Victory for Knicks Go in the $3million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on Saturday night would cement the rapid rise to fame of the Brad Cox-trained five-year-old.
A Grade One winner as a two-year-old, Knicks Go joined the Cox stable at the start of last year and won two allowance races before heading to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
Sent off a short-priced favourite at Keeneland, he made all under Joel Rosario to run out a comfortable winner over Jesus’ Team, breaking the track record in the process.
Cox is aware of the extra significance success in the fifth running of the Gulfstream showpiece would bring, in terms of the future for Knicks Go as a stallion.
Cox – who had four winners over the two days of the Breeders’ Cup meeting – said: “It’s a very prestigious race. It hasn’t been around that long, but with the likes of Gun Runner, Arrogate and City Of Light, there are champions that have won this race. It means a whole lot.
“It’s a race that can make a stallion, and we’re still trying to do that with Knicks Go. He’ll be a stallion at some point. This would mean a lot and do a lot for his value as a stallion.
“Not only is it a great purse, but it’s going to add a lot of value if he’s able to win the race.”
He will, however, have to carry his undoubted speed over nine furlongs for the first time.
Cox said: “I haven’t raced a lot at Gulfstream, but I think speed is always a good thing there. I’m a big believer that speed is good at a mile and an eighth and beyond – obviously it depends on how much other speed is in the race.
“But I think he can get it. I think he’s a horse that once he gets free and loose, he runs with a lot of confidence.”
He added: “I’m excited. I really do think he’ll handle a mile and an eighth. In his three races with us last year, there was horse left.
“In the Breeders’ Cup, Joel reached up and grabbed him four or five jumps from the wire, so he was still going.”
Jesus’ Team tries to reverse the form, with last year’s winning rider Irad Ortiz jnr in the saddle for the first time.
Trainer Jose D’Angelo said: “It’s very exciting. It is the most important race of our calendar in South Florida at Gulfstream Park. I think it’s a big test for both me and Jesus.”
The betting suggests the biggest dangers to Knicks Go are Tax and Code Of Honor.
Trained by Danny Gargan, Tax was ninth last year to Mucho Gusto, having stumbled at the start.
“He’s better now than he’s ever been. We always knew he was a really good horse. He’s grown and developed into a better horse than he was last year. I think with age he’s getting better and getting stronger, healthier,” Gargan said.
““He has a few little issues we had to work through, and he’s gotten through them. I’m expecting a big performance.”
Code Of Honor at his best would promise to a major danger to Knicks Go.
The record of Shug McGaughey’s charge is littered with high-class form, including a third to Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby and victories in the Travers Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup, the latter on the disqualification of Vino Rosso following a very tight finish.
He was last seen in the Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs, finishing second to Bodexpress.
McGaughey said: “In the Clark, he was bottled up there. By the time he got loose, the race was pretty much over.
“Before that, going a mile, Chad’s (Brown) horse (Complexity) kind of controlled what was going on. I think Javier (Castellano) knew he had to be closer and move a little sooner.
“The Whitney was a throw out. His first race was good. I probably shouldn’t have run him in the Metropolitan Mile. He was wide and Vekoma got the trip. He’s a nice horse. Maybe this will be his day.”