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LOUISVILLE, KY – Korea Racing Authority’s Knicks Go won his final prep for the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) in the $400,000 Lukas Classic Stakes (G3), and Plainsman put a stop to the undefeated Beau Liam in the $300,000 Ack Ack Stakes (G3), in the co-features on Churchill Downs’ Saturday card.
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Korea Racing Authority’s trailblazer Knicks Go, the top-rated horse for this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, went right to the front and never looked back as he easily dismissed his five rivals to win the Lukas Classic by 4 lengths over Independence Hall.
Knicks Go, ridden by Joel Rosario and trained by Louisville’s Eclipse Award winner Brad Cox, stopped the teletimer in 1:47.85 – a stakes record for the eighth running of the race and only .57 seconds off Victory’s Gallop’s 1999 track record of 1:47.28.
“We’re excited to get this race under our belt,” Cox said. “He’s a fast horse and he’s dangerous when he gets to show that speed around two turns. Joel gave him an easy trip on the front end. He seemed like he was able to take a breather and open back up around the turn. On to the Breeders’ Cup.”
Sent to post as the red-hot 1/9 favorite, Knicks Go broke alertly from post position 2 in the field of six older horses and dictated the terms throughout.
He had a 1/2-length advantage over West Virginia Governor’s (G3) winner Sprawl into the first turn with Pegasus World Cup (G1) third Independence Hall also chasing, but then Knicks Go deliberately kicked a length clear down the backstretch with the first 1/4-mile in a modest :23.53 and the 1/2 in :47.27.
Knicks Go displayed his world-class superiority on the far turn, breaking the chasers’ hearts after 6 furlongs in 1:10.90 with Independence Hall, Sprawl, and comebacking $3.7 million-earner Tacitus under a full drive.
Knicks Go had a 2-length jump on his inferior rivals at the top of the stretch as Independence Hall attempted to close the gap from the rail, but it was futile. Knicks Go’s class was undeniable and he drew clear in the final furlong without much urging from Rosario.
“It’s Knicks ‘All Systems’ Go to the Breeders’ Cup!” track announcer Travis Stone said at the finish.
Overall, Knicks Go has won 9 of 23 starts with 3 seconds and 1 third. The $184,140 first prize boosted his career earnings to $5,553,135.
“I kept him off the rail today a little bit, but he was going very easy,” Rosario said. “He’s a really fast horse and he did what he needed to do. He’s always been an impressive horse to ride and always been quick. Today, he did things very easily and now on to bigger things.”
This was Knicks Go’s fourth stakes win in 6 starts this year. His year started with a 2 3/4-length victory in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream Park. After back-to-back fourth place finishes in the $20 million Saudi Cup (G1) and $1 million Metropolitan Handicap (G1), the 5-year-old bounced back with a 10 1/4-length win in the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker (G3) and followed that with a dominating 4 1/2-length score in the $1 million Whitney (G1) at Saratoga.
Knicks Go returned $2.20, $2.10, and $2.10. Independence Hall, ridden by Javier Castellano, earned $79,400 for second and paid $3.40 and $2.60 as the 10/1 third betting choice. It was another 1 1/2 lengths back to Shared Sense in third under Brian Hernandez Jr. and paid $3.40 to show.
Tacitus lost a head photo for third and was followed by Chess Chief and Spawl.
Knicks Go, a gray or roan son of Paynter out of the Outflanker mare Kosmo’s Buddy, was bred in Maryland by Angie Moore.
Shortleaf Stable’s Plainsman rallied from off the pace, grabbed the lead with a furlong to run, and out-kicked 1/2 favorite Beau Liam to the wire to win the 29th renewal of the Ack Ack by 1 length.
Plainsman, a 6-year-old son of Flatter, ran one mile on a fast track in 1:33.85, which was just .07 off Pants On Fire’s 2013 stakes record (1:33.78) and .59 off Fruit Ludt’s 2014 track record (1:33.26).
Atoka, with Mr Dumas in tow, led the field of nine older horses down the backstretch in the one-turn mile through fractions of :22.65, :45.21, and 1:09.15 with Plainsman sitting off the pace and in clear.
Leaving the turn after a three-wide move, Plainsman was in fifth behind the leaders and ducked inside to split Mr Dumas on the rail and Atoka on his outside. He grabbed the lead with 1/8 of a mile to run and turned back favored Beau Liam, who made his stakes debut after winning his first 3 starts.
“I was able to sit a good trip for most of the race,” jockey Joel Rosario said. “I knew turning for home I’d have a decision to make whether to keep him inside or go out. I knew I had a lot of horse underneath me and the race developed well for him.”
The first prize was $178,800 and hiked Plainsman’s bankroll to $729,207 with a record of 8-6-3 from 25 starts. It was his fourth career stakes win. Previously he won the 2018 Discovery (G3) at age 3 and prevailed in the $50,000 Jim Rasmussen at Prairie Meadows and $85,000 Michael G. Schaefer Memorial at Indiana Grand earlier this year.
“This horse has been in great form this year,” Cox said. “I think two turns is probably his best distance, but today, he was able to sit a good trip from off the pace at the one-turn mile. He showed a lot of adversity today and ran a good effort.”
Plainsman paid $13.60, $3.80, and $3.20 at odds of 5/1. Beau Liam, ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., paid $2.60 and $2.40. Atoka was another 2 3/4 lengths back in third under Rafael Bejarano and paid $8 to show.
Rushie, South Bend, Mr Dumas, Guest Suite, Exculpatory, and Mo Mosa completed the order of finish. Ebben and Aloha West were scratched.
Plainsman, out of the Street Sense mare S S Pinafore, was bred in Kentucky by Joseph Minor.
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