Knicks Go eyes Pegasus win, which could alter future plans

Arden Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
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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.”

Flightline, Pletcher, Godolphin lead way at Eclipse Awards

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Pat McDonogh/USA TODAY NETWORK
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PALM BEACH, Fla. — Flightline ran away in all six of his races, and ran away with top honors at the Eclipse Awards on Thursday night.

And trainer Todd Pletcher, for the first time in nearly a decade, received the sport’s top prize as well.

Flightline – the now-retired winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic to cap an unbeaten six-race career – won Horse of the Year as well as the Eclipse as top Older Dirt Male. It was no surprise that Flightline took home both awards, and he’s now standing stud.

“We’ll hope that his future is as bright as his past,” co-owner Kosta Hronis said.

Godolphin was also a double winner, sweeping the Eclipses as top owner and top breeder for the second consecutive year. It was also the third consecutive top-owner Eclipse for Godolphin.

“This is truly a golden era for Godolphin racing,” said Michael Banahan, the stable’s director of bloodstock. “And these awards and accolades recognize how special it is.”

It was Pletcher’s eighth Eclipse, extending his record for the most by any trainer, and his first since 2014. It was one of the few close races in the voting; Pletcher got 108 first-place votes, while four-time Eclipse winner Chad Brown got 95 and finished second.

“This really is not an individual award. This is a team award,” Pletcher said. “This is an award about the owners, and most importantly, the horses.”

Irad Ortiz Jr. won the Eclipse as top jockey for the fourth time in the last five years; he tied Pat Day and Javier Castellano for third-most in history, behind only seven-time winner Jerry Bailey and five-time winner Laffit Pincay Jr.

Ortiz led all jockeys with more than $37 million in purses in 2022.

“Wow,” Ortiz said. “It’s been an amazing year for me.”

Forte won the Eclipse as 2-year-old male, and will enter this year’s Triple Crown season as one of the early favorites.

“We’re all in this game for a horse like Forte,” said Mike Repole, the horse’s co-owner along with Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola and Teresa Viola. “We’re all in this game to one day maybe own a 2-year-old that has a chance. It’s great to have the Kentucky Derby favorite. … Forte’s an incredible horse.”

Epicenter won the 3-year-old male Eclipse, after running second at both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, then winning the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga over the summer.

Wonder Wheel was the winner as 2-year-old filly, while Nest won the Eclipse in the 3-year-old filly division. Malathaat was the Eclipse winner for older dirt female, Goodnight Olive for female sprinter and Regal Glory for female turf horse.

Elite Power was picked as the top male sprinter, Modern Games won the Eclipse for male turf horse, and Hewick was the Eclipse winner in the steeplechase division.

Jose Antonio Gomez won as top apprentice jockey.

The Eclipse Awards are voted on by members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers And Broadcasters.

Trainer Bob Baffert’s ban from racing in New York is over

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Bob Baffert can once again enter horses at New York’s major tracks.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s one-year ban by the New York Racing Association ended Wednesday, allowing him to enter horses as soon as Thursday.

“I was disappointed they even did it, but it’s water under the bridge,” Baffert told The Associated Press by phone.

He was suspended last June for repeated medication violations, although none of them occurred in New York. He was barred from Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. A panel credited Baffert for time served for an initial suspension, which allowed him to return this week.

Aqueduct is currently holding its 44-day winter meet that runs through March 26. Baffert doesn’t typically run horses this time of year in New York; he targets the biggest stakes races at Belmont in the spring and Saratoga in the summer.

Baffert remains under a two-year ban by Churchill Downs Inc., which sidelined him after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance that is not allowed on race day. The penalty expires shortly after the Kentucky Derby in May. However, Baffert is fighting the suspension in federal court.

The Southern California-based trainer has a big weekend coming up around the country, although not in New York.

He has horses running at three tracks on Saturday.

Defunded is entered in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in Florida, where Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes will be on hand.

Arabian Knight goes into the $750,000 Southwest Stakes as the early favorite at Oaklawn in Arkansas. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby prep race a record-tying five times and will travel to Hot Springs to watch the 3-year-old colt.

“It’s going to be a good test for him. The only way to find out is to run him long,” he said. “It’s going to take a superior horse to do that and I’m hoping that he is.”

The Southwest offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers. Arabian Knight won’t receive any points regardless of his placing because of Baffert’s Derby ban.

Hopper will run in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

On Sunday at the same track, Baffert has entered four of the five horses set to run in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds.