SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – In the buildup to Saturday’s prestigious Grade 1, $1 million Whitney, trainer Brad Cox talked about his optimism that Knicks Go would appreciate running two turns at Saratoga Race Course. The reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer’s words proved prophetic, as the accomplished 5-year-old surged to the front and never relinquished the lead in a gate-to-wire 4 1/2-length victory in the 1 1/8-mile Whitney at the Spa.
Korea Racing Authority’s Knicks Go entered the 94th running of the Whitney – for 4-year-olds and up – with momentum after dominating the 1 1/8-mile Grade 3 Cornhusker by 10 1/4 lengths last month at Prairie Meadows. The son of Paynter earned a 113 Beyer Speed Figure for that effort, which came after he ran fourth in the one-turn Grade 1 Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap on Belmont Stakes June 5 at Belmont Park.
Knicks Go again showed his affinity for two turns from the outset under jockey Joel Rosario, leading the compact five-horse field through an opening quarter-mile in 23.42 seconds, the half in 46.76 and three-quarters in 1:10.32 over a fast track.
The even-money favorite Knicks Go was never seriously challenged when straightened for home, pressing on in a final time of 1:47.70 with Maxfield settling for second, 1 3/4-lengths clear of Silver State for runner-up honors.
“He ran huge,” Cox said. “There’s always a concern when you ship to Saratoga and this can be a demanding surface. I thought the race at Prairie Meadows really tuned him up well. He was well within himself and that was his big work for this race five weeks ago. He had three maintenance works at Ellis and he came in here a fresh and happy horse, ready to go.”
Cox saw Knicks Go earn an automatic entry to the Grade 1, $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 6 at Del Mar with the Whitney victory – one year after winning the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland.
“He’s a very sound horse and he’s happy,” Cox said. “We wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t. We’ll come up with a plan somehow. We’ll just let the dust settle but it will probably be the Classic.”
Knicks Go commenced his current campaign with a win in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational in January at Gulfstream Park. After shipping to the Middle East to compete in the Group 1 Saudi Cup [fourth] and shortening up for the Met Mile, Knicks Go has now registered two blowouts to improve his career ledger to 8-3-1 in 22 starts.
“Maybe down the lane at the sixteenth pole I thought, ‘Oh wow’. He’s going to win this thing’, and at that point I was thinking, ‘What a horse. What a performance,’” Cox said. “For him to go forty-six and change and spread out down the backside and get away from them and just kick on at the eighth pole and have to fight off some really, really good challengers. This was an incredibly deep group of horses and I’m very proud of the effort of my horse today.
“Turning for home, I thought he’s going to have to do some running,” Cox added. “With that big of a lead up the backside I could envision him maybe continuing to have that type of lead and maybe hold on down the lane, but he really showed some fight down the lane, and I thought, ‘Wow, they’re running at him.’ and he responded really well and kicked on home.”
Rosario won his second Whitney, joining his 2016 win aboard Frosted.
“I was challenged a little bit going to the first turn, but [Swiss Skydiver] sent a little bit and I was just going to see what they were going to do and take it from there,” Rosario said. “I was a half-length in front going into the turn and I just decided to keep him going forward.
“The way he was moving he just skipped to the last quarter-pole,” Rosario added. “He loved what he was doing. He was very relaxed and going forward. I was really happy with the way he was going turning for home.”
Cox praised Rosario’s ride.
“Joel Rosario fits this horse like a glove,” Cox said. “Joel is a really good horseman and he gets run out of a lot of horses and this is one that he obviously fits extremely well.”
Knicks Go paid $4.10 on a $2 win wager. The Maryland bred increased his career bankroll to $5.38 million with his fifth career graded stakes score.
Godolphin Stable’s Maxfield, who entered off back-to-back Grade 2 wins in the Alysheba and the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs with Jose Ortiz up for trainer Brendan Walsh, moved to 7-1-1 in nine career starts.
“He ran his race. No excuse, really,” Walsh said. “I think the best horse won on the day. Jose said he got to a point where he thought he was going to get him but [Knicks Go] didn’t stop and didn’t come back to him. But he ran well. Second is no disgrace. We’re always proud of this horse and there will be other days.”
Silver State, the winner of the Met Mile last out, saw his seven-race winning streak snapped but ran 4 1/2-lengths the best of filly Swiss Skydiver for third. Silver State’s trainer, Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, set the record for most wins all-time by a North American thoroughbred conditioner earlier on the card with his 9,446th career win.
“I had the best trip. The winner was much the best,” said Silver State jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr., who also piloted the record-setting winner aboard Stellar Tap in Race 5. “We were fortunate to be third; my horse ran his race. Steve is happy, the owner is happy, and I’m happy, and that is the most important thing.”
Swiss Skydiver, who bested males last year to win the Grade 1 Preakness en route to earning Champion 3-Year-Old filly honors, was fourth for trainer Kenneth McPeek. By My Standards, who broke a step slow out of the gate from the inside post, finished fifth.
Live racing resumes Sunday at Saratoga with a 10-race card featuring three stakes, encompassing the Grade 3, $700,000 Saratoga Oaks Invitational in the Turf Triple series for 3-year-old fillies in Race 9; the $200,000 Adirondack for juvenile fillies in Race 8; and the $120,000 Fasig-Tipton De La Rose for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up in Race 7. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
Saratoga Race Course Press Release
Photo: Knicks Go, (NYRA Photo)