Knicks Go
Knicks Go selling as a weanling. Photo courtesy of Sabrina Moore.

Two years after running second in the Breeders Cup Juvenile during a freshman campaign that earned him the title of Maryland-bred horse of the year, Knicks Go will make his second attempt at Breeders’ Cup success Saturday when he tries the Dirt Mile at Keeneland Race Course.

For the second straight time, breeders Angie Moore and daughter Sabrina Moore say they will be there to root for him.

A four-year-old son of Paynter out of the Outflanker mare Kosmo’s Buddy, a multiple stakes winner, Knicks Go will head into the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile following a sharp, 10-length score in a one-mile and one-sixteenth allowance event over the Keeneland main strip five weeks ago for trainer Brad Cox.

It was Knicks Go’s first start in over seven months earlier and his second consecutive victory. Now he heads into the Breeders Cup Dirt Mile as the 7-2 second choice on the morning line; only Complexity is shorter at 2-1 for trainer Chad Brown.

“His last race at Keeneland was so good that we thought we should be there to root him on,” said Sabrina Moore, a graduate of Balimore’s Institute of Notre Dame High School who will be joining her mom for both the Friday and Saturday cards at Keeneland. “He’s going into it as one of the favorites, so I’m a little nervous. When he went last time [for the Breeders Cup Juvenile], he was one of the long shots, so we didn’t really have overly high expectations. But I’m glad to see him back racing well again and I can’t wait to see how he does on Saturday.”

The Moores sold Knicks Go as a weanling for $40,000 at the 2016 Keeneland November sale. He later went for $87,000 to current owner Korea Racing Authority. He graduated in his career debut at Ellis Park then was fifth in the Sanford Stakes at Saratoga before running third in the Arlington-Washington Futurity.

Following those two modest efforts, Knicks Go was dismissed at 70-1 in the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders Futurity at Keeneland. But Knicks Go scored a stunning, front-running 5 1/2-length victory while getting the one-mile and one-sixteenth in 1:44.27 for then-trainer Ben Colebrook.

Three weeks later, with the Moores on hand, Knicks Go finished second as an overlooked 40-1 shot in the Breeders Cup Juvenile, beaten two lengths by even-money favorite Game Winner.

Knicks Go concluded his freshman campaign with a 2-1-1 slate and over $670,000 banked from six starts and was eventually named champion Maryland-bred two-year-old male and Maryland-bred horse of the year. But that was hardly a harbinger of things to come.

Last year at age three, Knicks Go failed to duplicate his freshman form. He managed no wins and just two-runner-up finishes from eight starts, earning less than $70,000. On the threshold of stardom at age two, Knicks Go was an afterthought during his sophomore campaign.

Sabrina Moore noted that, from a breeder’s perspective, it was difficult to watch the season unfold.

“Every time I looked for him in the entries and results it was definitely disappointing,” Moore said. “I just kept waiting for them to give him some time off. It looked like he just needed a break. People were saying some awful things about him on Twitter. Some of the comments I read were a little harsh. I was just hoping he would get some time off and then come back a fresh horse.”

Knicks Go got a couple of months off — and a new trainer — following an up-the-track finish in the Grade 3 Commonwealth Turf in November 2019.

Switched into the Brad Cox barn, Knicks Go won an allowance race at Oaklawn Park in late February, his first win since the Claiborne Breeders Futurity 16 months earlier. Then, following a seven-month respite, he romped home an emphatic winner of a one-mile and one-sixteenth allowance at Keeneland last month. That effort stamped his ticket to the Breeders Cup Dirt Mile. The Cox trainee is likely to get ample support despite the presence of Kelso hero, Complexity, in their first meeting since the 2018 Breeders Cup Juvenile.

“His last race was really good,” Moore said. “I know he has a lot of early speed, so it will be interesting to see how far he can take it. If he gets loose on the lead, he’s going to be tough to beat. If he gets headed early, he might not race as well. It will also be interesting to see how the track is playing this weekend at Keeneland. There are so many variables, but we’re going to be there to cheer for him.”

BREEDERS’ CUP NOTES Knicks Go is not the only Maryland-bred targeting the Breeders’ Cup. On Friday, After Five, a Maryland-bred colt by The Factor, will run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint. The Wesley Ward trainee has finished second in both his career starts, including in the Grade 3 Futurity at Belmont Park. A $165,000 two-year-old, he is owned by Breeze Easy LLC. Out of the Olmodavor mare Idle Talk, After Five was bred by Mary Eppler Racing Stable Inc. and A. Leonard Pineau.