by Jon White
January 27, 2022
Will presumptive 2021 Horse of the Year Knicks Go conclude his racing career by registering his fifth straight victory?
Can Life Is Good get the job done when racing farther than 1 1/16 miles for the first time?
Who is going to get the early lead, Knicks Go or Life Is Good?
Can either Knicks Go or Life Is Good succeed if they have to go into stalk mode?
Is it possible that Knicks Go and Life Is Good go at each other so fiercely in the early furlongs that they race each other into defeat and set the table for someone to rally for an upset triumph?
If neither Knicks Go nor Life Is Good wins, then who does?
Those are but some of the tantalizing questions to be answered when Gulfstream Park presents the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational presented by 1/ST BET this Saturday.
And so the stage now is set for the highly anticipated showdown between Knicks Go and Life Is Good.
The Pegasus World Cup will be showcased on a national NBC telecast from 4:30 to 6 p.m. ET.
Knicks Go, a 6-year-old Maryland-bred son of Paynter trained by Brad Cox, is cutting back in distance to 1 1/8 miles off his sparkling front-running 2 3/4-length victory in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic at 1 1/4 miles on Nov. 6 at Del Mar.
Life Is Good, a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, is stretching out to 1 1/8 miles off his stellar front-running 5 3/4-length victory in the Grade I BC Dirt Mile on Nov. 6 at Del Mar.
The late, great Daily Racing Form writer Charlie Hatton is widely credited for being the person responsible for popularizing the linkage of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes as a “Triple Crown,” which evolved into being the sport’s most coveted prize in this country.
From time to time, when Hatton wrote about a specific race that had been run, he would refer to it as having been a virtual “match within a race.” In other words, though there were many contestants, the race essentially had boiled down to a battle between two of them.
Well, I’d say this particular phrase certainly is an apt characterization of how the vast majority of people perceive the upcoming clash between Knicks Go and Life Is Good. It appears that it will be a match race between them within the field of nine.
To be perfectly frank, it will be shocking if someone other than Knicks Go or Life Is Good is posing for pictures after this Saturday’s Pegasus.
Not only that, due to Knicks Go and Life Is Good possessing the same front-running style, the opening furlong of the Pegasus will likely hold a measure of suspense worthy of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
Obviously, the break is going to be extremely important for both Knicks Go and Life Is Good. If one of them does not leave the gate in alert fashion, that could spell doom for them. A less-than-ideal start would immediately put either Knicks Go or Life Is Good at a disadvantage.
If they do both begin quickly, then the cat-and-mouse game between Joel Rosario on Knicks Go and Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard Life Is Good in the run to the first turn will be fascinating. Just how aggressive will Rosario and Ortiz be early?
It would seem that Rosario has no choice but to “go” with Knicks Go after they drew the inside post position. Can they afford to let Life Is Good get the jump on them early?
If the two protagonists both break well, can Knicks Go clear Life Is Good early, or vice versa? I honestly don’t know. The way I see it, there is a good chance that the way the early portion of the race unfolds will be for Knicks Go and Life Is Good to find themselves vying for the lead, side-by-side, in the run to the clubhouse turn. If that does indeed turn out to be the case, I will not be surprised if Knicks Go then manages to increase his advantage to a length or more on that first turn because of just how wonderfully he negotiates a turn.
Consider what I wrote about Knicks Go’s proficiency to run on a turn following his win in Saratoga’s Grade I Whitney Stakes at 1 1/8 miles last summer:
“Knicks Go began alertly in the Whitney, but he did not immediately clear the field. He vied for the lead in the run to the first turn while racing outside the filly Swiss Skydiver. But then, in the blink of an eye on the turn, Knicks Go opened a daylight advantage before reaching the backstretch.
“Running on a turn has become something of a weapon for Knicks Go. He seems to possess the athleticism to navigate a turn quicker than his adversaries. His prowess on a turn perhaps helps explain all of Knicks Go’s wins and losses after Cox took over the training duties prior to Knicks Go’s first 2020 start.”
Going into this Saturday’s Pegasus, Knicks Go is an extraordinary eight for eight in two-turn races for Cox. Both of Knicks Go’s two defeats for Cox have occurred when Knicks Go has raced around only one turn.
Knicks Go finished fourth in the Group I, $20 million Saudi Cup at about 1 1/8 miles around one turn last year on Feb. 20. He then also ran fourth in the Grade I, $1 million Met Mile around one turn at Belmont Park on June 5.
