by Jon White
August 11, 2021
When Knicks Go proved a punctual even-money favorite in Saratoga’s Grade I, $1 million Whitney Stakes at 1 1/8 miles last Saturday, his dominant performance did have Breeders’ Cup ramifications.
Knicks Go ran his way right out the Grade I BC Dirt Mile and right into the Grade I BC Classic.
After winning the BC Dirt Mile at Keeneland in 2020, he will not be defending his title in that $1 million event this year at Del Mar, according to trainer Brad Cox. In a BloodHorse video the day after the Whitney, Cox told Claire Crosby that Knicks Go is “owed the opportunity” to run in the BC Classic after having already won the BC Dirt last year.
In the $6 million BC Classic at Del Mar on Nov. 6, Knicks Go will attempt to successfully stretch his speed out to 1 1/4 miles.
Cox has said the plan is for Knicks Go to have one race between now and the BC Classic, though what that one race will be has yet to be determined. A distinct possibility is Churchill Downs’ Grade III Lukas Classic at 1 1/8 miles on Oct. 2, especially since Churchill is where Knicks Go will be stabled at the time of that race.
All indications are that when Knicks Go runs in the BC Classic, he will boldly go where he has not gone before, i.e., beyond 1 1/8 miles,
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.
For Cox, Knicks Go is six for six in two-turn races and winless both times he’s raced around one turn. Knicks Go finished fourth in the Group I, $20 million Saudi Cup at about 1 1/8 miles around one turn on Feb. 20, then also ran fourth in the Grade I, $1 million Met Mile around one turn on June 5.
Last Saturday, Knicks Go opened up a commanding five-length lead early in the run down the backstretch while smoothly rolling along for jockey Joel Rosario. Approaching the far turn, Knicks Go’s lead diminished “as he was given a breather,” as accurately noted in the Equibase race chart.
Turning for home, Swiss Skydiver loomed menacingly when she moved up to get within about a length of Knicks Go at the quarter pole. But then, after Knicks Go drifted a bit wide coming into the lane, he found another gear in upper stretch. Knicks Go kicked away to increase his lead to three lengths a furlong out, then continued home strongly to prevail by 4 1/2 lengths in an excellent 1:47.40.
Knicks Go recorded fractional times in fifths of :23 2/5, :23 1/5, :23 2/5, :24 2/5 and :12 4/5.
The $535,000 first prize in the Whitney raised Knicks Go’s career bankroll to $5,368,995. The four opponents left in his wake last Saturday have all earned in excess of $1 million.
Maxfield never threatened and finished second. Silver State briefly looked dangerous from along the inner rail coming into the lane, but then lacked the needed punch in the final furlong and came in third. Swiss Skydiver, racing for the first time since April 17, weakened in the stretch and finished fourth, nearly 11 lengths behind Knicks Go. By My Standards trailed throughout after stumbling at the start.
In the wake of Knicks’ Go’s resounding triumph in such a strong edition of the Whitney, the 5-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Paynter regained the top spot in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll.
Knicks Go ranked No. 1 in week one of the poll on Feb. 16. That was after Knicks Go had won Gulfstream Park’s Grade I Pegasus World Cup in front-running fashion by 2 3/4 lengths at 1 1/8 miles on Jan 23.
Below is the Top 10 as it was in the first NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll of 2021:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 341 Knicks Go (27)
2. 250 Charlatan (4)
3. 232 Maxfield (1)
4. 223 Monomoy Girl (3)
5. 146 Colonel Liam
6. 124 Swiss Skydiver
7. 102 Jesus’ Team
8. 72 Gamine
9. 56 Channel Maker
10. 55 Whitmore
But Knicks Go was able to stay in the top spot for only one week. After he finished fourth in the Saudi Cup on Feb. 20, he slipped to No. 2. Saudi Cup runner-up Charlatan replaced Knicks Go at No. 1.
This is where Knicks Go has ranked each week in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poo from week one on Feb. 16 to week 26 this week:
1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5, 5, 4, 4, 5, 3, 4, 3, 2, 10, 10, 10, 9, 7, 7, 6, 6, 6, 1
The drop from No. 2 to No. 10 occurred after Knicks Go’s defeat as the 4-5 favorite in the Met Mile on June 5. Silver State won the Met Mile. That same Silver State was no match for Knicks Go in the Whitney.
