Knicks Go favored in Pegasus tilt

Knicks Go
Knicks Go stretched out to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Photo by Tim Sudduth/Breeders’ Cup/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM.

Knicks Go has returned to Gulfstream Park for a highly anticipated title defense in Saturday’s $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) presented by 1/ST BET, 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 (G1) presented by Baccarat and the $500,000 TAA Pegasus World Cup Filly and Mare Turf (G3) presented by PEPSI, as well as four other graded stakes, during the annual celebration of Thoroughbred racing, entertainment, fashion and dining. First-race post time is set for 11:30 a.m.

NBC will nationally televise the Pegasus World Cup Day festivities from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. 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, a 1 1/8-mile feature for older horses.

Knicks Go, who was installed as the 6-5 morning-line favorite in a field of nine older horses after drawing the No. 1 post position Tuesday, produced a dazzling 2 ¾-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 ¾-length triumph in the Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Del Mar, is riding a spectacular four-race winning streak in which he has beaten his opponents by a total off 21 ½ 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.

[Knicks Go named Top MIdlantic-bred of 2021]

It remains to be seen if the Brad Cox trainee will be able to defend his title in his usual front-running fashion before starting his stallion career. This year’s Pegasus World Cup has also attracted CHC Inc. and WinStar Farm LLC’s Life Is Good, who has won six of seven career starts from gate to wire, including a scintillating 5 ¾-length victory in the Nov. 6 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,” Cox said. “We’re going to break running, hopefully get to the lead. We’re going to be very aggressive to get him there.

“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 in the morning line after drawing the No. 4 post position, 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 head in the seven-furlong Allen Jerkens (G1) at Saratoga in late August. He came back to capture the one-mile Kelso (G2) at Belmont by 5 ½ 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.”