But before getting too carried away with the fact that Knicks Go has yet to lose a two-turn race for Cox, it’s also to Life Is Good’s credit that he is three for three when competing in a two-turn race. Life Is Good won the Grade III Sham Stakes and Grade II San Felipe Stakes around two turns for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert last year, then added a two-turn victory in the BC Dirt Mile for Pletcher.
If it turns out that Life Is Good is able to get in front of Knicks Go by a length or more before reaching the backstretch this Saturday, which definitely is a possibility, I think Knicks Go’s chances to win will be reduced. But in having to make the difficult decision as to which one of these equine titans to pick, I am going to place my trust in Knicks Go to keep that from happening. The main thing is I’m just not about to pick against Knicks Go due to his glowing eight-for-eight record in two-turn races for Cox.
My Pegasus selections are below:
1. Knicks Go (6-5 morning-line favorite)
2. Life Is Good (7-5)
3. Stilleto Boy (20-1)
4. Sir Winston (12-1)
When I picked Knicks Go to win last year’s Pegasus, he did not let me down. One of the reasons he was my top choice last year was he fit the profile of a typical Pegasus victor. And who fits the profile of a typical Pegasus winner this year? Again, it’s Knicks Go.
The previous Pegasus winners have been Arrogate in 2017, Gun Runner in 2018, City of Light in 2019, Mucho Gusto in 2020 and Knicks Go in 2021.
In terms of a winning profile, four of the past five Pegasus winners (Arrogate, Gun Runner, City of Light and Knicks Go) sported the best last-race Beyer Speed Figure and also had last started in a Breeders’ Cup race.
Going into this year’s Pegasus, Knicks Go owns the best last-race Beyer Speed Figure and, yes, he last started in a Breeders’ Cup race. His BC Classic win when last seen under silks produced a 112 Beyer. Life Is Good’s Beyer last-time out in the BC Dirt Mile was a 109.
WHO ELSE CAN HIT THE BOARD?
I see Stilleto Boy as someone capable of coming away with minor award. He has finished second or third in three of his last four starts.
Stilleto Boy ran third in the Shared Belief Stakes last Aug. 29, second in the Grade I Awesome Again Stakes on Oct. 2, fifth in the BC Classic, then third in the Grade I Malibu on Dec. 26.
Sir Winston comes into the Pegasus having finished one-two in four consecutive starts. When last seen in action, he won the Grade III Valedictory Stakes at Woodbine on Dec. 5.
While Sir Winston’s last four starts all came on a synthetic surface at Woodbine, he did pull off a 10-1 upset on the dirt in the Grade I Belmont Stakes in 2019.
BEYER SPEED FIGURE FOR EACH PEGASUS WINNER
Below are the Beyer Speed Figures for the Pegasus World Cup winners prior to this year:
2021 Knicks Go (108)
2020 Mucho Gusto (107)
2019 City of Light (112)
2018 Gun Runner (120)
2017 Arrogate (119)
MY KENTUCKY DERBY TOP 10
Tiz the Bomb remains No. 1 after working faster than No. 2 Smile Happy last Sunday at Gulfstream Park. Kenny McPeek trains the two talented 3-year-old colts.
According to Equibase, Tiz the Bomb was clocked in 1:01.24 (or 1:01 1/5 in fifths) in last Sunday’s five-furlong drill. Smile Happy was timed in 1:01.49 (1:01 2/5) for the same distance.
Tiz the Bomb previously had gone toe-to-toe with Smile Happy in Gulfstream workouts on the dirt Jan. 8 and Jan. 15. Each colt received the same clocking in those two team drills.
Smile Happy is two for two. The Kentucky-bred Runhappy colt won the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths at Churchill Downs on Nov. 27. That followed a 5 1/2-length maiden score at Keeneland on Oct. 29.
According to McPeek, the plan is for Smile Happy to make his 2022 debut in Fair Grounds’ Grade II Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 19.
Tiz the Bomb is scheduled to make his first start of the year in Gulfstream’s Grade III Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 5.
Working so well on the dirt lately is significant for Tiz the Bomb because the Kentuky-bred Hit It a Bomb colt will be switching back to dirt in the Holy Bull.
