Knicks Go eyes Pegasus win, which could alter future plans

Arden Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

There are plans for Knicks Go, and there are hopes.

They’re not exactly aligned.

The plan for Knicks Go – the likely favorite in Saturday’s $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida – is to keep him racing throughout 2021. And the hope, of course, is that he wins the Pegasus, which would significantly add to his asking price when it’s time to begin his stallion career.

But a Pegasus win might also mean he heads to the stud farm faster than anyone anticipated.

“This is a very important race,” trainer Brad Cox said in an interview done virtually with Gulfstream Park leading up to the Pegasus. “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. … If the right offer came up, it would be a possibility that he would be retired. The better he runs, the better that possibility is.”

The first three winners of the Pegasus – Arrogate, Gun Runner and City of Light – were retired for stud careers; Arrogate died last year after neurological problems. And last year’s winner, Mucho Gusto, is probably headed for a stud career after being retired earlier this month after a ligament injury was found.

Arrogate still ranks as the leading moneywinner in North American racing history with $17.4 million in earnings. Gun Runner is third with just under $16 million and City of Light ranks 50th at nearly $5.7 million.

Knicks Go has won about $1.35 million. A victory Saturday would more than double that total.

“It’s a very prestigious race,” Cox said. “It’s not been around a long time, but obviously with the likes of Gun Runner, Arrogate and City of Light, basically champions 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.”

If he runs to potential Saturday, that point could come faster than Cox anticipated. And it would add more of a spotlight onto what Cox has managed to do over the past three years or so as well.

Cox started training in 2004 and in his first 14 years, combined, he picked up 780 wins with purses totaling about $26 million in purses.

In the three-plus seasons since: 702 wins, worth about $52 million in purses. He’s considered the likely winner of the Eclipse Award as the nation’s top trainer for 2020 – those trophies will be handed out next week – and he had a record-tying four winners at last year’s Breeders’ Cup. Cox guided Essential Quality to the win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Aunt Pearl in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, Monomoy Girl in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and Knicks Go in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

Knicks Go will have to go an extra furlong Saturday; the Pegasus is 1 1/8 miles. The top competition should come from Code of Honor, which has multiple Grade 1 wins including the 2019 Travers at Saratoga, and Tax – the 5-1 third choice in the morning line behind Knicks Go and Code of Honor.

“He’ll like this firm track,” Code of Honor trainer Shug McGaughey said. “And we’ll see what happens.”

Churchill Downs moves meet to Ellis Park to examine protocols following 12 horse deaths

churchill downs
Michael Clevenger and Erik Mohn/USA TODAY NETWORK

Churchill Downs will suspend racing and move the remainder of its spring meet to Ellis Park in order to conduct a “top-to-bottom” review of safety and surface protocols in the wake of 12 horse fatalities the past month at the home of the Kentucky Derby.

No single factor has been identified as a potential cause for the fatalities or pattern detected, according to a release, but the decision was made to relocate the meet “in an abundance of caution.”

“What has happened at our track is deeply upsetting and absolutely unacceptable,” Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen said in Friday’s release. “We need to take more time to conduct a top-to-bottom review of all of the details and circumstances so that we can further strengthen our surface, safety and integrity protocols.”

Racing will continue at Churchill Downs through Sunday before shifting to the CDI-owned racing and gaming facility in Henderson, Kentucky. Ellis Park’s meet was scheduled to start July 7 and run through Aug. 27 but will now expand with Friday’s announcement.

Ellis Park will resume racing on June 10.

The move comes a day after track superintendent Dennis Moore conducted a second independent analysis of Churchill Downs’ racing and training surfaces as part of an emergency summit called this week by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) with the track and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Meetings took place in Lexington, Kentucky, and at the Louisville track.

The head of the federally created oversight agency suggested ahead of the summit that it could recommend pausing the meet and that Churchill Downs would accept that recommendation.

Churchill Downs’ release stated that expert testing raised no concerns and concluded that the surface was consistent with the track’s prior measurements. Even so, it chose to relocate “in alignment” with HISA’s recommendation to suspend the meet to allow more time for additional investigation.

“We appreciate their thoughtfulness and cooperation through these challenging moments,” HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus said in a statement. “We will continue to seek answers and work with everyone involved to ensure that horses are running safely at Churchill Downs again in the near future.”

Carstanjen insisted that relocating the remainder of the spring meet to Ellis Park would maintain the industry ecosystem with minor disruption. He also said he was grateful to Kentucky horsemen for their support as they work to find answers.

Rick Hiles, the president of Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, questioned the move, especially since there’s no conclusive evidence that Churchill Downs’ surface is the problem.

“We all want to find solutions that will improve safety for horses,” Hiles said in a statement. “However, we need to discuss allowing trainers and veterinarians to use therapeutic medications that greatly lessen the risk of breakdowns.

“Drastic steps, such as relocating an active race meet, should only be considered when it is certain to make a difference.”

The latest development comes a day after Churchill Downs and HISA each implemented safety and performance standards to address the spate of deaths.

HISA will conduct additional post-entry screening of horses to identify those at increased risk for injury. Its Integrity and Welfare Unit also will collect blood and hair samples for all fatalities for use while investigating a cause.

Churchill Downs announced it would immediately limit horses to four starts during a rolling eight-week period and impose ineligibility standards for poor performers. The track is also pausing incentives, such as trainer start bonuses and limiting purse payouts to the top five finishers instead of every finisher.

Forte works out, waits for Belmont Stakes clearance


NEW YORK — Forte, the early Kentucky Derby favorite who was scratched on the day of the race, worked out in preparation for a possible start in the Belmont Stakes on June 10.

Under regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr., Forte worked five-eighths of a mile for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. It was the colt’s second workout since being scratched from the Derby on May 6.

“It seems like he’s maintained his fitness level,” Pletcher said. “It seems like everything is in good order.”

Forte was placed on a mandatory 14-day veterinary list after being scratched from the Derby because of a bruised right front foot. In order to be removed from the list, the colt had to work in front of a state veterinarian and give a blood sample afterward, the results of which take five days.

“There’s protocols in place and we had to adhere to those and we’re happy that everything went smoothly,” Pletcher said. “We felt confident the horse was in good order or we wouldn’t have been out there twice in the last six days, but you still want to make sure everything went smoothly and we’re happy everything did go well.”

Pletcher said Kingsbarns, who finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby, will miss the Belmont. The colt is showing signs of colic, although he is fine, the trainer said.

Another Pletcher-trained horse, Prove Worthy, is under consideration for the Belmont. He also has Tapit Trice, who finished seventh in the Derby, being pointed toward the Belmont.