By Ed McNamara
Knicks Go (post 5, 5-2) not only is running against the best field he’s ever faced, he’s also running against recent history Saturday at Del Mar.
Trainer Brad Cox’s gray streak is the morning-line favorite to go wire to wire at 1 1/4 miles, a distance he’s never tried. Of the last six Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winners, only Gun Runner hadn’t won at 10 furlongs, but he’d been in the money three times. The last 11 Classic champions had gone 1 1/4 at least once, and all but Bayern finished second or third.
Can Knicks Go master a new trick on the fly against one of the deepest, most talented Classic fields ever assembled? Cox is cautiously optimistic.
“There is some other speed in the race,” he said, “but I think he is the speed of the speed, and we’re not going to take that away from him. We’re going to ask him to run out of there and establish position early, and what anyone else does is up to them.
“But we are going to be very aggressive, and hopefully he gets the lead going into the first turn and he’s able to clear off. I think that gives him his best opportunity to win.”
He’s right, but can Knicks Go and rider Joel Rosario withstand pace pressure from Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Medina Spirit (post 8, 4-1), Hot Rod Charlie (post 3, 4-1) and possibly Art Collector (post 6, 8-1)? If not, and Knicks Go cracks leaving the eighth pole, Cox could still win the Classic. His other star is Essential Quality (post 4, 3-1), a bad-trip fourth in the Kentucky Derby away from being 9-for-9 lifetime. I see Luis Saez keeping Essential Quality within striking distance of the pace before surging to the lead in the final furlong.
“If they’re head and head and going fast early, it definitely plays toward Essential Quality,” Cox said. “If it’s a hot pace, he can sit off and come running. And if it’s a soft pace, he can sit close. He looks tremendous, and he’s doing well. He never really gets tired, and he keeps coming and coming.”
My projection: Knicks Go is dogged for a mile by Medina Spirit, who compromises his own chances by wearing down Knicks Go. Hot Rod Charlie takes the lead leaving the eighth pole before Essential Quality grinds past him 100 yards from the finish in a replay of their stretch duel in the Belmont Stakes (G1). Knicks Go fades to fourth, as he did in the Saudi Cup and the Met Mile (G1).
Post time for the Classic in 8:40 p.m. ET
Essential Quality 2. Hot Rod Charlie 3. Medina Spirit
$1 million Dirt Mile (G1), 3-year-olds and up
Post time: 4:19 p.m. (race 6)
I couldn’t find a reason to challenge Life Is Good (post 5, 4-5), perhaps the likeliest winner of Breeders’ Cup weekend. He’s a neck away from being 5-for-5, and that loss was against superstar sprinter Jackie’s Warrior, who probably will be odds-on in the Sprint. Life Is Good, who beat Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit twice during the winter, was expected to be the Derby favorite until a minor injury sidelined him.
Met Mile hero Silver State (post 1, 7-2) has two wins at the distance and could capitalize if Life Is Good isn’t himself. There’s been buzz for Ginobili (post 9, 4-1). He’s 3-for-4 at Del Mar, including a 9 3/4-length romp at a mile, but that was in a $40,000 optional claimer, and this is a massive jump in class.
Life Is Good 2. Silver State 3. Ginobili
$2 million Sprint (G1), 6 furlongs, 3-year-olds and up
Post time: 5:38 p.m. (race 8)
Heavy favorite Jackie’s Warrior (post 2, 6-5) is 2-for-2 at 6 furlongs and a neck shy of being 9-for-9 around one turn. He’s the fastest of the fast, and if he gets away cleanly, it will be shocking if he gets caught. His only loss in a sprint came after a troubled start in the 7-furlong Woody Stephens on Belmont day, and I’m not expecting that to happen again. I’ll be playing him on top of Aloha West (post 5, 8-1), who can complete the exacta if he repeats his 11 4/5-second late surge last out at Keeneland. Local hope Dr. Schivel (post 9, 4-1) is a horse-for-course — 3-for-3 at Del Mar, 4-for-4 at this distance — but he’s never faced an opponent like Jackie’s Warrior.
Jackie’s Warrior 2. Aloha West 3. Dr. Schivel