Knicks Go flat got up and went in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park Saturday and his impressive victory could send him to even richer targets in the Middle East in the coming months.
Four-year-old Colonel Liam was equally impressive in defeating older and more experienced rivals in the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf and also has a bright future.
Meanwhile, on the Kentucky Derby front, Caddo River picked up the winner's share of the Smarty Jones Stakes as Oaklawn Park swung into action but a couple newcomers put their hooves into contention with massive wins at Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita.
On the international scene, Golden Sixty again confirmed his status atop Hong Kong horses, Hot King Prawn finally got a well-deserved Group 1 win and the first race in the BMW Hong Kong Derby series produced an upset.
First, that big flying horse. Then, the Derby and Oaks hopefuls, the rest of the U.S. weekend and … don't miss it … the international recap.
Away we go.
Despite all the retirements, maneuvering and planning for overseas trips, Saturday's $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational and its $1 million turf counterpart not only would up with solid fields but also with star-quality winners.
The Pegasus itself was, in fact, a star turn for Knicks Go -- one that earned him an automatic spot in the $20 million Saudi Cup Feb. 20 at King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh and a potential berth in the $12 million Dubai World Cup the following month.
He looked the part Saturday, leading all the way around the Gulfstream Park oval, brushing off mild challenges and kicking clear to win by 2 3/4 lengths. It was his fourth straight win and followed an equally easy domination of the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile Nov. 7 at Keeneland. Jesus' Team, second at Keeneland, was second again in the Pegasus and his connections also await invitations to Saudi Arabia and Dubai.
"He is one of the top handicap horses in the country now," said trainer Brad Cox, who took over Knicks Go's care just in time to kick off the winning streak. "He's a top horse. This is what you get up for every day, seven days a week, long days for moments like this."
Looking ahead, Cox wouldn't commit to Saudi Arabia, calling it a 50-50 chance at best. But he clearly had bigger things on his mind as he recalled what the Pegasus has meant to past winners.
"It’s a very prestigious race," he said. "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."
Arrogate won the 2017 Pegasus and Dubai World Cup. Gun Runner duplicated the feat the following year.
Some budding turf prospects took to the Gulfstream greensward one race before the Pegasus in the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational.
On cue, Colonel Liam lived up to his promise in a division that needs some new blood. The 4-year-old Liam's Map colt has blossomed since trainer Todd Pletcher decided to give him a try on the grass. He won his first turf start, a Saratoga allowance, in July, then finished fourth, beaten less than 1 length, in the Saratoga Derby Invitational the following month. He then went on vacation before getting a warmup for the Pegasus World Cup Turf with a victory in the Tropical Park Derby on Boxing Day.
All of that translated to an impressive win Saturday. With Irad Ortiz Jr. up, Colonel Liam raced behind the leaders and in some traffic all the way into the stretch turn. He had to shift out to find daylight but, once in the clear, kicked in just in time to run down Largent, who had grabbed the late lead, and won by a neck. Cross Border was third as Colonel Liam was clocked in 1:53.09 for 1 3/16 miles.
"I couldn't be more pleased with the way they all ran,” said Todd Pletcher, who saddled Colonel Liam, Cross Border and fourth-place finisher Social Paranoia. "It was a heck of a race between Largent and Colonel Liam at the end. I thought Social Paranoia put in a huge effort from the 12 post. Just really, really happy with all three of them."
Of Colonel Liam, Pletcher added, "We felt like he was getting better and better. We loved the way he handled the turf in the Tropical Derby and he had trained great. We were very optimistic, He’s a little less experienced than some of the other horses, but I think this proves his quality."
Pletcher also trained Liam's Map, who was retired immediately after winning the 2015 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland with six wins and two seconds from eight starts. He, in turn, was a son of 1996 Florida Derby winner Unbridled's Song.
Knicks Go wins Saturday's Grade I Pegasus World Cup, likely headed to Saudi Cup, photo courtesy of Gulfstream Park
The Road to the Roses
Caddo River rushed down the Oaklawn Park stretch like white water through an Ozarks river rapids in Friday's $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park, winning by 10 1/4 lengths and earning 10 points on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard.
