World’s Best Racehorse takes on Life Is Good, eight others Jan. 29 at Gulfstream.
The following appeared at bloodhorse.com January 25 and was written by Claire Crosby. Pegasus World Cup Day is scheduled for Saturday January 29 and features 12 races — many of them stakes — from Gulfstream Park beginning at 11:30 AM. it is regarded as winter’s biggest horse racing event.
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Knicks Go has returned to Gulfstream Park for a highly anticipated title defense in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes Presented by 1/ST BET (G1), which promises to provide Korea Racing Authority’s Thoroughbred star with an opportunity to close out a remarkable racing career in style.
The Pegasus World Cup headlines Saturday’s 12-race program that will also feature the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational Presented by Baccarat (G1T) and the $500,000 TAA Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf Presented by PEPSI (G3T), as well as four other graded stakes. First-race post time is set for 11:30 a.m. ET.
Knicks Go, who was installed as the 6-5 morning-line favorite in a field of nine older horses after drawing the inside post position Tuesday, produced a dazzling 2 3/4-length victory in last year’s Pegasus World Cup that would set the tone for a dominating campaign that is widely expected to earn him the 2021 Horse of the Year title next month.
The 6-year-old son of Paynter , who is coming off an impressive 2 3/4-length triumph in the Nov. 6 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Del Mar, is riding a four-race winning streak in which he has beaten his opponents by a total of 21 1/2 lengths while flashing his brilliant natural speed from start to finish. Knicks Go was named the 2021 Longines World’ Best Racehorse during a virtual ceremony Tuesday at the National Horse Racing Museum in Newmarket, England, and stretched his legs over the Gulfstream surface the same day after arriving from New Orleans.
“He shipped in here, arrived last night about 11:30,” trainer Brad Cox said. “He settled in fine last night. His temp was good. He looked good this morning walking a little bit. His energy level was really good and we decided to train him. We just jogged him about a mile and a half. He went really, really good. He seemed happy, fresh, and full of himself.
“We’re trying to do what we did last year with shipping from New Orleans here. We didn’t have a plane this year, but that’s all good. That’s not going to be an excuse. He’s capable of getting on a van and taking his show on the road. He did that from Ellis to Saratoga for the Whitney (G1) the week of. It’s a similar situation.
“He certainly seems like he hasn’t regressed one step from the Breeders’ Cup. We’re in good shape.”
It remains to be seen if the Cox trainee will be able to defend his title in his usual front-running fashion before starting his stud career at Taylor Made Stallions. This year’s Pegasus World Cup has also attracted CHC and WinStar Farm’s Life Is Good , who has won five of six career starts while leading at every point of call, including a scintillating 5 3/4-length victory in the Nov. 6 Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Del Mar.
“We’re not really going to deviate from what we’ve done in the past. (Life Is Good) is a very fast, brilliant horse. We’re not going to let him have his own way, and I think he’s probably not going to let us have our own way. We’re going to break running, hopefully get to the lead. We’re going to be very aggressive to get him there,” Cox said. “It’s the same approach we took in the Breeders’ Cup. We’ll see how it goes. He’s proven at a mile and an eighth and he does like the surface there. He likes the configuration of the racetrack there at Gulfstream—he proved that last year. We’re just going to come out of there running and see what happens.”
Life Is Good, who was rated second at 7-5 on the morning line after drawing post 4, was top rated on last year’s Road to the Kentucky Derby when he won his first three starts on the front end impressively but was sent to the sidelines with an injury. After being transferred to Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, the son of Into Mischief was upset by Jackie’s Warrior by a neck in the seven-furlong H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course in late August. He came back to capture the one-mile Kelso Handicap (G2) at Belmont Park by 5 1/2 lengths and the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in front-running style.
“You’ve got two super talented horses with similar running styles, so it makes for a very exciting race. It’s going to be very exciting to see how the pace unfolds,” Pletcher said. “Speed is our horse’s weapon and we’re not looking to take it away from him, and I’m sure the Knicks Go team knows what works for their horse. We’ll just see how it plays out.”
Life Is Good, who hasn’t run beyond 1 1/16 miles, is in the same position that Knicks Go was in last year when he attempted to carry his abundant speed 1 1/8 miles for the first time. Knicks Go has gone on to prove himself to be just as effective or even more effective at longer distances.
“He’s older and wiser. I think last year we probably had a bit of a question mark if he could perform at a mile and an eighth. He’s obviously proven that having won two grade 1s at a mile and an eighth and a grade 1 at a mile and a quarter last year,” Cox said. “Distance isn’t an issue, (whereas) there was a little bit of a question mark (last year). He’s very sound and doing phenomenal. We know him better this year. We have even more confidence this year than we had last year.”
