If horses run in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational and Bob Baffert doesn’t train any of them, does it really happen?
We’re about to find out what the richest dirt race for older horses in North America – non-Breeders’ Cup division – looks like without the pre-eminent dirt trainer of our era. And yes, a $3 million race without a Baffert entry or two looks rather odd. Like Picasso in his later days.
It may not be a racing work of art. But yes, they’ll run the Grade 1, $3 million Pegasus at Gulfstream Park Saturday. Yes, the winner will get a berth in a bigger open-air equine ATM – the $20 million Saudi Cup. And yes, the winner will take home a season-making, tidy paycheck along with that Grade 1 win on the resume.
The Pegasus World Cup co-headlines a 12-race, seven-stakes Gulfstream card Saturday. It sends 12 horses with varying resumes 1 1/8 miles, sans race-day medication. And as noted above, it does so without Baffert’s considerable presence and overwhelming shadow hovering over the proceedings.
Baffert’s Pegasus Presence Part of the Scenery
Baffert won two of the four previous Pegasus editions: with the late Arrogate in 2017 and with Mucho Gusto last year. The latter was expected back, before a soft-tissue injury sent him into retirement.
This transfers the oxygen and attention to the up-and-coming Brad Cox and the up-and-going Knicks Go. The 5/2 favorite, Knicks Go is enjoying career salvation since joining Cox’s barn early last year. He was one of the country’s top 2-year-olds in 2018, winning the Breeders’ Futurity by 5 ½ lengths and finishing second to Game Winner in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
And that’s where Knicks Go fell off the fast track. After that Breeders’ Futurity romp, Knicks Go went 0-for-his-next-10. That dunking included an 0-for-8 3-year-old campaign before he moved to Cox in early 2020.
Cox Fast-Breaks Knicks Go Into Elite Horse
From there, Knicks Go went. Hard. Fast, if not often. He won all three of his 2020 starts, coming off a 10 ¼-length allowance romp into a record-breaking victory in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Now, Knicks Go tackles nine furlongs for the first time, something Cox has no qualms about.
“I think he’s a horse that once he gets free and loose he runs with a lot of confidence,” Cox told Gulfstream Park. “I’m excited. I really do think he’ll handle a mile and an eighth. In his three races with us last year, there was horse left. In the Breeders’ Cup, Joel (Rosario) reached up and grabbed him four or five jumps from the wire, so he was still going.”
If Knicks Go didn’t have that all that going for him, there’s his cushy No. 4 post. This is crucial at Gulfstream, where the first turn on nine-furlong races is only 150 yards from the gate. This puts inside horses at a distinct advantage. You need to be a superhorse to win this race from outside Post 9 because your options and margin for error disappear faster.
Code of Honor Needs to Decipher Outer Post
Which is where second-favorite Code of Honor (9/2) finds himself – Post 10. This will undoubtedly slow down the usual blizzard of money this 5-year-old, multiple Grade 1 winner draws. Then again, there’s the fact since winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 2019, Code of Honor is 1-for-5. Through that stretch, he does have two seconds and a third in Grade 1s.
But what hampers Code of Honor and jockey Tyler Gaffalione, aside from their outside post, is his closer status. Without Baffert’s Charlatan – who opted for the Saudi Cup – Knicks Go is the true front-end speed here. Lone speed is always an advantage, unless you’re Tax (5/1), Sleepy Eyes Todd (8/1) and last year’s Pegasus runner-up, Mr. Freeze (15/1), who need Knicks Go’s fast break to slow down.
Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational/Gulfstream Park
Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)
- Sleepy Eyes Todd, 8/1 (Jose Ortiz/Miguel Angel SIlva)
- Coastal Defense, 20/1 (Corey Lanerie/Dale Romans)
- Independence Hall, 20/1 (Flavien Prat/Mike McCarthy)
- Knicks Go, 5/2 (Joel Rosario/Brad Cox)
- Jesus’ Team, 8/1 (Irad Ortiz Jr./Jose D’Angelo)
- Kiss Today Goodbye, 10/1 (Mike Smith/Eric Kruljac)
- Tax, 5/1 (Luis Saez/Danny Gargan)
- Harpers First Ride, 10/1 (Angel Cruz/Claudio Gonzalez)
- Last Judgment, 20/1 (Paco Lopez/Mike Maker)
- Code of Honor, 9/2 (Tyler Gaffalione/Brad Cox)
- Freeze, 15/1 (John Velazquez/Dale Romans)
- Math Wizard, 20/1 (Edgard Zayas/Saffie Joseph Jr.)
That doesn’t leave many pieces for closers like Code of Honor and Jesus’ Team (10/1). Yes, the gutsy, one-time $32,000 maiden claimer winner is back for another plucky Grade 1 effort. And after finishing third in the Preakness and second to Knicks Go – at 62/1 with a career-best 102 Beyer Speed Figure – in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, why not?
From Maiden Claimer to Stakes Winner
Jesus’ Team started 2020 with that maiden claiming victory. He closed it winning his first stakes race – the Claiming Crown Jewel. That came at Gulfstream at 1 1/8 miles, further cementing his overachieving status. He starts just outside Knicks Go, in Post 5, with ace rider Irad Ortiz Jr. at the reins.
Speaking of Ortiz, his brother, Jose rides Sleepy Eyes Todd for the first time. If there was ever a horse needing a more accurate name, it’s Sleepy Eyes Todd. After all, his 2020 was anything but a snooze. The Sleepy Eyes Todd 2020 Tour turned him loose eight times at eight different tracks in seven states. He won stakes races at Nebraska’s Fonner Park, West Virginia’s Charles Town, Kentucky’s Keeneland and Florida’s Gulfstream.
Along the way, he visited Texas (both Sam Houston and Lone Star), Louisiana (Fair Grounds) and California (Santa Anita). And along the way, Sleepy Eyes Todd clocked triple-digit Equibases in six of the eight races. His latest wake-up call comes from the rail, not a bad place to be at Gulfstream.
Can the Pegasus Prompt a Return to Tax Season?
Then, there’s Tax, who returns to the Pegasus after a horrible start turned into a ninth-place finish last year. He seeks redemption from Post 7, doing so fresh off a stellar 4 ¾-length victory in the Grade 3 Harlan’s Holiday in mid-December. That came with a 105 Beyer Speed Figure.
That came after a seven-month layoff following his fifth in the Oaklawn handicap.
“He’s better now than he’s ever been,” trainer Danny Gargan said. “We always knew he was a really good horse. He’s grown and developed into a better horse than he was last year. I think with age, he’s getting better and getting stronger, healthier. He had a few little issues we had to work through and he’s gotten through them.”
The pick: Knicks Go. Not worth singling in multi-race wagers, but a definite key in vertical exotics here. He has all the elements in place: great trainer, great post, great form and serious speed. Did we mention he ran a 108 Beyer and a 120 Equibase in the Breeders’ Cup? Without a Baffert here, bettors will dunk on Knicks Go’s odds at the window, leaving spaces for Sleepy Eyes Todd, Tax, Jesus’ Team and perhaps Code of Honor on your vertical exotics.