Knicks Go is back in his Churchill Downs stall, coming in off a resounding victory in one of the biggest older-horse races in the country. And he’s running against a familiar crew of competent, but hardly imposing, rivals.
As Breeders’ Cup Classic tune-ups go, this one couldn’t come on a shinier platter.
This explains why Knicks Go is the 2/5 favorite for Saturday’s Grade 3 Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs. The $400,000 first-year contest bears the name of legendary Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, one of the greatest conditioners in the sport’s history.
The Lukas sends its six contestants on a 1 1/8-mile trek around Churchill Downs’ main course. That said, all eyes – not to mention a fair amount of wallets – will be on the prohibitive favorite, who comes into the Lukas ranked first in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Top Thoroughbred Poll.
The Lukas Classic is a means to a Classic end
This is a nice, albeit insignificant, development for trainer Brad Cox. His goal of putting Knicks Go into the Del Mar winner’s circle comes at around 6 p.m. PT on Nov. 6. That’s right around the time the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner will make himself known, and right around the time the winner of the $6 million flagship fall event gets his championship garland of flowers.
No offense to the Churchill Downs folks, but the Lukas Classic is Knicks Go’s warm-up for that bigger game. Period.
“He’s a horse that puts a lot into his training and he’s done that leading into Saturday’ race,” Cox told Churchill Downs’ Kevin Kerstein. “He’s accomplished a lot this year and we believe the Lukas Classic is a good race to compete in prior to the Breeders’ Cup. This race doesn’t require him to ship and he can run out of his own stall.”
Knicks Go’s last two wins came by nearly 15 lengths
Knicks Go’s latest accomplishment was that convincing victory in the Aug. 7 Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga. There, he beat a small, but deep field of rivals that included Maxfield and Silver State, who went 2-3. Maxfield runs Saturday in the Grade 1 Woodward at Belmont Park, his tune-up for the Breeders’ Cup.
Before that 4 ½-length victory, which came with a 111 Beyer Speed Figure and a punched Breeders’ Cup Classic ticket, Knicks Go dissected a Cornhusker Handicap field of overmatched rivals at Iowa’s Prairie Meadows. That 10 ¼-length romp came with the year’s best Beyer by a North American horse at any distance — a 113.
That’s what awaits the rest of the Lukas Classic field, which includes multiple graded-stakes winner, but Grade 1-snakebit Tacitus (5/2). He hasn’t run since finishing a well-beaten seventh in February’s Saudi Cup. Still lacking that Grade 1 victory, Tacitus is the only other horse offering single-digit odds.
Familiar names in familiar stakes settings
Go up the odds ladder and you find a nice list of B and B-minus horses, including Independence Hall (10/1), West Virginia Governor’s Stakes winner Sprawl (12/1), multiple stakes winner Shared Sense (15/1), and New Orleans Classic winner Chess Chief (20/1). The horses you typically find in a Grade 3 like the Lukas.
None of them figure to threaten Knicks Go in the least and, about the only thing you can say in their defense is, Knicks Go has yet to win in four starts under the Twin Spires. But that was under former trainer Ben Colebrook, who lacks something Cox has on his mantle.