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Knicks Go Seeks to Regain Grade 1 Glory in Dirt Mile

The son of Paynter won a grade 1 at 2 in 2018 but has not won a graded stakes since.

Knicks Go gallops at Keeneland Nov. 4

Knicks Go gallops at Keeneland Nov. 4

Anne M. Eberhardt

Knicks Go  has two wins in allowance company this year but is a seriously dangerous contender in the Big Ass Fans Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) for Korea Racing Authority and trainer Brad Cox.

The Breeders' Cup is an opportunity for the 4-year-old son of Paynter  to show he never lost the grade 1-quality brilliance he showed at 2.

With trainer Ben Colebrook, Knicks Go won first time out by 3 1/2 lengths as a juvenile and in his fourth start won the 1 1/16-mile Claiborne Breeders' Futurity (G1) at Keeneland by 5 1/2 lengths in near gate-to-wire fashion. He went on to finish second in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) behind Game Winner . At 3, the colt struggled to find the winner's circle and managed two seconds at best out of eight starts made largely in graded stakes. His seconds came in the Ellis Park Derby Presented by Kruckemeyer and Cohn Jewelry and in a $77,000 seven-furlong allowance race at Keeneland.

In late 2019, Knicks Go was transferred to Cox's barn with the hopes of making a fresh start. The colt arrived in top condition and showed a big appetite for training, according to Cox.

"Obviously, I don't know what the horse was doing before, but I do know he really likes to train and is very aggressive, and we allow him to do that," Cox said. "He has been a horse who when he's sound and happy, we breeze him every week, and he puts a lot into his works."

Cox first tested the waters with Knicks Go in February at Oaklawn Park in an $88,000 allowance optional claiming race with conditions allowing horses that had not won $15,000 twice other than in a maiden, claiming, or state-bred allowance race.

Knicks Go wins an allowance optional claiming Sunday, October 4, 2020 at Keeneland
Photo: Keeneland/Coady Photography
Knicks Go wins an allowance optional claimer at Keeneland

"It was nice to be able to run a horse so accomplished in a two-other-than. It allowed us to get things off to a good start," Cox said.
Knicks Go responded with a wire-to-wire win by 7 1/2 lengths. The colt required a long layoff afterward that kept him out of training until mid-July. Cox took his time gradually getting Knicks Go back into form, and by late August the colt was working five furlongs in under a minute. His next race came Oct. 4 at Keeneland in a 1 1/16-mile allowance-level race where Knicks Go unleashed a performance of heart-pounding brilliance. In frontrunning fashion, he crossed the finish line 10 1/4 lengths ahead of the competition and stopped the timer in a record-setting 1:40.79.

"If I'd told you when we ran him in that allowance race that we were pointing for the Dirt Mile, I would have been lying to you. I was just looking at it as a steppingstone to the Clark Handicap (G1) or the Cigar Mile (G1)," Cox said. "This all happened quick. He has had three works since and is breezing and working as well as he was going into these other two races, so he gives us a lot of confidence.

"We're going to get a test on Saturday, but his numbers stack up, and he has a lot of back class, being a previous grade 1 winner. I'm excited to get him back to the grade 1 level," he said.

Cox also will be saddling Rupp Racing's multiple grade 1-placed grade 3 winner Owendale in the Dirt Mile.

The 4-year-old son of Into Mischief  is a consist performer with 12 in-the-money finishes out of 18 starts. He has been running primarily in races longer than a mile, with only one race at a mile in his previous 12 starts. Owendale comes into the Dirt Mile off runner-up finishes in the Sept. 4 Alysheba Stakes Presented by Sentient Jet (G2) at 1 1/16 miles and the Oct. 2 Pimlico Special Stakes (G3) at 1 3/16 miles.

"He came out of (the Pimlico Special) really well and has had two fantastic works with Monomoy Girl the last couple of weeks," Cox said. Owendale and Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) 8-5 favorite Monomoy Girl have been frequent workmates throughout the year. "I needed a place to run this horse, so we pre-entered (in the Breeders' Cup) to give us a week to see if it was something we really wanted to do. After talking it over with (Jim) Rupp and seeing him breeze again this week, we felt he deserved a shot."

Cox said putting Owendale in the Dirt Mile requires a bit of prognosticating.

"I was a little disappointed he didn't win last time," he said about the Pimlico Special, "but Owendale has always been a bit of a head-scratcher. He's won at 1 1/8 miles, and sometimes you think he wants more ground and then you give it him, and it's like, 'Well, maybe he doesn't.' Then there are times you shorten him up and he doesn't perform as well as you'd think."

Last year, Owendale started in the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) and was unplaced, so Cox is hoping the Dirt Mile is more suitable. Owendale has won in his only start at Keeneland, in the 2019 Stonestreet Lexington Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles. The colt also is 2-for-2 at a mile, though those have been in one-turn races versus Keeneland, which has a two-turn configuration.

Cox said he can envision the Dirt Mile unfolding in ways that could benefit either Knicks Go or Owendale.

"There should be some pace in here, and Knicks Go is going to be part of the pace, so they won't get in each other's way. One will be up close and the other in the second half of the field," Cox said. "I really like Knicks Go in here, and if there is a pace meltdown and they back up, then it could be Owendale's day."