There wasn't much to the race. The Hard Spun colt started No. 7 in the field of eight, crossed over and got to the lead while negotiating the first turn and wasn't troubled thereafter. Sent to the post as the odds-on favorite, he ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.19 without jockey Florent Geroux having to call on him at any point.
Cowan was second, another 7 1/4 lengths in front of his closest rival, Big Thorn. Brad Cox trains the winner; Steve Asmussen, both Cowan and Big Thorn.
Caddo River finished second in both of his first two starts, at Saratoga and then at Belmont Park, before breaking through at Churchill Downs Nov. 15 in an effort almost identical to the Smarty Jones win.
Geroux said the dominating nature of Caddo River's victory was complemented by the way he achieved it.
"You want to see these type horses doing it the right way," Geroux said. "It's easy to go to the lead and keep on going. You want them to relax and do everything right. He did everything perfect. The distance doesn't look like it's going to be a problem.
"Very excited about what's coming up ahead of us with him," the rider added. "Looks like he can run all day, which is a good problem. Hopefully, we can go on, go up the stepping stones and have a nice horse for the first Saturday in May."
(The "white water … rapids" reference is courtesy of avid racing fan Berry Trimble, who points out the colt's owner, John Ed Anthony, loves to name his horses for scenic parts of Arkansas. The Caddo River is near Arkadelphia, just a few miles south of Oaklawn Park).
While the Smarty Jones was the weekend's only "points" race, some maiden events attracted a lot of attention.
On Saturday at Gulfstream Park, Godolphin’s Prevalence produced a spectacular debut on scoring by 8 1/2 lengths under Tyler Gaffalione in a seven-furlong maiden special weight. The Medaglia d'Oro colt led midway down the backstretch, shook off a challenge from Stage Raider, a half-brother to 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, and won going away. "It was a lovely experience, which is great for a young 3-year-old first time out," said winning trainer Brendan Walsh.
Out West, The Great One rolled to an easy, 14-lengths victory in a maiden event Saturday at Santa Anita. The son of Nyquist, trained by Doug O'Neill, likely is headed for the $300,000 Grade II San Felipe March 6. He is named for Wayne Gretzky, a childhood hero of part-owner and current Colorado Avalanche player Erik Johnson. Gretzky, in turn, was part-owner of Golden Pheasant, who won the 1990 Arlington Million and 1991 Japan Cup.
The Road to the Oaks
The Grass Is Blue had to work through and around traffic to get the job done in Sunday's $100,000 Busanda Stakes at Aqueduct, but get the job done she did, passing Coffee Bar in the final sixteenth to score by 1 length. It was another 5 lengths to Diamond Ore in third. The Grass Is Blue, a Broken Vow filly trained by Chad Brown, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:54.90 with Manny Franco riding.
The Grass Is Blue won her first two starts late in 2020, then finished sixth in the Songbird Stakes at Keeneland and third in the Anne Arrundel County at Laurel Park before returning to the winner's circle Sunday.
"It looked like she liked the track a lot so we'll probably keep her here during the winter and let Chad figure out what to do and how to go about winning another race with her," said winning owner Louis Lazzinnaro.
In other weekend action:
Saturday's $125,000 Grade III Fred W. Hooper came down to a stretch duel between Performer and Eye of a Jedi with the former prevailing by a neck. Avant Garde was third, another 1 1/4 lengths back in third. Performer, a 5-year-old son of Speightstown racing for Calumet Farm and Phipps Stable, got 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.49. Joel Rosario had the mount for trainer Shug McGaughey.
Performer now has won six of his last seven starts with a third in the Grade I Cigar Mile and McGaughey said it "was in my mind" to point him now to the Gulfstream Park Mile on Feb. 27. "But after watching him today, I might be looking for something to stretch him out around two turns."
Zofelle, returning from a seven-months layoff, rallied from the rear of the field to win Saturday's $125,000 Grade III Marshua's River Stakes for fillies and mares by 2 lengths. Sweet Bye and Bye was second, 3/4 length in front of Belle Laura. Zofelle, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred mare by Zoffany, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:32.42 for jockey Tyler Gaffalione.
Zofelle won her first three U.S. starts in late 2019 after coming from Hugo Palmer's yard in England. In 2020, she was 0-for-4 despite putting in a couple of nice efforts against top competition. A lackluster performance in the Grade I Just a Gleam at Belmont Park in late June ended her campaign.
"She had a very good year last year," said trainer Brendan Walsh. "We gave her a break. She came back from the break and she had been working really, really good. Came to hand really fast, had been working well for this, so it was nice to see her do what she did there."
Always Shopping, the even-money favorite, always looked like winning in Saturday's $125,000 Grade III La Prevoyante for fillies and mares at 1 1/2 miles on the grass. The 5-year-old Awesome Again mare relaxed well behind two long shot leaders, took the lead entering the stretch the second time and got away to win by 3 lengths. Delta's Kingdom and Irony of Reality were second and third. Always Shopping, with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons, finished in 2:25.38 over firm turf. She now has three wins from four starts over the Gulfstream Park turf.
"I got a perfect trip," Ortiz said. "The filly put me in a good position. I tried to settle down and she settled down and she came back to me, and whenever I asked her she responded very well."
Pacific Gale rallied outside the leaders in the stretch run of Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Inside Information Stakes for fillies and mares, took the advantage inside the furlong marker and got clear to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Thissmytime was second, 1 length to the good of Piedi Bianchi. The favorite, Cinnabunny, led into the lane and finished fourth. Pacific Gale, a 6-year-old Flat Out mare, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.60 with John Velazquez up, giving trainer John Kimmel victories only a few hours apart on both ends of the snowbird trail (see Aqueduct section).
"Even though she's oh-fer the last two years (0-for-13), just to see her fire like you've never seen her fire was just a tremendous accomplishment for a filly that's been a bridesmaid against some top-quality horses," Kimmel said.
Tide of the Sea, a lightly raced, 5-year-old son of English Channel, earned his first stakes victory in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III W.L. McKnight Stakes, leading all the way and holding on by 3/4 length over Temple. The favorite, Doswell, another late bloomer making his ninth career start at age 6, had to alter course at mid-stretch, then rallied to take third. Tide of the Sea, with Tyler Gaffalione riding, finished 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:24.57. Prior to the McKnight, Tide of the Sea had been a consistent performer in allowance company, then rallied to finish sixth in the Grade II Fort Lauderdale after a terrible start.
"His best races were in front when he gets loose comfortably," Gaffalione said. "He traveled great throughout and I just let him do his own thing. He finished up really well when the horse came up and challenged him. All credit goes to Mike (trainer Maker) and his team."
Silver State, the odds-on favorite, closed resolutely from a stalking position to win Saturday's $150,000 Fifth Season Stakes by a nose over front-running Hunka Burning Love. Night Ops was third as Silver State, a 4-year-old Hard Spun colt, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.77 with Ricardo Santana Jr. in the irons. He was on the 2020 Kentucky Derby trail until he finished seventh in the Louisiana Derby. Rested after that, he returned to win allowance events at Keeneland and Churchill Downs in the fall and now has a three-race win skein going.
Getridofwhatailesu trailed the field through the first 6 furlongs of Saturday's $150,000 Pippin Stakes for fillies and mares, survived some traffic issues while making her bid but finally closed with a rush to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Our Super Freak was best of the rest, 3/4 length in front of Istan Council. The favorite, Vault, was unprepared when the gates opened, dwelt and was eased after a few strides. Getridofwhatailesu, a 5-year-old Ghostzapper mare, finished 1 mile in 1:38.56. Joe Rocco Jr. had the mount. She raced three times at Oaklawn last season, scoring two wins and a second, but the Pippen was her first stakes start.
