As retirement looms, Knicks Go chasing history in Pegasus

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Whatever happens Saturday will simply be resume-padding for Knicks Go. His retirement home has been picked out, his stud fee has been set and he’s in the relatively small club of thoroughbreds with multiple Breeders’ Cup race victories including last year’s Classic.

There’s not much left to prove.

“I would think that he’s probably worthy of being in the Hall of Fame now,” trainer Brad Cox said.

He’s probably right – but just in case, Knicks Go has one last chance to add to his legacy.

His final race is Saturday when he’ll be the likely favorite in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park. He could become the first back-to-back Pegasus winner, and a victory would make him the 10th North American thoroughbred to break the $10 million mark in career earnings.

“He’s accomplished so much. He doesn’t owe us anything,” Cox said. “I’m hoping he can go out on a high note with a win. We’ve got to get through Saturday, but I would be extremely happy for the horse if he can retire sound, healthy and happy.”

Knicks Go will face a field of nine, though in the eyes of handicappers and probably most bettors, it’s basically a field of two. Knicks Go was installed as the 6-5 morning-line favorite, just ahead of Life Is Good at 7-5. No other horse was given better early odds than Chess Chief at 10-1.

Life Is Good was considered the likely favorite for the Kentucky Derby last year before he was taken off the Triple Crown trail following an ankle injury that required surgery. He’s raced six times with five wins and one second-place finish by a neck.

“He’s very good,” Cox said of Life Is Good. “I mean, it’s no secret. He’s a very, very good colt. … It’s going to be a great matchup. I think it’s great for racing and I’m interested in seeing it myself. I know who I’m rooting for. It’s very good for racing and I’m excited about the race.”

There are some notable parallels between Knicks Go and Life Is Good. Neither competed in a Triple Crown race; Knicks Go was winless in eight races as a 3-year-old, Life Is Good was hurt. Both have speed that simply sets them apart from most challengers. And both have a Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile win on their record, with Knicks Go winning it in 2020 and Life Is Good winning it last year.

“I think anytime we can have these kind of big matchups, and especially in a huge race at the beginning of the year, it’s great for the sport,” Life Is Good trainer Todd Pletcher said.

Knicks Go went to the front right away in last year’s Pegasus, breaking from the No. 4 post in the field of 10 and not having much problem holding off any challengers. Knicks Go drew the inside post on Saturday – probably not ideal, though Cox said he wasn’t overly worried about it – and Life Is Good will start from that No. 4 post.

If the race plays out as past performances would suggest, both will get near the lead early. And from there, who knows.

“That’s the $3 million question, right?” Pletcher said. “That’s what we’re getting ready to find out.”

MONEY MATTERS

Knicks Go enters the race with just under $8.7 million in career earnings. The rest of the field – which includes a Breeders’ Cup winner in Life Is Good and a past Belmont Stakes winner in Sir Winston – has combined career earnings of $5.2 million.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

Technically, all North American thoroughbreds are considered born on Jan. 1. Knicks Go was foaled on Jan. 29, 2016, meaning he actually turns 6 on Saturday.

WHAT’S NEXT

Knicks Go has already checked out his retirement home. He spent a few days in the fall at Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky, where he’ll stand stud for the relatively modest price – for a horse of his caliber, anyway – of $30,000.

ALSO ON CARD

There are two other races as part of the Pegasus World Cup program on Saturday.

Colonel Liam (3-1) is the early favorite in a field of 12 entered in the Grade 1, $1 million Pegasus Turf. Regal Glory (2-1) is the morning-line favorite out of 11 entrants in the Grade 3, $500,000 Pegasus Filly And Mare Turf.

Pletcher saddles both Colonel Liam and Life Is Good, and will have jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard both of those horses Saturday.

WEATHER WATCH

Heat won’t be an issue Saturday in South Florida. Forecasters are saying some of the coldest weather in years is expected this weekend, with high temperatures at Gulfstream Park on Saturday not expected to get out of the upper 50s. That’ll be about 20 degrees cooler than it was for last year’s Pegasus running.

Flightline, Pletcher, Godolphin lead way at Eclipse Awards

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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.