Korea Racing Authority’s Knicks Go (Paynter – Kosmos’s Buddy by Outflanker) is scheduled to seek the biggest payday of his career in Saturday’s $3 million Pegasus World Cup Championship Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Park while also pursuing lucrative future considerations.
There are 7 graded stakes races on the 12-race card, an exciting day of racing that perks up this quiet COVID winter.
First race post time is 11:40 a.m.
This is the 5th running of the Pegasus and is joined by the Pegasus Turf, worth $1 million, also on the card.
Knicks Go is the dominant speed in the big field and it will simply be a case of ‘catch him if you can’ for the others.
BRAD COX, trainer of the brilliantly speedy Knicks Go, said, “It’s a very prestigious race. It hasn’t been around that long, but with the likes of Gun Runner, Arrogate and City of Light, there are champions that have won this race. It means a whole lot. It’s a race that can make a stallion, and we’re still trying to do that with Knicks Go. He’ll be a stallion at some point. This would mean a lot and do a lot for his value as a stallion. Not only is it a great purse, but it’s going to add a lot of value if he’s able to win the race.”
Knicks Go will enter the fifth running of the Pegasus off three straight victories in as many starts in 2020, including a track record-breaking triumph under Joel Rosario in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt (G2) at Keeneland. Installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite in a field of 12 after drawing Post. No. 4 Wednesday, Knicks Go will have to prove himself by trying to carry his abundant speed beyond 1 1/16-miles, the longest distance he has run during his 17-race career.
“I haven’t raced a lot at Gulfstream, but I think speed is always a good thing there. I’m a big believer that speed is good at a mile and an eighth and beyond – obviously it depends on how much other speed is in the race. But I think he can get it. I think he’s a horse that once he gets free and loose, he runs with a lot of confidence,” Cox said.
“I’m excited. I really do think he’ll handle a mile and an eighth. In his three races with us last year, there was horse left,” he added. “In the Breeders’ Cup, Joel reached up and grabbed him four or five jumps from the wire, so he was still going.”
Knicks Go is in the middle of a career resurgence since joining Cox’s stable in 2020. The Maryland-bred was a top 2-year-old in 2018, capturing the 1 1/16-mile Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland by 5 ½ lengths and finishing second behind Game Winner in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Churchill Downs.
However, he went winless in 10 starts after his Breeders’ Futurity score, blanked in 8 races in 2019.
Knicks Go registered a front-running 7 ½-length victory for Cox in a Feb. 22 optional claiming allowance at Oaklawn Park before heading to the sidelines for seven months. He returned to action with a sensational 10 ¼-length romp in a Oct. 4 optional claiming allowance at Keeneland, encouraging his connections to give the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile a try. Knicks Go came through with a spectacular 3 ½-length, front-running victory in the track-record time of 1:33.85.
Rosario has been awarded the return call aboard Knicks Go.
W. S. Farish’s Code of Honor, a graded-stakes winner over the Gulfstream Park track, was rated second in the morning-line at 9-2 after drawing Post. No. 10. The Shug McGaughey-trained 5-year-old captured the 2019 Fountain of Youth (G2) before finishing third behind Maximum Security in the both the Florida Derby (G1) and the Kentucky Derby (G1). He went on to win the Travers (G1) at Saratoga and the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) via the disqualification of Vino Rossi at Belmont Park.
After winning the June 6 Westchester at Belmont to open his 2021 campaign, Code of Honor has been winless in four starts that include a third-place finish in the Met Mile (G1) at Belmont, a troubled fourth in the Whitney (G1) at Keeneland, a runner-up finish in the Kelso at Belmont, and a second-place finish in the Clark (G1) at Churchill Downs.
“In the Clark, he was bottled up there. By the time he got loose, the race was pretty much over. Before that, going a mile, Chad’s horse [Complexity] kind of controlled what was going on. I think Javier [Castellano] knew he had to be closer and move a little sooner,” trainer Shug McGaughey said. “The Whitney was a throw out. His first race was good. I probably shouldn’t have run him in the Metropolitan Mile. He was wide and Vekoma got the trip. He’s a nice horse. Maybe this will be his day.”
Tyler Gaffalione is scheduled to ride Code of Honor for the first time Saturday,
Randy Hill, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Hugh Lynch’s Tax is set to make his second straight start in the Pegasus, in which he finished off the board after stumbling at the start last year. The 5-year-old son of Arch, one of two returning Pegasus entrants, is coming off a dominating 4 ½-length victory in the Dec. 12 Harlan’s Holiday (G3) at Gulfstream.
“He’s better now than he’s ever been. We always knew he was a really good horse. He’s grown and developed into a better horse than he was last year. I think with age he’s getting better and getting stronger, healthier,” Gargan said. “He has a few little issues we had to work through, and he’s gotten through them. I’m expecting a big performance.”
Luis Saez has the return mount aboard Tax, who drew Post No. 7 and was rated third at 5-1.
Jim Bakke and Jerry Isbister’s Mr Freeze will seek to improve on a second-place finish behind Mucho Gusto in last year’s Pegasus. The Dale Romans-trained 6-year-old came right back from his big run in the Pegasus with a three-length victory in the Gulfstream Park Mile (G2). The son of To Honor and Serve has won one of six subsequent graded-stakes starts, capturing the 1 1/8-mile Fayette (G2) Oct. 10 sat Keeneland before finishing sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and fifth in the Clark.
Mr Freeze was rated at 15-1 after drawing the Post No. 11.
“Mr Freeze has plenty of gas, so he can get out and settle where he needs to be. It’s a pretty fair race going a mile and an eighth here no matter where you draw,” said Romans, who named John Velazquez to ride Mr Freeze. “He loves this racetrack.”
