HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – A dazzling showdown of speed in Saturday’s $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) presented by 1/ST BET at Gulfstream Park is being anxiously awaited in advance of a showdown between defending champion Knicks Go and Life Is Good.
Knicks Go has won eight of 10 starts since being transferred to trainer Brad Cox – all achieved in gate-to-wire style. However, it has taken more than speed for Knicks Go to become Longines 2021 World’s Best Racehorse.
When a horse with superior speed runs at longer distances, his chances of success may hinge more on how he handles the turns than how fast he is.
“He runs the turns well. He can kind of clear off on the first turn. He’s a horse that when he hits his left lead he doesn’t slow down much. He bounces on that left lead going into the turn and creates some separation on the first turn,” Cox said. “And on the far turn, he just puts them away. I think from the half-mile pole to the three-eighths pole, he gets a little distance. The jocks on the other horses have to go into chase mode and by the time they get to the quarter pole, he’s still kind of cruising along. They can’t catch him.”
Channel Cat’s Future Rests on Pegasus Turf
His performance in Saturday’s $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) presented by Baccarat will do more for Channel Cat than top what is already a long list of career accomplishments.
The 1 1/8-mile event for 4-year-olds and up will help determine the future of the 7-year-old Calumet Farm homebred, a son of their late stallion English Channel, the turf champion of 2007 and prominent grass sire who passed away last November at age 19.
Trainer Jack Sisterson said the connections have had initial conversations about Channel Cat beyond the Pegasus, when he will be making his 31st career start.
“We’ll see how he runs on Saturday,” Sisterson said. “We pre-entered him for the race at Saudi and there’s potentially Dubai. It’s great that the farm likes to run them while they’re doing well.
“Unfortunately, with the loss of English Channel and Channel Cat being a son of English Channel, could he be a replacement?” he added. “I don’t really get too much involved with the breeding side of it. There were talks of it [being his last race], but it’s kind of been left open to see how he runs. It’s up to him to tell us, and he’s showing us signs right now that he definitely wants to still run.”
Channel Cat became a Grade 1 winner in the 1 3/8-mile Man o’ War last spring at Belmont Park, just shy of two years after first finding graded success in the 2019 Bowling Green (G2) at Saratoga, when he was trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher. Sisterson took over Channel Cat’s training in the spring of 2020.
“He’s a cool horse. He came in great shape off Todd, and I just didn’t want to ruin what Todd had done with him, so I just didn’t get in his way,” Sisterson said. “He’s an older horse, he knows his job, and he loves to get out there and train. If he’s not out there by 5:30 [a.m.], he shouts the barn down. If he’s not the first walk in the afternoon, again he shouts. We just try to keep him happy and not get in his way.”
Channel Cat has raced exclusively on turf throughout his career, with six wins, four seconds, five thirds and $1,456,022 in purse earnings. Other stakes wins have come in the 2019 Bald Eagle Derby at Laurel Park and Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs. He has also placed in six graded stakes, including the 2019 Sword Dancer (G1) and United Nations (G1).
In his most recent start, Channel Cat set the pace in the 1 3/8-mile Red Smith (G2) before being caught late by Serve the King and finishing second by a neck Nov. 20 at Aqueduct under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.
“Going into his last race his previous races were disappointing, so I had to change something up. So, I said we’ll slap the blinkers on him and he responded well to them,” Sisterson said. “John said he didn’t need them, but it didn’t hurt him at the same time. I was just concerned he was going to be a bit lackluster like his previous races. I wanted him to be forward in the race so we put them on, but I’m probably going to pull them off. There’s going to be a ton of speed in the Pegasus.”
Sisterson has been training Channel Cat accordingly, working him in company behind horses. Joel Rosario, expected to earn his first Eclipse Award as the champion jockey of 2021, has the call on Channel Cat from Post 10 in a field of 12. He is listed at 12-1 on the morning line.
“Channel Cat does have speed, and he will jump and go forward, but if Joel seems to think there’s a speed duel going on he can be smart and take back,” Sisterson said. “I wanted to breeze him that way and have a target in front of him, and his last breeze was incredible.”
Sisterson has been impressed with the way Channel Cat is heading into his sixth season of racing. This will be his second time in the Pegasus after running 10th following some early trouble in 2020.
“I’m sort of going over the videos comparing him to last year, and to me from a physical standpoint he looks bigger and stronger this year. His coat’s in better shape, and he’s really come into it better than ever, certainly better than I’ve ever had him,” he said. “He’s going to have to step forward again to compete against this caliber of horse, but I think on his day he’s capable of doing it.”
Tracy Farmer’s Sir Winston may not always be the most pleasant horse to be around, but Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse’s team couldn’t be happier that the 6-year-old veteran is still hanging around, even on his cantankerous days.
“He could be the most docile horse, but he can also be very mean. You never really know what you’re going to get with him, but he’s pretty cool to be around,” said Nick Tomlinson, Casse’s assistant at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach County. “He’s always been kind of a character, but we’re just very grateful to have him.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Sir Winston is acting like a kid again and ready to take on the best horses in training in Saturday’s $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) presented by 1S/T BET at Gulfstream Park.
“We’re very grateful to Mr. Farmer to even bring him back and give him another chance,” Tomlinson said. “Hopefully, he’ll be rewarded in the Pegasus.”
Sir Winston, who is rated fourth at 12-1 in the Pegasus morning line, reached to top of the Thoroughbred world at 3 when he pulled off an upset in the 2019 Belmont Stakes (G1). The son of Awesome Again’s career had stalled for a couple of years, but he will enter the Pegasus in the best form since his 3-year-old season, coming off a sharp 2021 campaign that was capped with a victory in the Valedictory (G3) at Woodbine. He’s also giving as much attitude to horses on the track as he can sometimes give to people around Casse’s barn.
“When he’s getting around horses, he’s getting a lot more aggressive in his works,” Tomlinson said. “We’re very happy with the way he’s coming into it. I know we’re a longshot, but we definitely deserve to be in there.”