At nine furlongs, the 2021 Pegasus World Cup is a deceptively long race this year, not least because its narrow favorite, Knicks Go, is a known — or at least has been touted as a “born” — speedster. As we know, speed comes at a price, be it in horse racing or any other endeavor, and the bottom line of that inflexible equation is that you have to spend to get. Faced with top-tier opponents such as Tax and long-bomb tactical runners such as Code of Honor, Knicks Go is faced with a tough climb and some even tougher choices up this mile-and-an-eighth.
Before we bring in the Bluegrass Wise Man ™ — our acclaimed Kentucky horseman who has been so generous with his analysis in seasons past — to parse the intricacies of this pleasingly complex field for us, below are the Gulfstream odds, which we’ll update until post time.
If we add to that the scramble of Gulfstream’s trademark blazingly short run into the first turn, it’s fair to say that the talented Joel Rosario and his mount will have to stay cool and collected in the fray, dispensing their speed without spending too much of it. Because: However short the race might seem to horses like Code of Honor, Knicks Go has never run at this length.
Post Position, Trainer, Jockey, Odds, (Morning Line)
1. Sleepy Eyes Todd, Miguel Silva, Jose Ortiz, 14-1, (8-1)
2. Coastal Defense, Dale Romans, Corey Lanerie, 20-1, (15-1)
3. Independence Hall, Michael McCarthy, Flavien Prat, 45-1, (20-1
4. Knicks Go, Brad Cox, Joel Rosario, 1-1, (5-2)
5. Jesus’ Team, Jose D’Angelo, Irad Ortiz Jr., 11-1, (8-1)
6. Kiss Today Goodbye, Eric Kruljac, Mike Smith, 12-1, (10-1)
7. Tax, Danny Gargan, Luis Saez, 5-1, (5-1)
8. Harpers First Ride, Claudio Gonzalez, Angel Cruz, 25-1, (10-1)
9. Last Judgment, Mike Maker, Paco Lopez, 35-1, (20-1)
10. Code of Honor, Shug McGaughey, Tyler Gaffalione, 7-2, (9-2)
11. Mr Freeze, Dale Romans, John Velazquez, 18-1, (15-1)
12. Math Wizard, Saffie Joseph Jr., Edgard Zayas, 50-1, (20-1)
(Source: Twinspires, 1/23/2021. Time: 5:45 p.m. EDT)
Nota bene: Though a Kentucky native, an owner and a lifelong horseman, the Bluegrass Wise Man ™ has no horses in this year’s Pegasus World Cup. He will, however, be betting the race along with the rest of us.
So, is it a distance question, a jockey question, or a “head” question for Knicks Go?
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: All of the above. Joel is a great rider and if anybody can, he will be able to help Knicks Go keep his head in the scrum, but I’ll have to say that Knicks Go is going to have his work cut out for him. Of all those three factors you name, I have to keep coming back to the one basic thing to racing. In his eleven starts, Knicks Go has never run at a mile-and-an-eighth. Period. Ever. Now, Joel says how much horse he had left at the Breeders’ turf mile last fall and his other wins. I believe that. Trainer Cox has brought this horse back brilliantly from a long losing streak. It can be today that Knicks Go blazes out of the gate, gets comfortable in the lead, nobody takes it away from him or makes him burn out, and he brings that to the wire. If that can be made to happen, more power to the horse, Joel, and Cox. I won’t say it’s a fairy tale, but I do think they’re gonna have a tougher trip than that. Despite all that Brad and Joel have done with this horse, Knicks Go still has to be able to cover that last furlong. Many a race has been lost in the last two hundred yards.
Let’s dig into where that puts our betting and how the race might look.
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: Joel will have to make sure that Knicks Go has enough in the tank to fend off any comers down the stretch. That will take some serious management, with the short break out of the gate to the first turn at Gulfstream, and given Knicks Go’s desire to get in front. What is it going to take him to get there, meaning, in front, and what is the backstretch gonna cost him if he stays there? It’s a high price for a horse that was a specialist in the mile. The last furlong is the battlefield in a lot of races, but especially so with $3 million on the line in this one. Another way to look at it is, what do the other trainers think is Knicks Go’s big vulnerability? They’re gonna be gunning him, pressing him, urging and challenging him on to tire him so that they can take the race from him in that last furlong. Every jockey and every horse in the field will be doing that. Why I say he’s gonna have an uphill fight.
Which brings us to Code of Honor.
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: Exactly. Truth to tell, I’m partial to Code of Honor over Knicks Go at the end of the day because Code of Honor can do this distance, and win at it. He’s had an interesting, and hard, career, some of it of his own making, but one takeaway from it all is that he keeps coming and has tactical speed. He’s been a bit late in bringing his run for different reasons. That means, not all of his “losses,” if you can call them that, are due to him. He’s certainly fit and I suspect he’s due. My point is that Code of Honor’s ability to bring his run fits the distance, fits the start of the race, fits the track, and certainly fits any sort of battle you would imagine with a horse like Knicks Go. He’s breaking from the outside, and with that short run to the turn, it can be a problem. All that said, he is going to have to have a better performance today than any of what he showed us last year. They say he’s ready to deliver.
Let’s move to some of the others. Tax?
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: Tax has it in him to take this race, but I think his bigger role is going to be as a danger, if not the danger, to Knicks Go. Tax has speed, likes to be up front, all that. If he gets in there and starts messing with Knicks Go’s mind up close, it’s going to be tough for Knicks Go to concentrate on his job. Horses are like any other athletes. If you distract ’em, they’re just not gonna turn in their best performances. I would use Tax in some exotics. If you like him enough, box him in there to win in a trifecta. He may just live up to that.
Let’s hit Jesus’ Team and the brilliantly named Sleepy Eyes Todd.
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: Jesus’ Team ran in some fancy races last year, hitting the Jim Dandy, Preakness, Breeders Cup Dirt Mile. He gets Irad Ortiz, who, I don’t have to tell you, is one of the famous Ortiz brothers. You could almost bet the jock here. Jesus’ Team doesn’t win a lot, but his three career wins have been at Gulfstream. Logic would say that you have to use him in your exotics. 8/1 does not seem juicy enough for me. He will go up but should be used in exotics.
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: Sleepy Eyes Todd will have to contend with the rail. He did win the prep for this race, the Mr. Prospector. Gets the other Ortiz brother, Jose. He is a stalker, so could get shuffled back and then will have to move through the traffic. Has won at the distance. Lately, we’ve seen him running off the pace and that has resulted in wins. Will likely have to do the same here. He seems ready, but not especially “due,” you know? Plug him into some exotics.
Race day means, care to terrify everybody about their plays? You’re pretty good at that.
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: Funny thing. Horses don’t know the size of the purse, but sometimes, in the big Grade 1 stakes races, it’s almost like they do. So, you can’t tell. You can be laying money on the strongest favorite in the world, with the best jockey and the Hall of Fame trainer and he’ll wind up running last. That’s why folks looking at fields like this one play horses like Harpers First Ride and Math Wizard. Sometimes, horses are about just wanting to see it happen.