Brad Cox made the short walk from the stable area toward some open space near the end of Del Mar’s clubhouse turn while Knicks Go warmed up in the chute before training late Wednesday morning.
After chatting with members of his team, friends and colleagues, Cox took up a spot along the outside rail just as Knicks Go broke off near the 6-furlong pole. The 5-year-old Maryland-bred son of Paynter showed plenty of spirit on the rather unseasonable and misty morning, going off with good energy and getting to work like a veteran of 23 starts should do.
“Whoa, whoa,” Cox said, maybe half joking and maybe half serious. “He is ready to go. Ready. To. Go.”
Knicks Go seemed ready all week leading up to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships here just outside San Diego and on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. He trained with the same purpose he showed this summer at Saratoga and back home in September and October at Churchill Downs, and he ran to his training in Saturday’s $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, winning by 2 3/4 lengths over Medina Spirit to lock up Horse of the Year honors for Cox and the Korea Racing Authority which owns the gray horse.
“It’s a big victory,” Cox said after the Classic in front of 26,553 at Del Mar. “Obviously it’s the richest race in America and it’s a prestigious race and it means a lot to show up on this stage at the Breeders’ Cup. It’s the world stage.
“It’s definitely a world stage and it’s very important to show up and do well on these international days. There are a lot of things we want to accomplish at the Derby, the Saudi Cup, Dubai World Cup, and this one was very, very high on our list of races we wanted to win. We capped it off, but we would like to win (the Classic) again as well.”
Knicks Go figured to be the early speed in the 10-furlong Classic and that’s exactly what he was under regular rider Joel Rosario. Knicks Go went right to the front after brushing slightly with his Belmont- and Travers-winning stablemate Essential Quality and was ahead by a length going past the finish the first time and the opening quarter in :23.16.
Art Collector, Medina Spirit, Hot Rod Charlie and Stilleto Boy stacked up the chase early as Knicks Go continued to lead by 1 1/2 lengths through a sharp half in :45.77. The pursuers continued to pursue up the backstretch and Knicks Go continued to let the Classic play to his strengths.
“He was very comfortable,” Rosario said. “He looked like he was really enjoying what he was doing up there. I can see the gleam in his eye. He was just so relaxed, so calm. He’s an unbelievable horse.”
A Grade 1 winner around two turns at 2, the winner of the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile again around two turns at 4 and a four-time graded stakes winner at 5 at 9 furlongs, Knicks Go also figured to take the field at least to the top of the lane. That final furlong was the only real question he needed to answer.
The 5-2 morning-line favorite before the race-day scratch of Express Train, Knicks Go wound up the 3-1 co-second choice with Hot Rod Charlie. Bettors settled on Essential Quality, figuring his do-just-enough style might wear down his stablemate late just as he did Hot Rod Charlie in the Belmont Stakes and Midnight Bourbon in the Travers Stakes.
Knicks Go proved more formidable than those two – and the other seven in the Classic – and extended his lead turning for home. He and Rosario opened up by 2 lengths while Art Collector retreated, Hot Rod Charlie idled and Medina Spirit and Essential Quality revved up.
Knicks Go passed the mile mark in 1:35.28, came several paths off the rail in the stretch while continuing to draw away in deep stretch and won in 1:59.57. The final time was not far off Candy Ride’s track record 1:59.11 set when he won the 2003 Pacific Classic and the fifth fastest in 38 editions of the Classic.
The victory gave Cox his eighth Breeders’ Cup victory since 2018 and first in the Classic. He won the Distaff in 2018 and 2020 with the brilliant Monomoy Girl, along with the Juvenile in 2020 with Essential Quality, Filly and Mare Sprint in 2019 with Covfefe and Juvenile Fillies in 2019 with British Idiom. Each of those wins produced a divisional championship when the Eclipse Award votes were tabulated.
Knicks Go also figures to be a heavy favorite for champion older dirt male honors as well, with victories in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational in January, the Grade 1 Whitney in August and now the Classic in November. Knicks Go, off to stud at Taylor Made Farm in Nicholasville, Ky., won five of seven starts and earned $7,324,140 this year. Bred in Maryland by Angie Moore and an $87,000 purchase by the Korea Racing Authority at the 2017 Keeneland September yearling sale, Knicks Go has won 10 of 24 and earned $8,673,135.
Essential Quality wound up third, just three-quarters of a length back of Medina Spirit in third and a length ahead of Hot Rod Charlie. Stilleto Boy checked in fifth, with Art Collector, Tripoli and Max Player completing the field.
“I feel fantastic,” Cox said. “It was tough to watch both of those horses run against each other. It will kind of take a while for this to sink in. I’m very proud of both horses. It was a big effort by both horses. They showed up and ran their races. It was a big day.”
Notes: Del Mar set a record for two-day wagering at the Breeders’ Cup with a total of $182,165,297, breaking the previous mark of $174,628,986 set in 2019. … Irad Ortiz Jr. won his fourth straight Bill Shoemaker Award, which goes to the jockey who won the most races with a tiebreaker being a 10-3-1 point system for second- through fourth-place finishes. Ortiz and William Buick both won three races, but Ortiz also had a runner-up finish and three fourths while Buick finished fifth with his only other mount. Ortiz won the Juvenile Turf Sprint with Twilight Gleaming, Turf Sprint with Golden Pal and Dirt Mile with Life Is Good.