And now Knicks Go has regained the No. 1 position. Maxfield this week drops to No. 5 from No. 2, while Silver State moves down to No. 6 this week after being No. 5 last week.
Below is the Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 374 Knicks Go (29)
2. 326 Letruska (7)
3. 269 Essential Quality (1)
4. 251 Domestic Spending (2)
5. 250 Maxfield
6. 148 Silver State
7. 92 Gamine
8. 65 Mandaloun
9. 56 Hot Rod Charlie
10. 52 Mystic Guide
ANOTHER SNAZZY BEYER SPEED FIGURE
I wrote this last week: “I am looking for Knicks Go to seize the lead at once and set the early pace without being hooked. If that happens, I believe he has a good chance of running a Beyer in the ballpark of 108 to 113, as he did in the BC Dirt Mile, Pegasus World Cup and Cornhusker. That type of Beyer might well be sufficient for Knicks Go to win.”
It turned out that Knicks Go was hooked for a brief time early by Swiss Skydiver. But as noted earlier, Knicks Go did achieve separation from the pack on the first turn. He received a 111 Beyer Speed Figure for his Whitney victory.
Knicks Go now has registered the two highest Beyers so far this year. Below are the Beyers of 107 or higher this year to date at any distance on dirt, turf or synthetic:
Beyer Horse (Finish, Race, Track, Date)
113 Knicks Go (1st, Cornhusker H., PrM, July 2)
111 Knicks Go (1st, Whitney, Sar, Aug. 7)
109 Mischevious Alex (1st, Carter H., Aqu, April 3)
109 Essential Quality (1st, Belmont S., Bel, June 5)
108 Knicks Go (1st, Pegasus World Cup, GP, Jan. 23)
108 Mystic Guide (1st, Razorback H., OP, Feb. 27)
108 Royal Ship (1st, Californian, SA, April 17)
108 Country Grammer (2nd, Californian, SA, April 17)
108 Hot Rod Charlie (2nd Belmont S., Bel, June 5)
107 Life Is Good (1st, San Felipe S., SA, March 6)
It says something about just what a terrific race Knicks Go ran to win the Whitney that the one of the vanquished, Silver State, was credited with a career-best 102 Beyer Speed Figure even though he lost by 6 1/4 lengths.
To add more gloss to Knicks Go’s robust Beyer Speed Figure for his victory last Saturday, the only two Beyers bigger than a 111 by a Whitney winner since Commentator’s huge 120 in 2008 was Honor Codes 113 in 2015 and Gun Runner’s 112 in 2017.
Below are the Beyers for the Whitney winners going back to 1990 (the figures prior to this year are listed in the 2021 American Racing Manual, which is now digital only and available for free on The Jockey Club’s website):
2021 Knicks Go (111)
2020 Improbable (106)
2019 McKinzie (111)
2018 Diversify (110)
2017 Gun Runner (112)
2016 Frosted (107)
2015 Honor Code (113)
2014 Moreno (109)
2013 Cross Traffic (108)
2012 Fort Larned (110)
2011 Tizway (111)
2010 Blame (111)
2009 Bullsbay (107)
2008 Commentator (120)
2007 Lawyer Ron (117)
2006 Invasor (113)
2005 Commentator (123)
2004 Roses in May (114)
2003 Medaglia d’Oro (114)
2002 Left Bank (121)
2001 Lido Palace (114)
2000 Lemon Drop Kid (118)
1999 Victory Gallop (116)
1998 Awesome Again (110)
1997 Will’s Way (126)
1996 Mahogany Hall (110)
1995 Unaccounted For (111)
1994 Colonial Affair (111)
1993 Brunswick (115)
1992 Sultry Song (112)
1991 In Excess (116)
1990 Criminal Type (115)
GRAVEYARD OF FAVORITES?
By sending out Essential Quality to win the Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes on July 31 and Knicks Go to take the Grade I Whitney a week later, Cox figuratively thumbed his nose at Saratoga’s reputation for being the “graveyard of favorites.”
