HOT SPRINGS, AR – 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 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 quick 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.