The last time that Tiz the Bomb raced on dirt, he crushed maidens at Ellis Park when he won by 14 1/4 lengths “in hand” at one mile on July 2. He then won back-to-back grass races (Kentucky Downs Juvenile on Sept. 6 and Grade II Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland on Oct. 10) before finishing a strong second to Modern Games in the Grade I BC Juvenile Turf at Del Mar on Nov. 5.
Following Fair Grounds’ Grade III Lecomte Stakes last Saturday, Epicenter debuts on my Top 10 at No. 6. Despite setting a swift pace of :23.40, :47.01, 1:12.16 in the 1 1/16-mile race, he lost by a scant nose to 28-1 longshot Call Me Midnight.
To put that :47.01 split into perspective, Midnight Bourbon’s half-mile fraction in the Grade III Louisiana Stakes was :48.25. He went on to finish second to Mandaloun, who completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.52.
Mandaloun and Midnight Bourbon are two of the best older horses in the country.
The final time in the Lecomte was 1:44.36. Pappacap, the slight 3-2 favorite, loomed boldly at the top of the lane before having to settle for third while losing by three-quarters of a length. Epicenter was sent off at odds of 8-5.
Pappacap was No. 4 on my Top 10 last week. In light of his defeat in the Lecomte, Pappacap slides down to No. 7 this week, one spot below Epicenter.
Even though Call Me Midnight won the Lecomte, he does not crack my Top 10 this week. But he does make his way onto my “Bubbling Under the Top 10” list.
This week’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 is below:
1. Tiz the Bomb
2. Smile Happy
5. Classic Causeway
8. Slow Down Andy
9. Giant Game
BUBBLING UNDER THE TOP 10 (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER)
Call Me Midnight
God of Love
H P Moon
Make It Big
Rattle N Roll
SMILE HAPPY GETS RESPECT IN KDFW POOL 2
The aforementioned Smile Happy, No. 1 on my Top 10, was the 8-1 individual favorite in Pool 2 of Churchill Downs’ Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW) that closed last Sunday.
Interestingly, it was none other than my No. 1 ranked Tiz the Bomb who ended up being the 10-1 second favorite among individual horses.
As expected, the “All Others” option was the favorite in Pool 2 of the KDFW, closing at 9-5.
When I revealed my first Kentucky Derby Top 10 a couple of weeks ago, Tiz the Bomb was listed at 100-1 in future wagering at Las Vegas’ Circa, according to horseracingnation’s Ron Flatter. At that time, Tiz the Bomb did not have any odds at Las Vegas’ Caesars William Hill.
Tiz the Bomb’s odds at Circa dropped to 50-1 last week. He still had no odds at Caesars William Hill.
This week’s odds for Tiz the Bomb at Circa are down to 40-1. Flatter listed him at 120-1 at Caesars William Hill.
The 120-1 at Caesars William Hill and even the 40-1 at Circa still are extremely generous prices vis-a-vis his 10-1 in KDFW Pool 2.
Some might be wondering why undefeated Corniche, winner of the Grade I BC Juvenile, or any other Baffert-trained 3-year-old was not among the individual horses in Pool 2 of the KDFW. It’s a continuation of the policy that was put in place for Pool 1 last November. That policy stems from Churchill Downs banning Baffert from running horses in the 2022 and 2023 Kentucky Derbies as a result of Medina Spirit testing positive for a medication violation after finishing first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.
However, at this time Medina Spirit still is the winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has not disqualified him. In fact, the KHRC has not even held a hearing or issued any penalties with respect to this matter.
Prior to the start of wagering in Pool 1 of the KDFW, Churchill Downs issued a news release stating in part that “Pool 1 assumes the horses under the care of trainers suspended from competing in the 2022 Kentucky Derby will not be under consideration. To that end, prospects Corniche, Messier, Pinehurst and Rockefeller are not among the 22 individual betting interests and are included in the pari-mutuel field” also known as the “All Other 3-Year-Old Colts & Geldings” option. There also was an “All 3-Year-Old Fillies” option in Pool 1, but not in Pool 2.
Below are the final odds for Pool 2 of the 2022 KDFW:
9-5 “All Others”
8-1 Smile Happy
10-1 Tiz the Bomb
14-1 Jack Christopher
17-1 Chasing Time
20-1 Rattle N Roll
20-1 Slow Down Andy
23-1 Mo Donegal
28-1 Giant Game
34-1 Dash Attack
38-1 High Oak
41-1 Major General
51-1 Classic Causeway
85-1 Make It Big
171-1 White Abarrio