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SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – Facing what many called the toughest field of older dirt horses compiled in 2021, Korea Racing Authority’s Knicks Go turned on the jets in the stretch to completely dominate his rivals in Saturday’s $1 million Whitney Stakes (G1) at Saratoga.
The Whitney is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” event, with Knicks Go receiving an automatic berth in the Classic at Del Mar this November.
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Knicks Go broke from post 4 under Joel Rosario as the even-money favorite in the field of five, but he didn’t receive an easy early lead because the 4-year-old filly Swiss Skydiver broke sharply to his inside and initially took command heading into the clubhouse turn.
Knicks Go would have none of that, however, and quickly surged past Swiss Skydiver before opening up to a lengthy early lead while posting fractions of :23.42, :46.76, and 1:10.32.
Knicks Go’s large advantage shrunk as he neared the far turn, but once Swiss Skydiver ranged up to challenge him near the 1/4 pole, the Brad Cox trainee drifted out a handful of lanes but still spurted clear to win the 1 1/8-mile fast dirt route by 4 1/2 lengths in 1:47.70.
“I was challenged a little bit going to the first turn, but (Swiss Skydiver) sent a little bit and I was just going to see what they were going to do and take it from there,” Rosario said. “I was a 1/2-length in front going into the turn and I just decided to keep him going forward. … The way he was moving, he just skipped to the last 1/4-pole. He loved what he was doing. He was very relaxed and going forward. I was really happy with the way he was going turning for home.”
The 2/1 second choice Maxfield suffered just his second career defeat, surging late between Swiss Skydiver and Silver State to take second by 1 3/4 lengths over the latter, with Swiss Skydiver another 4 1/2 lengths behind them.
“He ran his race. No excuse, really,” said Maxfield’s trainer Brendan Walsh. “I think the best horse won on the day. (Jockey Jose Ortiz) said he got to a point where he thought he was going to get him, but (Knicks Go) didn’t stop and didn’t come back to him. But he ran well. Second is no disgrace. We’re always proud of this horse and there will be other days.”
By My Standards, second in last year’s Whitney, stumbled badly out of the 1-hole and trailed throughout before completing the order of finish.
Knicks Go’s win was his second straight following the Cornhusker Handicap (G3) at Prairie Meadows and improved his overall record to 22-8-3-1. The 5-year-old Maryland-bred son of Paynter, who won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), increased his earnings to $5,368,995 earned and will point for a return to the World Championships in the weekend’s headlining event.
“He ran huge,” Cox said. “There’s always a concern when you ship to Saratoga and this can be a demanding surface. I thought the race at Prairie Meadows really tuned him up well. He was well within himself and that was his big work for this race, 5 weeks ago. He had 3 maintenance works at Ellis and he came in here a fresh and happy horse, ready to go.”
Knicks Go returned $4.10 to win, $2.70 to place, and $2.20 to show. Maxfield brought back $2.80 to place and $2.10 to show. Silver State paid $2.70 to show.
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