days for moments like this,” said trainer Brad Cox, who has saddled Knicks Go to four wins from as many tries since taking over his training. “I'm very proud of the horse and my team and thank the Korea Racing Authority for the opportunity with this horse.”
Of the trip, Cox said, “I felt comfortable. Joel [Rosario] had a hold on him. He had a little pressure on the outside, but he was fresh from the Breeders' Cup, so I was confident he would stay on.”
He added, “It's a very prestigious race. I know it hasn't been around that long, but when you look at past winners, it's a very prestigious list of horses that have won it–world champions, actually, with Gun Runner and Arrogate. They weren't just national horses. They competed and won on the world stage, so it's a big race.”
Rosario also rode GIII Fred W. Hooper S. winner Performer (Speightstown) to victory earlier on the card, and has now piloted Knicks Go to three straight.
“He's a very special horse,” Rosario said. “He just goes faster and faster…He was really enjoying what he was doing out there, so I was never worried about somebody getting close to me.”
A debut winner in July of his juvenile season for previous conditioner Ben Colebrook, Knicks Go stretched out effectively later that term to run away with Keeneland's GI Claiborne Breeders' Futurity at odds of 70-1. He was second at 40-1 in that year's GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but a lackluster sophomore campaign saw him go winless from eight tries, the best of which was a second in the Ellis Park Derby. He was 10th when trying grass in the GIII Commonwealth Turf Cup S. in November of 2019 and was a member of the Cox barn for his next outing, a 7 1/2-length Oaklawn optional claimer drubbing last February. Knicks Go was sidelined with a knee chip following that effort and underwent surgery. He returned to Lexington to dominate there by double digits Oct. 4, and ran to 8-5 favoritism when scoring one of four Breeders' Cup victories for Cox on the first weekend in November.
Knicks Go stands alone as the only Grade I winner to date for WinStar sire Paynter, but as a GISW at two, a Breeders' Cup winner at four, a Pegasus winner at five, and owner of a few track records thrown in for good measure, he is the star every stallion manager wants to represent a sire. Paynter, even better known for his defeat of laminitis than his Grade I-winning career, has four graded winners among his 16 black-type winners.
The breeding of Knicks Go has been well-documented, with his dam's last two matings being significantly upgraded: Kosmo's Buddy has a yearling filly by Justify and was bred to Ghostzapper for 2021. Ghostzapper, like Paynter, is a son of Awesome Again. Knicks Go, the fifth Maryland-bred generation of his family, is one of 10 stakes winners out of daughters of the Danzig sire Outflanker.
“I am very proud of Jesus, he's a great horse. Today, he didn't have the luck to win, because Knicks Go ran again along in front. I am very soon that Jesus will be on the top in big races. I feel proud of him.” –Trainer Jose D'Angelo of Pegasus runner-up Jesus' Team
“It was a huge race. I thought he got a fantastic trip. It looked like he was loaded all the way up the backside. Around the turn, obviously coming off a bad race, I was wondering and hoping he had a little bit left, and he was game. To get beat what, a head, for second, he ran huge. He ran hard today. I thought Flavien [Prat] gave him a great ride. The horse has had a tough couple of days here schooling and stuff, he's challenging at times, but it was all worth it today.” –Trainer Mike McCarthy on third finisher Independence Hall
PEGASUS WORLD CUP INVITATIONAL S.-GI, $2,942,000, Gulfstream, 1-23, 4yo/up, 1 1/8m, 1:47.89, ft.
1–KNICKS GO, 123, h, 5, by Paynter
1st Dam: Kosmo's Buddy (MSW, $298,095), by Outflanker
2nd Dam: Vaulted, by Allen's Prospect
3rd Dam: Aube d'Or, by Medaille d'Or
($40,000 Wlg '16 KEENOV; $87,000 Ylg '17 KEESEP). O-Korea
Racing Authority; B-Angie Moore (MD); T-Brad H. Cox; J-Joel
Rosario. $1,740,000. Lifetime Record: 18-6-3-1, $3,088,995.
Click for the eNicks report & 5-cross pedigree. Werk Nick
2–Jesus' Team, 123, c, 4, Tapiture–Golden Memories, by Suave.
($30,000 Ylg '18 KEESEP). O-Grupo 7C Racing Stable; B-Pamela
Gartin (KY); T-Jose Francisco D'Angelo. $580,000.
3–Independence Hall, 123, c, 4, Constitution–Kalahari Cat, by
Cape Town. ($100,000 Ylg '18 KEESEP; $200,000 RNA 2yo '19
FTFMAR). O-WinStar Farm LLC, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners,
Twin Creeks Racing Stables, LLC and RKV Racing, LLC;
B-Woodford Thoroughbreds, LLC (KY); T-Michael W. McCarthy.
Margins: 2 3/4, NK, 6 1/4. Odds: 1.30, 11.80, 27.70.
Also Ran: Sleepy Eyes Todd, Code of Honor, Coastal Defense, Kiss Today Goodbye, Last Judgment, Math Wizard, Tax, Mr Freeze, Harpers First Ride. Click for the Equibase.com chart, the TJCIS.com PPs or the free Equineline.com catalogue-style pedigree. VIDEO, sponsored by Fasig-Tipton.