Breeders' Cup stars Knicks Go, Life Is Good eye Pegasus World Cup

November 8th, 2021

After Knicks Go and Life Is Good ran their rivals ragged in their respective Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday, a burning question presented itself: what might have happened if they’d squared off against each other? If all goes according to plan over the next couple of months, we’re likely to have an answer, because both are pointing to the Jan. 29 Pegasus World Cup (G1).

The 1 1/8-mile affair at Gulfstream Park is the one chance for that clash. Reigning Pegasus winner Knicks Go, who presumably clinched Horse of the Year honors in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), is scheduled to enter stud at Taylor Made for the 2022 breeding season. The Pegasus comes just in time for him to defend his title before preparing for his new career. Life Is Good, who delivered a tour de force in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), is expected to use the Pegasus as his springboard to other major targets.

A Knicks Go-Life Is Good battle would be all the more mouth-watering since both are frontrunners. Like the great match races of old, the Pegasus could be determined by who takes control from the start.

Knicks Go wires the Breeders' Cup Classic

In the 1 1/4-mile Classic, Knicks Go didn’t get the pace pressure that was widely projected, but the Brad Cox charge set serious fractions. After an opening quarter in :23.16, he ratcheted up the tempo through the half in a torrid :45.77, got something of a breather in 1:10.04 and 1:35.28, then kicked again for home. Knicks Go clocked the last quarter in :24.29 to post a final time of 1:59.57, within shouting distance of Candy Ride’s longstanding track record of 1:59.11.

Cox was asked by the Breeders’ Cup notes team if he were concerned by the half-mile fraction:

You know, not a whole lot because he wasn’t being pressed. He’d kind of cleared off at that point, and established maybe a two-length lead, so I felt comfortable about that. It’s one thing being pressed. It’s one thing going fast and being pressed, but it’s different when you’re going fast and you’re kind of doing it by yourself.

The opening quarter was on a straightaway, so I felt like it was relatively reasonable. I was almost thinking he wasn’t going fast enough. Then I think (jockey) Joel (Rosario), may have let him out a notch around the turn because like I said, he always runs around turns really well. I felt like he was in pretty good position…

Obviously, I do think the race, as it unfolded, played to Knicks Go’s advantage, just the way the way it unfolded into the first turn. And, up the backside, I felt pretty confident that he would have enough to finish with. Obviously, the mile and a quarter is not an issue. I’ve never really thought it would be just based on his mile and an eighth performances this year. Just a huge performance.

Life Is Good romps in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile

In the Dirt Mile, Life Is Good had nearer pursuers early – or rather, a couple of rivals who tried to make a race of it – but the Todd Pletcher colt was too fast. Winging through fractions of :21.88, :44.94, and 1:08.76, the son of leading sire Into Mischief drew off in the stretch to complete the mile in 1:34.12. And he kept motoring through the gallop-out, suggesting that added distance would be no problem.

Pletcher gave a glowing assessment to Breeders’ Cup publicity:

It was everything that we were hoping for and then maybe even more. The horse had trained spectacularly coming into the race and I felt like he was sitting on a big race. When he broke cleanly, you could tell they were going quickly and there was some other horses trying to be involved. My first concern was just, hopefully, he hadn’t gone too fast, but it seemed like he was relaxed and settled.

In spite of the fact that he was rolling right along, he was doing it comfortably. I think that’s kind of what we’ve come to expect from him. It’s one of those horses that’s extremely fast, has a very high cruising speed and the ability to continue doing it.

What was even more impressive to me than, than the :21 and four and 44 and change and 1:08 and change, is that he essentially won geared down. Then (jockey) Irad (Ortiz Jr.) had to reach up and grab a hold of him in the middle of the turn. Galloping out, he was still full of horse. I don’t think he could have been any more impressive.

Saudi Cup on the radar

To add further layers of intrigue, Life Is Good could be on a trajectory similar to the one Knicks Go followed this year. Knicks Go conquered the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland, next captured the 2021 Pegasus, then tried the Saudi Cup (finishing fourth), and ultimately crowned the season in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Now that Life Is Good has succeeded him in the Dirt Mile, the Pegasus is the next logical spot on the itinerary, and the Saudi Cup has been mentioned as a possibility as well. Looking further ahead, the 2022 Classic could be his Breeders’ Cup target at Keeneland.

Although Knicks Go will be living the stallion’s life by the 2022 Saudi Cup, another fascinating possibility has emerged for the $20 million prize, now a Group 1, on Feb. 26 – Medina Spirit. The first-past-the-post in the Kentucky Derby (G1) was runner-up to Knicks Go in the Classic, where a problematic start put him off his speedy game.

Trainer Bob Baffert commented on Medina Spirit’s typically hard-trying effort in the Classic:

I was really proud of his race. We just got beat by a better horse. We hadn’t planned to be as far back early, but he did kind of a stutter step just after the break and it cost us position. He ended up having a rough, wide trip. That’s horse racing. He tried to make a run at the winner through the stretch, but that’s a really nice horse that beat him.

He was best of all the others and he beat those same three-year-olds (Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie) again by about the same margin.

Hong Kong, Dubai, Royal Ascot

Other major international meetings likely to attract Breeders’ Cup runners are the Dec. 12 Hong Kong International Races – with Japan’s Filly & Mare Turf (G1) heroine Loves Only You already set for the Hong Kong Cup (G1); the Dubai World Cup (G1) program on Mar. 26, 2022, where Turf (G1) victor Yibir is aiming for the Sheema Classic (G1); and of course Royal Ascot next June, when Wesley Ward plans to unleash Turf Sprint (G1) winner Golden Pal.

Ward mentioned the Shakertown (G2) during Keeneland’s Spring Meet as Golden Pal’s stepping stone to the King’s Stand (G1) on June 14, 2022:

I’m happy this horse won. I’ve been singing his praises for a long time and he’s the best one we had running. I’m excited to run him in the Breeders’ Cup next year at Keeneland. He’s going to be a four-year-old and faster. We’ll point to Royal Ascot with him and the King’s Stand and prep at Keeneland in April in the Shakertown. If he can win in England, he can really stamp himself as a stallion, hopefully.