Essential Quality and Knicks Go both managed to avoid a high-profile defeat a la such luminaries as Man o’ War (who lost to the aptly named Upset), Gallant Fox (Jim Dandy), Secretariat (Onion) and American Pharoah (Keen Ice).
While Knicks Go will not race again at the current Saratoga meet, Essential Quality is scheduled to run in the Grade I, $1.25 millionTravers Stakes on Aug. 28.
SPEED, SPEED, SPEED IN LONGACRES MILE
The Grade III Longacres Mile, the richest and most prestigious race in the Pacific Northwest, will be presented at Emerald Downs this Sunday.
The Mile, as it is fondly referred to by Pacific Northwest racing enthusiasts, is steeped in history. It was run for the first time in 1933.
I picked Anothertwistafate to win the 2020 Mile. I figured that he would be a strong favorite, which he was, going off at odds of 6-5. But I felt confident that he would get the job done. Anothertwistafate did win the 2020 Mile with authority by 4 1/2 lengths.
As for this year’s Mile, I think the pace situation makes it very tricky to correctly forecast the winner. This is a race loaded with front-runners.
Anyportinastorm, assigned top weight of 123 pounds, heads the field of 11. In his most recent start, the 7-year-old Florida-bred son of City Zip finished fourth in the Oak Tree Sprint at Pleasanton, which was won by Law Abidin Citizen. Law Abidin Citizen captured the 2019 Longacres Mile.
I am not going with Anyportinastorm as my top pick. Below are my Longacres Mile selections:
1. Five Star General (5-2 morning-line favorite)
2. Anyportinastorm (3-1)
3. Papa’s Golden Boy (9-2)
4. Background (5-1)
Five Star General finished second in last year’s Mile. Papa’s Golden Boy set the pace and ended up fifth.
I was tempted to go with Papa’s Golden Boy as my top pick in this year’s Mile off his splendid 2021 form. Yes, he faltered in the stretch in this race last year. But I think he is much better this year.
Maybe Papa’s Golden Boy will be the speed of the speed this Sunday and lead all the way. I do respect him a lot. But I just couldn’t pull the trigger to put him on top when he has yet to prove he can win going this far.
Five Star General is my top pick because he certainly is not a question mark to get a mile. He goes into this year’s Mile off a sparkling 6 1/4-length victory in a 1 1/16-mile race at Hastings on July 13.
In Five Star General’s three starts at one mile, he’s won twice and, as noted earlier, finished second in the 2020 Mile.
A Mile entrant that should not be taken lightly is Background, who comes off a narrow loss when second on synthetic footing in Arlington Park’s Hanshin Stakes at one mile on June 26. He is switching to the dirt in the Mile. Background did win a pair of races on the dirt at Oaklawn Park earlier this year.
AN IMAGINARY SERIES: CHINOOK PASS VS. TURBULATOR
The day after this Sunday’s Longacres Mile is run will mark the 51st anniversary of Turbulator’s triumph in the 1970 Governor’s Handicap at Longacres when he broke the world record for 6 1/2 furlongs by two-fifths of a second.
Another outstanding Washington-bred, Chinook Pass, took the Governor’s Handicap in 1982.
Turbulator and Chinook Pass are, without question, two of the greatest Washington-breds of all time. They both are members of the Washington Racing Hall of Fame.
Like Turbulator, Chinook Pass was a world-record setter. In the case of Chinook Pass, he broke the world mark for five furlongs at Longacres in 1982.
Chinook Pass was the Washington-bred Horse of the Year in 1982 and 1983. Bud Klokstad trained Chinook Pass in 1982, then Laurie Anderson conditioned the Native Born gelding in 1983.
In 1983, Chinook Pass was voted an Eclipse Award as champion sprinter. Chinook Pass remains the only Washington-bred Eclipse Award winner.
As for Turbulator, the Cold Command gelding was the 1970 Washington-bred Horse of the Year when trained by Tom Crawford.
Here is a “what if” to consider. What if the two fantabulous Washington-breds Chinook Pass and Turbulator had raced against each other?
I pondered how it might -- I repeat, might -- have turned out if Chinook Pass and Turbulator had met in seven races at seven different distances ranging from five furlongs to 1 1/8 miles. I’m talking about “normal” races in the sense that these aren’t seven match races. If these were match races, Chinook Pass would win them all due to his blazing early zip as opposed to Turbulator’s running style of rallying from far off the pace. A front-runner typically has a big advantage in a match race.