Wildman Jack pressed the pace in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Palos Verdes Stakes, took charge in the lane and won off by 4 1/4 lengths. Shashashakemeup was second and Pyron came from last of eight to get show money. The favorite, Ax Man, was fourth. Wildman Jack, a 5-year-old Goldencents gelding, ran 6 furlongs over a fast track in 1:08.98 with Abel Cedillo at the controls.
Wildman Jack won the Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint at Meydan Racecourse last March 7 and was a likely candidate for the $2 million Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint on World Cup night before that program fell victim to the pandemic. He returned to win the Grade II Daytona at Santa Anita in May, came up short in his next five starts, including a fourth in the Grade I Bing Crosby on the Del Mar dirt track in August.
"He's been on the grass, but we loved his dirt race at Del Mar," said Leandro Mora, assistant to winning trainer Doug O'Neill. "We've been thinking about getting him back on the dirt since then and Doug and the owners decided this race would be good. This is a huge win for him, and we can run him on either surface."
Mr. Buff rated just behind the early leader in Saturday's $100,000 Jazil Stakes, inherited the lead on the turn and won by 7 lengths, geared down through the final yards -- his third straight Jazil title. Tenderfoot was second, 1 3/4 lengths in front of Musical Heart. Mr. Buff, a 7-year-old gelding by Friend Or Foe, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:53.47. Kendrick Carmouche had the mount for trainer John Kimmel.
Around the world, around the clock:
Golden Sixty advanced his winning streak to 12, Hot King Prawn finally got his Group 1 win and Excellent Proposal took a tentative lead on Hong Kong's Derby trail on another big day Sunday at Sha Tin Racecourse.
The 5-year-old Medaglia d'Oro gelding took back to second-last down the riverside backstretch, finally moving up approaching the turn. Ho confidently brought Golden Sixty around the field heading into the stretch and took aim at the leaders inside the 200-meter mark. With 100 meters to go, Southern Legend had the advantage but Golden Sixty just managed to put a head in front. Southern Legend was second with Ka Ying Star 3/4 length farther back in third.
Ho said he was always confident of victory despite a dubious pace and a wardrobe malfunction.
"The saddle slipped back a little bit at the 300 meters. It was still okay but it was not as comfortable for me and Golden Sixty, of course," Ho said. "But top athletes, top horses need to overcome all kind of different circumstances -- something you can't predict but you have to ready for that."
Golden Sixty rose to stardom with a win in last season's BMW Hong Kong Derby and this season's top 4-year-olds took the first step toward this year's renewal in Sunday's Hong Kong Classic Mile. Excellent Proposal, at odds of 23-1, ground out the win, defeating stablemate Lucky Express by 3/4 length with the favorite, Sky Darci, sixth. John Size trains the top two finishers.
Excellent Proposal, an Exceed and Excel gelding, posted his fourth win from five starts this season but had to overcome doubts arising from a puzzling 11th in his final preparation for the Classic Mile.
The Four-Year-Old Classic Series continues with the 1,800-meters Hong Kong Classic Cup Feb. 21 and the BMW Hong Kong Derby at 2,000 meters one month later.
Size also saddled Hot King Prawn to victory in the Group 1 Centenary Sprint Cup. Jockey Joao Moreira piloted the 6-year-old gray to a 1 3/4-length victory. Regency Legend and Big Party, a pair of long shots, were separated by a nose for second and third.
Hot King Prawn has been one of the most consistent runners in Hong Kong for three seasons but consistently came up short at the top level. Before Sunday, he had a second, two thirds and a fourth in six previous Group 1 events.
"There was some frustration previously that he hasn't won a Group 1," Size said. "But in fairness, he has run into some very smart horses in the last two or three years."
The Dubai World Cup Carnival moves on to its second meeting Thursday at Meydan Racecourse. There are five Thoroughbred races on the card with fillies and mares in the spotlight.
The Group 2 Cape Verdi is for fillies and mares at 1 mile on the grass while the UAE 1000 Guineas is a final trial for the 3-year-old fillies looking to the Group 3 UAE Oaks Feb. 18.
We await entries and will have a rundown on the outcome in Thursday's report.