by Jeff Siegel
February 2, 2022
1 - A few minutes before the running of the Pegasus World Cup-G1 last Saturday at Gulfstream Park, a network covering the event showed an interview with WinStar President and CEO Elliott Walden, who was asked how he envisioned the race would shape up, and which horse (Life is Good or Knicks Go) would be in front.
Walden, previously a very successful trainer (and a former employee of ours when we co-owned Team Valor) clearly and accurately articulated the most likely scenario, one that we thought was fairly obvious, but apparently was not after listening to and reading some of the analysis from other expert horseplayers.
“I would think,” said Walden, a member of the colt’s ownership partnership, “that if Life Is Good was fast enough to open up on Jackie’s Warrior (in the H. Allen Jerkens S.-G1 at Saratoga), he should be able to get in front of Knicks Go.”
Yes, one would think so.
Knicks Go had won 10 career races prior to his final appearance on Saturday, and in each victory, he secured the early lead and dominated wire-to-wire. He had never won a race in which had forced to sit, stalk or press.
Furthermore, in those 10 front-running victories, Knicks Go was required to break :23 seconds for the opening quarter only on two occasions, and one of those races was the Breeders’ Cup Mile-G1 at Keeneland in 2020 that provided a massive 190 foot run-up to the pole.
So, it wasn’t surprising that Life Is Good was able to clear the field before the clubhouse turn without really being asked, at which point the race was all but decided. What we didn’t expect, though, was the flood of late money that results in the late shift in favoritism to Life Is Good (who left at 80 cents on the dollar) from Knicks Go (90 cents on the dollar) in what was perhaps the work of whales and sharpies who could easily identify an obvious pace advantage that one horse had over the other.
It was simply old school, textbook handicapping. Sometimes, it works.
2 - Knicks Go, who should be unanimously named 2021 Horse of the Year when the Eclipse Awards are staged at Santa Anita Thursday, Feb. 10, will stand at stud at Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky for $30,000, a realistic fee for a two-time Breeders’ Cup Champion with a modestly-commercial sire line (Paynter).
In many ways, Knicks Go reminds us of Skip Away, also a multi-champion older horse in the mid-to-late 1990’s, who subsequently went to stud with lowered expectations due to his pedigree (his sire, Skip Trial, had some regional success but was never commercially popular). As terrific a racehorse that Skip Away was, he sired only 21 stakes winners during his 12 years at stud while producing nothing of note.
So, what kind of stallion career should be expected from Knicks Go? The truth is that most high class races horses – even those with proven sire lines that attract a book of multi-stakes winning or stakes-producing broodmares – fall short of initial hopes and/or expectations. That’s just the way it is.
3 - Racing fans should be quite pleased that the connections of Life Is Good have chosen to campaign the son of Into Mischief for another year. However, if you’d like to see him in person during the next few months, you’ll probably have to book a flight to the Middle East, because there is every expectation that the Todd Pletcher-trained colt will target the $12 million Dubai World Cup March 26 for his next start.
I mean, If you’re not going to participate in race like that as an odds-on favorite, what’s the point of even staying in training?
Assuming Life Is Good is physically fit and sound enough to make the journey to Meydan, you probably can forget about any spring or summer confrontation with the West Coast-based Flightline, the undefeated colt who is expected to invade New York for the Met Mile after first prepping in the San Carlos S.-G2 over seven furlongs at Santa Anita in early March. The plan surely will be for the John Sadler-trained colt to return to California after his hit-and-run appearance at Belmont Park in June and then remain in the West (Pacific Classic at Del Mar?) until heading back East for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland, where Life Is Good, hopefully, will be waiting for him.
Given the implications of the result, their along-awaited showdown on the first weekend in November might wind up being horse racing’s most anticipated head-to-head clash since Sunday Silence vs. Easy Goer in 1989.
4 - Pletcher has been given much credit, as he should, for having Life Is Good ready for the race of his career last Saturday, one that was worth $1.7 million in purse money and potentially millions more in impending stud fees, but his work with Colonial Liam shouldn’t go unappreciated, either. The defending Pegasus World Cup Turf Champion-H1 returned better that he left for his first start since June following a string of highly-impressive workouts at Palm Beach Downs that had made him a logical top pick to those who had taken the time to view the videos at xbtv.com.
Colonial Liam may never be a truly great grass horse because he lacks the exceptional, electric turn of foot that the Best of the Europeans always seen to possess, but that deficiency notwithstanding, he should be the dominant grass performer in North American until the heavy artillery from overseas shows up in the fall. Interestingly, he’s actually bred much more for dirt than turf (Liam’s May from a mare by Bernardini) and in fact finished second before being moved up to first via disqualification in his only career main track outing (his debut) at Gulfstream Park in April of 2020. He sure trains great on dirt at Palm Beach Downs. Wonder if Pletcher will give it some thought?
5 - A couple of weeks ago we suggested a 2022 Kentucky Derby Future Book play on Emmanuel, who, when wagering opened, was listed at 30-1 on the morning line. He closed at 17-1, not completely unplayable at that number but not a price that offered any real value considering the myriad of obstacles that lie ahead for all Derby prospects at this early stage.
The son of More Than Ready, a member of the “all other 3-year-olds” when the first pool was offered in November, had won his debut at Gulfstream Park in mid-December over a one-turn mile by almost seven lengths, and, with Pletcher taking a page out of the Always Dreaming playbook, was sent to Tampa Bay Downs last Saturday for a confidence-building first-level allowance win. A $350,000 yearling purchase, Emmanuel never took a deep breath in strolling to a four and one-half length win that could have been twice that margin had the colt been asked for even a minimal amount of effort.
By way of comparison, his assigned Beyer speed figure of 89 was identical to number earned by Newgrange in that colt’s victory in the Southwest S.-G3 at Oaklawn Park the same day.
At this time, with many of the highly-rated colts in this year’s Derby division yet to make their first start of the year, Emmanuel at least has jumped-started his 2022 campaign in a proper manner. It’ll be interesting to see how high he rates in our Triple Crown rankings, which we'll begin publishing in this space next week.