Knicks Go second in career finale

Life Is Good
Life Is Good easily won the Pegasus World Cup. Photo Lauren King.

Knicks Go, the Maryland-bred who took the racing world by storm in late 2020 and again in 2021, reached the end of his career Saturday at Gulfstream Park $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) presented by 1 S/T BET.

While a much-anticipated showdown with Life Is Good didn’t exactly materialize – that runner ran off the screen to a decisive 3 ¼-length victory – Knicks Go did deliver one more solid performance, finishing a hard-trying second.

And nobody was complaining too much.

“He’s been super good to us. We’re proud of him and we’re happy and excited that he’s retiring sound and healthy, and I look forward to training some of his babies in a couple of years,” his trainer Brad Cox said. “He’s 6. It’s time for him to go off to stud. Hopefully, he’ll pass on his heart and determination and be a good sire.”

Knicks Go was named Top Midlantic-bred Friday in polling conducted by Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred and The Racing Biz. He is widely expected to win the Eclipse Award as horse of the year after a 2021 campaign in which he won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Grade 1 Pegasus, and Grade 1 Whitney.

But a defense of the Pegasus title, against Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Life Is Good, proved to be a bridge too far.

Life Is Good avoided a highly anticipated speed duel with Knicks Go by outsprinting the defending champion to a clear early lead that he would never relinquish.

CHC Inc. and WinStar Farm LLC’s Life Is Good was slightly favored over Korea Racing Authority’s Knicks Go at 4-5 odds for what bettors clearly perceived as a two-horse race. The 4-year-old son did his best to make it a one-horse event by breaking sharply and opening a clear early lead heading into the first turn.

“I respect the other horse a lot. I thought it was going to be a match race. But going into the first turn, my horse was so fast, so I just let him do his thing. I felt like a lot of horse and I couldn’t wait to let him run,” winning rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. said.

Knicks Go, who had been expected to break right with the Pletcher trainee from his rail post position, surprisingly was in third heading into the first turn after also being outrun early by longshot Stilleto Boy.

Life Is Good maintained a clear lead along the backstretch and into the far turn after setting fractions of 23.12 and 46.35 seconds for the first half-mile of the 1 1/8-mile feature. Knicks Go advanced to second on the backstretch under Joel Rosario in futile pursuit of the loose-on-the-lead Life Is Good, who would continue on his way to a comfortable victory in 1:48.91.

“I loved when he got to the first turn the way he did,” said winning trainer Todd Pletcher, the 18-time Championship Meet titlist at Gulfstream. “He was going fast but he was in hand doing it. It looked like he was comfortable throughout. I felt like he was in control. He was going plenty fast enough and the track was wicked fast today.”

Brad Cox-trained Knicks Go, who was an impressive front-running winner by 2 ¾ lengths in last year’s Pegasus World Cup, continued to fight on in the stretch to finish second, a length ahead of Stilleto Boy and jockey Jose Ortiz.

“It looked like he broke alright and then kind of got outrun a little bit. I don’t know, that horse, the winner, he ran off the TV screen. The plan was definitely to go. I wanted to; we just got outrun,” Cox said. “I talked to Joel and he said he handled the track fine. He said a couple on his outside were moving along pretty good and it kind of got a little tight [early] so he took him back off of it a little bit and obviously the winner was just galloping on the lead.”