Romans is also scheduled to saddle Albaugh Family Stables LLC and Helen K. Groves Revocable Trust’s Coastal Defense for the Pegasus. The 5-year-old son of Curlin finished fourth in both the Fayette and Clark in his last two starts and is also rated at 15-1. Corey Lanerie has the mount.
Thumbs Up Racing LLC’s Sleepy Eyes Todd, who is rated at 8-1 in the morning line, enters the Pegasus off a half-length victory in the seven-furlong Mr. Prospector Dec. 19 at Gulfstream, but the 5-year-old son of Paddy O’Prado was a front-running winner in the 1 1/8-mile Charles Town Classic (G2) in August.
“I love the mile and an eighth,” trainer Miguel Silva said. “He already won at that distance and he performed really good at that distance. We’re just hoping that we have a different kind of trip. We don’t want to be on the lead and hopefully we can pick up horses at the end.”
Jose Ortiz is scheduled to ride Sleepy Eyes Todd for the first time.
Grupo 7C Racing Stable’s Jesus’ Team is rated at 10-1 in the morning-line for the Pegasus on the strength of a pair of Grade 1 placings last year. After winning a $32,000 maiden claiming race at Gulfstream last March, the son of Tapiture went on the road to finish third in the Preakness (G1) and second behind Knicks Go in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. The 4-year-old over-achiever returned to Gulfstream to prepare for a start in the Pegasus with a victory in the Claiming Crown Jewel Dec. 5.
Jesus’ Team is trained by Jose D’Angelo, a former leading trainer in Venezuela before venturing to South Florida in 2019,
“It’s very exciting. It is the most important race of our calendar in South Florida at Gulfstream Park,” D’Angelo said. “I think it’s a big test for both me and Jesus.”
Irad Ortiz Jr., who rode Mucho Gusto to victory last year, is scheduled to ride Jesus’ Team for the first time Saturday.
Trainer Michael McCarthy, who saddled City of Light for a 5 ¾-length romp in the 2019 Pegasus, is scheduled to saddle Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Twin Creek Racing Stables LLC, Robert and Kathleen Verratti’s Independence Hall. The 4-year-old son of Constitution, who finished fifth in last year’s Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream, came off a seven-month layoff to win a Nov. 8 allowance at Del Mar before finishing fifth in the seven-furlong Malibu (G1) at Santa Anita last time out.
“There are a lot of unknowns with the horse. Can he handle a mile and an eighth? His one race at Gulfstream was just OK,” McCarthy said. “So, there are a lot of unknowns going into this.”
Flavien Prat has the call.
John Sondereker’s Kiss Today Goodbye enters the Pegasus after winning his first stakes in the Dec. 26 San Antonio (G2) at Santa Anita. The Eric Kruljac-trained 4-year-old son of Cairo Prince is rated at 12-1. Mike Smith, who rode Arrogate to victory in the 2018 Pegasus, has the call on Kiss Today Goodbye.
Harpers First Ride, who has been privately purchased since his last start by GMP Stables LLC, Cypress Creek Equine and Arnold Bennewith, will seek his fifth stakes victory in six starts Saturday. The Claudio Gonzalez-trained 5-year-old son of Paynter will be ridden by regular jockey Angel Cruz.
John Fanelli and partners’ Math Wizard will seek his first victory since capturing the 2019 Pennsylvania Derby (G1) in the Pegasus. The Saffie Joseph Jr.-trained 5-year-old son of Algorithms will be ridden by Edgard Zayas.
Michael Dubb, Steve Hornstock, Bethlehem Stables LLC and Nice Guys Racing’s Last Judgment, who captured the Jan. 16 Sunshine Classic by 6 ½ lengths at Gulfstream Park, drew into the field upon the withdrawal of True Timber. The Michael Maker trainee will be ridden by Paco Lopez.
Saturday, Gulfstream, post time: 5:44 p.m. EST
PEGASUS WORLD CUP INVITATIONAL S.-GI, $3,000,000, 4yo/up, 1 1/8m
1 Sleepy Eyes Todd – Paddy O’Prado Thumbs Up Racing, LLC Silva Ortiz
2 Coastal Defense – Curlin Albaugh Family Stables LLC and Helen K. Groves Romans Lanerie
3 Independence Hall – Constitution WinStar Farm LLC, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Twin Creeks Racing Stables, LLC and RKV Racing, LLCMcCarthy Prat
4 Knicks Go – Paynter Korea Racing Authority Cox Rosario
5 Jesus’ Team – Tapiture Grupo 7C Racing Stable D’Angelo Ortiz, Jr.
6 Kiss Today Goodbye – Cairo Prince John Sondereker Kruljac Smith
7 Tax – Arch R. A. Hill Stable, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing & Hugh Lynch Gargan Saez
8 Harpers First Ride – Paynter GMP Stables, Arnold Bennewith & Cypress Creek Equine Gonzalez Cruz
9 Last Judgment – Congrats M. Dubb, S. Hornstock, Bethlehem Stables & Nice Guys Stables Maker Lopez
10 Code of Honor – Noble Mission (GB) W.S. Farish McGaughey III Gaffalione
11 Mr Freeze – To Honor and Serve Bakke, Jim and Isbister, Gerald Romans Velazquez
12 Math Wizard – Algorithms Fanelli, John, Mishref, Khalid, Cash is King LLC, LC Racing, Joseph, Jr. Collarmele Vitelli Stables LLC, I. Zoumas & Bassett Stables Z
~ with files from Gulfstream Park