(Knicks Go / Photo Courtesy of Keeneland)
From the Oaklawn Park Media Team:
Trainer Brad Cox’s strong hand in Oaklawn’s older two-turn handicap division became stronger after Grade 1 winner Knicks Go scored a powerful allowance victory in Saturday’s seventh race.
Knicks Go, who was making his 4-year-old debut, earned a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 100 for his front-running 7 ½-length victory under Joe Talamo. Racing over a fast track, Knicks Go covered 1 1/16 miles over a fast track in a meet-best 1:42.57 and paid $8 as the second-choice in the nine-horse field.
Knicks Go – emphatically – snapped a 10-race losing skid in his first start for Cox, who began training the gray son of Paynter late last year. Knicks Go whistled through a :46.89 half-mile and drew off in the stretch after being challenged turning for home. Cox credited his Oaklawn assistant, Jorgito Abrego, for helping Knicks Go return to the winner’s circle.
“I didn’t really know that much about him before we had him, other than he just kind of seemed like a horse that would run well here or there,” Cox said. “He trained extremely well for us. Obviously, that was no surprise given the way he’d trained in the mornings. He’s very aggressive in the way he gallops. Obviously, Jorge had done a fantastic job with him. I saw the half-mile and I was a little concerned. Given his form, I guess you could say the inconsistent form he’s had, with the hot pace, I was a little concerned. But he ran well.”
Owned by Korea Racing Authority (Jin Woo Lee), Knicks Go won for the first time since a front-running 5 ½-length upset at 70-1 in the $500,000 Breeders’ Futurity (G1) for 2-year-olds in October 2018 at Keeneland. Knicks Go, at 40-1, then finished second to Game Winner in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) about a month later at Churchill Downs. Game Winner, unbeaten in four starts, was the country’s champion 2-year-old male of 2018.
Cox said Knicks Go is the first horse he’s trained for Korea Racing Authority. Previously with trainer Ben Colebrook, Knicks Go was racing for the first time since a 10th-place finish in the $175,000 Commonwealth Turf Stakes (G3) Nov. 9 at Churchill Downs.
“We got things off to a good start,” Cox said. “I’m proud of the horse.”
Next-race plans for Knicks Go are pending, Cox said, but the colt will be nominated to the $350,000 Essex Handicap March 14. The 1 1/16-mile Essex is the final major local prep for the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) at 1 1/8 miles on April 18. Another local two-turn option for older horses is the $250,000 Oaklawn Mile April 11.
“My first thought watching the race was, ‘First race in a while; brief freshening,’ ” Cox said. “We’ll kind of monitor him and see how he comes out of it. I’d really like to give him some time between this one and next one to, hopefully, take that bounce theory away. He’s not a big horse. He does carry great flesh and great weight, but he’s not a big horse. That would be a little bit of a concern of mine as far as how quickly he runs back.”
Cox is already pointing Feb. 9 allowance winner Night Ops for the Essex and has Warrior’s Charge targeting the Oaklawn Handicap for his next start. Warrior’s Charge won last Monday’s $500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) at 1 1/16 miles.
Knicks Go has a 3-3-1 record from 15 lifetime starts and earnings of $793,355.
Background, a 4 ½-length maiden winner Feb. 17, is under consideration for the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds March 14, trainer Mike Puhich said Sunday morning.
From the first crop of unbeaten Khozan, a half-brother to National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame inductee Royal Delta, Background finished a troubled in his Jan. 25 career debut before winning his two-turn debut earlier this month. A mid-March entry-level allowance is another potential landing spot for Background, Puhich said.
“We’re not going to completely rule out the Rebel, but the logical place is the non-winners of two,” Puhich said. “Nobody ever accused me of being a rocket scientist, so we’ll see. He came out of it great and we’re just going to kind of see how that race (Rebel) shapes up. For $1 million dollars, if half the field’s never won two, anyways, you’ve just got to see how it shapes up. The main thing is how he’s doing.”
Background represented the second career Oaklawn victory and 490th overall for the Pacific Northwest-based Puhich, who is wintering at Oaklawn for the first time. Puhich trains the gelding for Giddyup Stables, LLC (Robert and Molly Rondeau).
Three Technique, who is pointing for the Rebel, returned to the work tab Sunday morning for trainer Jeremiah Englehart, covering 5 furlongs over a fast track in 1:02 under exercise rider Marquel Lemon. Three Technique, who breezed in company after the second surface renovation break, galloped out 6 furlongs in 1:16.40.
Three Technique finished second in his last start, the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 24, Oaklawn’s first of four Kentucky Derby points races. Nominations to the 1 1/16-mile Rebel close March 5.
Early probables for the $125,000 Spring Fever Stakes for older female sprinters Feb. 29, according to the Oaklawn racing department: Amy’s Challenge for trainer Mac Robertson, Artistic Diva (John Sadler), Break Even (Brad Cox), Headland (Steve Hobby), Midnight Fantasy (Joe Sharp) and What a Fox (Robertino Diodoro). Amy’s Challenge won the 5 ½-furlong race last year. Break Even won the $150,000 Purple Martin Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters at the 2019 Oaklawn meeting. … K J’s Nobility ($5.60) represented the 966th career Oaklawn victory for Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borelin Saturday’s fifth race, an allowance sprint for Arkansas-breds. Borel, Oaklawn’s leading rider in 1995 and 2001, rode the winner for his older brother, trainer Cecil Borel, and owner Carson McCordof Hot Springs. McCord, 20, has three victories at the meeting. K J’s Nobility’s handed Hoonani Road his first loss in eight career starts at Oaklawn. … Favored Shoot Me Straight ($5.80) represented the first winner sired by millionaire Moonshine Mullin in Saturday’s second race. Shoot Me Straight is campaigned by breeder/owner Randy Patterson, who stands Moonshine Mullin at nearby Cedar Run Farm. Moonshine Mullin was a three-time winner at the 2014 Oaklawn meeting for Patterson and trainer Randy Morse. Shoot Me Straight represented the first winner at the meet for trainer Jason Barkley. The filly is the first horse he’s trained for Patterson. …Whoa Nellie, runner-up in last Monday’s $200,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) for older fillies and mares, is pointing for the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G3) March 14, trainer Larry Jones said Sunday morning. Jones said millionaire and Grade 1 winner Street Band remains on target for the 1 1/16-mile Azeri. … Maryanorginger, winner of her only start, the $150,000 Astoria Stakes for 2-year-old fillies last June at Belmont Park, worked a half-mile in company (:48.40) Sunday morning for trainer Jeremiah Englehart.