Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade 1)

WE Americans love a world championship. Most of the time it feels somewhat hollow, with the moniker added to something we created, trotting out largely homegrown talent to compete and then celebrate like global conquerors.

Think Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals … just don’t ask about the World Cup, although we did win that in 1950.

The Breeders’ Cup World Championships occasionally feels like a world event but more often not, only with a winner here or there coming from outside the US and almost always just from Europe. Then came last weekend at Del Mar just north of beautiful San Diego in Southern California.

There, the world was blessed with the day’s biggest winner, a colt bred and raised in Reisterstown, Maryland, sold twice at auctions in Lexington, Kentucky and raced by a public company that manages racing and breeding in South Korea.

He’s trained by a man who grew up in the shadow of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, ridden by a native of the Dominican Republic and won a $6 million race less than a half-mile from the Pacific Ocean. How’s that for a melting pot?

Such was the story of Knicks Go, who not only locked down the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic’s first-place prize of $3.12 million but the North American Horse of the Year title to boot.

Knicks Go made quick work of his seven competitors in the Classic, which included Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit and his Belmont- and Travers-winning stablemate Essential Quality.

Never let go

He and jockey Joel Rosario took the lead from the start in the 10-furlong Classic and never let it go, winning by two and three-quarter lengths over Medina Spirit for his third Grade 1 victory this year and fifth overall from seven starts in 2021.

All that after a parade of winners over the two-day meeting with ties to Japan, England, Ireland, the UAE and the US.

Knicks Go stole the show, adding his Classic victory to last year’s win in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland and this year’s Grade 1 double of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park and Whitney Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.

The five-year-old son of Paynter, bred by Angie Moore and raised at her Green Mount Farm in Maryland, improved to 10-for-24 and padded his earnings to $8,673,135.

“It’s a big victory. Obviously it’s the richest race in America and it’s a prestigious race and it means a lot to show up on this stage at the Breeders’ Cup. It’s the world’s stage,” said winning trainer Brad Cox, who trains Knicks Go for the Korea Racing Authority.

“And obviously we saw that this week with so many Euros and horses from Japan and now an ownership based out of Korea with an American horse winning the Classic. It’s definitely a world stage and it’s very important to show up and do well on these international days.

“There (are) a lot of things we want to accomplish at the Derby, the Saudi Cup, Dubai World Cup, and this was one was very, very high on our list of races we wanted to win and we capped it off, but we would like to win again as well.”

Knicks Go’s victory in the Classic, run in 1m 59.57secs and the fifth fastest in the race’s 38-year history, came after an up-and-down start to his career. Knicks Go won two of his first four starts, including a 70/1 upset in the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland in 2018, before a string of 10 defeats.

The Korea Racing Authority transferred the then three-year-old colt from Ben Colebrook to Cox in late 2019. He won eight of 10 since, the lone blemishes being fourths in the Saudi Cup and Met Mile this season.

“It had been a rough time when he was three years old, but we overcome the hard year and then turned the corner and then he (became a) special horse,” said Jin Woo Lee of the Korea Racing Authority. “Winning the Breeders’ Cup was the ultimate goal at the beginning of the year and we achieved that win, so he can go off feeling good.”

Knicks Go heads off to his first season at Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky, where he’ll command a $30,000 stud fee.