Pletcher has expressed confidence in both Life Is Good’s natural speed and his ability to carry that speed beyond 1 1/16 miles, over which he won by eight lengths last year in the San Felipe Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park.
“With Life Is Good you’re talking about a horse that, if you wanted to, could probably be the best sprinter in the country. He’s just naturally very quick and very fast,” Pletcher said. “He’s also showed in the Dirt Mile that he has the ability to go at a high cruising speed and keep going, and that’s what we’ve seen in his training. Everything he shows us is he’ll run further.”
Joel Rosario has the return mount aboard Knicks Go, while Irad Ortiz Jr. has retained the mount on Life Is Good.
The connections of the other Pegasus World Cup entrants are obviously hoping that a blistering speed duel will develop between Knicks Go and Life Is Good and soften them up for a possible upset.
Tracy Farmer’s Sir Winston is no stranger to pulling off upsets on Thoroughbred racing’s main stage. The Mark Casse-trained 6-year-old won the 2019 Belmont Stakes (G1) over favored Tacitus and stablemate War of Will , who had won the Preakness Stakes (G1) three weeks earlier but finished off the board in the Belmont. The son of Awesome Again won one race from his next five starts before returning from nearly a year-long layoff in August 2021 in top form. He then won two races, including the Valedictory Stakes (G3) at Woodbine last time out, and finished a close second twice in four starts.
“He needs a lot of things to go his way,” said Casse, who awarded the mount aboard his Belmont winner to Edwin Gonzalez. “He’s feeling really well, and we believe he deserves a chance.”
Known for success with longshots, most notably 2006 Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Lemons Forever (47-1), trainer Dallas Stewart is scheduled to saddle a pair of graded stakes-winning starters in the Pegasus World Cup—the Estate of James J. Coleman Jr.’s Chess Chief and Charles Fipke’s Title Ready .
Chess Chief, like Title Ready, has a come-from-behind running style, which he most recently employed for a victory in the Tenacious Stakes at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. The 6-year-old son of Into Mischief, who is rated third on the morning line at 10-1, captured the 2021 New Orleans Classic Stakes (G2) at the Pegasus distance. Title Ready, a 7-year-old son of More Than Ready , was victorious in the 2021 Louisiana Stakes (G3). Reylu Gutierrez has the call on Chess Chief, while Tyler Gaffalione has the mount aboard Title Ready.
Steve Moger’s Stilleto Boy brings a rèsumè with a pair of grade 1 placings into the Pegasus World Cup. The Santa Anita-based 4-year-old gelding was second in the Awesome Again Stakes (G1) before finishing fifth behind Knicks Go in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The son of Shackleford most recently finished third behind emerging superstar Flightline in the seven-furlong Runhappy Malibu Stakes (G1). Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux has the mount.
AJ Suited Racing Stable’s Commandeer , a late-developing 4-year-old son of Street Boss , enters the Pegasus World Cup off back-to-back 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance scores at Laurel Park and Churchill Downs. Trainer Jimmy Toner has awarded the mount to Julien Leparoux.
Mark Breen’s Endorsed returns to two-turn racing Saturday after finishing a fast-closing second in the seven-furlong Mr. Prospector Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream last time out. The Mike Maker-trained 6-year-old son of Medaglia d’Oro will be ridden by Umberto Rispoli.
John Grossi Racing Corp.’s Empty Tomb , runner-up in the 1 1/8-mile Queens County Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack last time out, rounds out the field. The Robert Falcone Jr.-trained son of Speightstown will be ridden by Paco Lopez.
NBC will nationally televise the Pegasus World Cup Day festivities from 4:30 p.m.-6 p.m. ET. The all-stakes late Pick 5 (Races 8-12) and the late Pick 4 (Races 9-12) will both offer guaranteed gross pools of $750,000. The all-stakes Rainbow 6 will span Races 7-12. All four muti-race wagers will be anchored by the Pegasus World Cup.
$3M Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1), 1 1/8 miles Jan. 29 at Gulfstream Park
PP Horse Jockey Odds
1. Knicks Go, Joel Rosario, 6-5
2. Chess Chief , Reylu Gutierrez, 10-1
3. Stilleto Boy, Kent Desormeaux, 20-1
4. Life Is Good, Irad Ortiz Jr., 7-5
5. Empty Tomb , Paco Lopez, 20-1
6. Sir Winston , Edwin Gonzalez, 12-1
7. Title Ready , Tyler Gaffalione, 20-1
8. Endorsed , Umberto Rispoli, 20-1
9. Commandeer , Julien Leparoux, 30-1