2021 Champion Set for Speed Showdown with Life Is Good
7 Graded Stakes Grace Saturday’s 12-Race Card
Late Pick 5, Late Pick 4 Pools Guaranteed at $750K
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – 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.
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. We’re going to break running, hopefully get to the lead. We’re going to be very aggressive to get him there,” Cox said. “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.”
Life Is Good, who hasn’t run beyond 1 1/16 miles, is in the same position that Knicks Go was in last year when he attempted to carry his abundant speed 1 1/8 miles for the first time. Knicks Go has gone on to prove himself to be just as effective or even more effective at longer distances.
“He’s older and wiser. I think last year we probably had a bit of a question mark if he could perform at a mile and an eighth. He’s obviously proven that having won two Grade 1s at a mile and an eighth and a Grade 1 at a mile and a quarter last year,” Cox said. “Distance isn’t an issue, [whereas] there was a little bit of a question mark [last year]. He’s very sound and doing phenomenal. We know him better this year. We have even more confidence this year than we had last year.”
Pletcher has expressed confidence in both Life Is Good’s natural speed and his ability to carry that speed beyond 1 1/16 miles, over which he won by eight lengths last year in the San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita.
“With Life is Good you’re talking about a horse that, if you wanted to, could probably be the best sprinter in the country. He’s just naturally very quick and very fast,” Pletcher said. “He’s also showed in the Dirt Mile that he has the ability to go at a high cruising speed and keep going, and that’s what we’ve seen in his training. Everything he shows us is he’ll run further.”
Joel Rosario has the return mount aboard Knicks Go, while Irad Ortiz Jr. has retained the mount on Life Is Good.
The connections of the other Pegasus World Cup entrants are obviously hoping that a blistering speed duel will develop between Knicks Go and Life Is Good and soften them up for a possible upset.
Tracy Farmer’s Sir Winston is no stranger to pulling off upsets on Thoroughbred racing’s main stage. The Mark Casse-trained 6-year-old won the 2019 Belmont Stakes (G1), in which favored stablemate War of Will, who had won the Preakness Stakes (G1) three weeks earlier, finished off the board. The son of Awesome Again won one race from his next five starts over a period of two years, before returning this year in top form, winning two races, including the Valedictory (G3) at Woodbine last time out, and finishing a close second twice in four starts.
“He needs a lot of things to go his way,” said Casse, who awarded the mount aboard his Belmont winner to Edwin Gonzalez. “He’s feeling really well, and we believe he deserves a chance.”
Known for success with longshots, most notably 2006 Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Lemons Forever (47-1), trainer Dallas Stewart is scheduled to saddle a pair of graded stakes-winning starters in the Pegasus World Cup – Estate of James J. Coleman Jr.’s Chess Chief and Charles Fipke’s Title Ready.
Chess Chief, like Title Ready, has a come-from-behind running style, which he most recently employed for a victory in the Tenacious Stakes at Fair Grounds. The 6-year-old son of Into Mischief, who is rated third in the morning line at 10-1, captured the 2021 New Orleans Classic (G2) at the Pegasus distance of 1 1/8 miles. Title Ready, a 7-year-old son of More Than Ready, was victorious in the 2021 Louisiana Handicap (G3). Reylu Gutierrez has the call on Chess Chief, while Tyler Gaffalione has the mount aboard Title Ready.
Steve Moger’s Stilleto Boy brings a resume with a pair of Grade 1 placings into the Pegasus World Cup. The Santa Anita-based 4-year-old gelding was second in the Awesome Again (G1) before finishing fifth behind Knicks Go in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The son of Shackleford most recently finished third behind emerging superstar Flightline in the seven-furlong Malibu (G1). Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux has the mount.
AJ Suited Racing Stable LLC’s Commandeer, a late-developing 4-year-old son of Street Boss, enters the Pegasus World Cup off back-to-back 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance scores at Laurel Park and Churchill Downs. Trainer Jimmy Toner has awarded the mount to Julien Leparoux.
Mark Breen’s Endorsed returns to two-turn racing Saturday after finishing a fast-closing second in the seven-furlong Mr. Prospector (G3) at Gulfstream last time out. The Mike Maker-trained 6-year-old son of Medaglia d’Oro will be ridden by Umberto Rispoli.
John Grossi Racing Stable Corp.’s Empty Tomb, runner-up in the 1 1/8-mile Queens County at Aqueduct last time out, rounds out the field. The Robert Falcone Jr.-trained son of Speightstown will be ridden by Paco Lopez.