Cyberknife carries cancer awareness banner in Pegasus

About the time Al Gold was faced with potentially life-threatening cancer, a horse of a lifetime came into his racing operation.

Gold, a horse owner for 50 years, named the young colt Cyberknife in recognition of the medical device used to successfully treat his prostate cancer. As Cyberknife began fulfilling expectations created by his pre-racetrack training, Gold hoped the horse and its name could raise awareness about prostate cancer, the importance of screening for the disease and the technology that improved his own quality of life during treatment.

More than $2 million in purse earnings and two Grade 1 victories later, Cyberknife will carry those banners along with jockey Florent Geroux and Gold’s black and gold silks for the last time in Saturday’s $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) presented by Baccarat at Gulfstream Park.

Trained by Brad Cox, Cyberknife will break from post 10 as the 5-2 program favorite in a capacity field of 12 older horses, plus an also-eligible. Post time is 5:40 p.m. with live coverage on NBC from 4:30 to 6 p.m. EST.

Gold clearly handicapped well in picking out the horse to name Cyberknife.

“I’d never had a Grade 1 winner before,” Gold said. “I’d had a Grade 2, a couple of Grade 3s in partnership with people. But this was far more outstanding than anything else I’d ever had. My next biggest winner won $399,000, so this is $1.6 million more.”

Gold paid $400,000 for Cyberknife, a son of 2017 Horse of the Year and 2018 Pegasus winner Gun Runner, at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky’s 2020 Selected Yearlings Showcase. Not long afterward, Gold’s cancer was diagnosed. His research and close friends led him to the non-invasive Accuray CyberKnife System that uses robotics and artificial intelligence to pinpoint radiation directly to hard-to-get tumors, sparing a lot of healthy tissue. Gold says he had five 18-minute treatments that allowed him to continue his normal life.

“I wasn’t there when the horse was picked out,” said Gold, who races as Gold Square LLC. “[Racing manager] Joe Hardoon and Chad Summers were there. They really loved the horse. When we got him to Ocala to be broken, Susan Montayne, who owns a farm there, said this horse was special. All three liked the horse a lot, so we gave him that name.”

Cyberknife (inside) prevailed in the G1 Haskell. Photo By Nikki Sherman/EQUI-PHOTO.

Sixteen months after the cancer diagnosis, Gold won his first Grade 1 with the Brad Cox-trained Cyberknife taking Oaklawn’s Arkansas Derby. A month later he was at Churchill Downs, with his first Kentucky Derby (G1) starter. In Kentucky, he met other cancer survivors treated with CyberKnife, including a woman who had brain cancer.

“It brought a lot of exposure to CyberKnife,” Gold said of the device.

Cyberknife finished 18th in the Kentucky Derby. The colt subsequently gave Gold another Grade 1 victory in Monmouth Park’s Haskell Invitational, New Jersey’s signature race at the track Gold lived near for 30 years and his state residence for more than 60. Now the 4-year-old colt will close out his career at the owner’s new hometown track, with Gold living in Delray Beach about 45 minutes from Gulfstream Park.

It’s a long way from Cyberknife’s racing debut at Churchill Downs in 2021. He finished first that day but ran greenly and was disqualified for interference.

“There were ups and downs with this horse in the beginning,” Gold said. “His third race to break his maiden, he was just hanging on. He just wasn’t trying, pulling himself up. The Lecomte [his stakes debut a year ago], he went wide, looked like he was going to blow the field away and just stopped. There was always good and bad with him until he got himself together.”

In his last race, Cyberknife finished second by a head behind favored Cody’s Wish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Keeneland. The narrow defeat probably cost him being a finalist for the Eclipse Award as leading 3-year-old champion.

“If he had to get beat in the Breeders’ Cup, that was the horse you wanted to win, because that was a better story than anything, that Cody’s Wish,” Gold said of the horse named for a young man born with Wolf–Hirschhorn syndrome.

It was suggested that trying to win a $3 million race the week of the Eclipse is a nice alternative.

“We’ll have to settle for that,” he laughed. “It’s a great race for us because it fits perfectly with our schedule. He goes to stud next month, so this will be his last hurrah.”

Then it’s on to Kentucky where Cyberknife will join Spendthrift Farm’s stallion roster. The stud deal struck after Cyberknife won the Arkansas Derby stipulated that the colt would be retired before the breeding season begins in mid-February. 

“It’s a very enjoyable experience for the two years I’ve had him,” Gold said. “It’s bittersweet now that he’s going to stud. I’ll miss all the fun, the enjoyment I had with him but he’s off to a second career.

“I would have loved to have raced him as a 4-year-old for the whole year. But at the time I made the decision, right after the Arkansas Derby, I was very happy. I got a few offers. The best offer I got was Spendthrift, and I was very happy to go through with it. And I still am. I bought some broodmares and I’m looking forward to breeding to him.”

Cox said that Cyberknife is the epitome of a plan coming together, that racing is full of horses who didn’t pan out after being named for a person or something meaningful.

“Most of the time it doesn’t work out that way,” he said. “It’s obviously a very meaningful name to Al. With the Kentucky Derby, it was well-documented tying his name to promote prostate cancer awareness. It’s been a positive in that regard. Hopefully he does well in the Pegasus and continues to spread the word as a stallion.”