Also, for the purpose of this exercise, Chinook Pass and Turbulator are both considered to be in their prime for the seven-race series.
This is how I think it would turn out in this hypothetical seven-race series featuring Chinook Pass and Turbulator:
5 FURLONGS. Deciding who wins this one is very easy. It’s Chinook Pass. As talented as Turbulator was, I don’t think there is any way he could catch Chinook Pass in a five-furlong race. As a 3-year-old in 1982, Chinook Pass won a five-furlong sprint at Longacres in a scorching :55 1/5, which at the time set a world record. All these years later, Chinook Pass’ :55 1/5 remains the fastest clocking ever posted in a five-furlong race on dirt. Chinook Pass also won the five-furlong Meteor Handicap by three emphatic lengths on the grass at Hollywood Park toward the end of 1982. Finishing second in the Meteor was the wonderful sprinter Dave’s Friend, who won 35 races $1,079,915 during his career.
5 1/2 FURLONGS. This one is pretty easy. Chinook Pass wins again. Chinook Pass was 4 for 4 and Turbulator was 0 for 3 in races at this distance. One of Turbulator’s losses at 5 1/2 furlongs came when he ran third in 1969 while making his career debut on June 7 in an allowance race at Coeur d’Alene, a little track in Idaho. That defeat is not part of Turbulator’s official record because, at that time, Coeur d’Alene was a so-called “bush track.” Races at Coeur d’Alene were not officially recognized by the Daily Racing Form until 1970. But I know that Turbulator did indeed run in that 1969 Coeur d’Alene race. How do I know that? I was there.
6 FURLONGS. Once again Chinook Pass wins. This still just isn’t a long enough race for Turbulator to catch Chinook Pass, who had the sheer speed and the class to become an Eclipse Award-winning sprinter.
6 1/2 FURLONGS. Turbulator wins this time. I give Turbulator the edge at this distance because he did break the world record for this distance by two-fifths of a second at Longacres in 1970.
ONE MILE. Turbulator wins. I don’t think Chinook Pass could beat Turbulator going this far. Chinook Pass won the 1983 Longacres Mile with a final time of 1:35 3/5 in what was the final race of his career. At that same track in 1970, I saw Turbulator jump over a fallen rider (Mark Jennings) approaching the clubhouse turn, then rally from 13 1/2 lengths off the pace to win a one-mile race in 1:34 4/5. He uncorked an electrifying final-quarter burst of speed in :23 1/5. Turbulator also smashed a one-mile track record by four-fifths of a second when he won the 1970 Yakima Mile at Yakima Meadows. Turbulator owned that track record for 23 years. Slew of Damascus, who finally broke that Yakima record of Turbulator’s in 1993, went on to win the Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup at Hollywood Park in 1994.
1 1/16 MILES. No doubt about this one. Turbulator wins. Chinook Pass raced farther than one mile only once, losing by seven lengths when he finished second on a muddy track in the 1982 Puget Sound Handicap at Longacres. Two of Turbulator’s finest performances came in races at this distance. In the 1970 Washington Championship at Longacres, Turbulator packed 128 pounds, won with ridiculous ease by four lengths while under restraint late and shaved two-fifths of a second off a 16-year-old track record. In the 1972 Washington Championship, Turbulator faced a Chinook Pass-like speedster by the name of Grey Papa, who was coming off a win at Longacres in which he had set a world record for six furlongs. In the Washington Championship, Grey Papa sported a two-length lead at the eighth pole. Turbulator was fifth at that point, eight lengths behind Grey Papa. Turbulator zoomed home to win by a half-length in 1:41 2/5, which was just two-fifths off his own track mark.
1 1/8 MILES. This one is a no doubter. As talented as Chinook Pass was, I don’t think there is any way he could beat Turbulator going this long. Again, Chinook lost the only time he raced farther than one mile. Turbulator? He once won a two-mile race by three lengths despite carrying 128 pounds.
FINAL SCORE: Turbulator 4, Chinook Pass 3*
*Okay, I confess to being biased in that Turbulator is my all-time favorite horse.