A “happy, fresh, and full of himself” Knicks Go will defend his Pegasus World Cup Invitational title Saturday on the rail as the 6/5 morning-line favorite. That’s the result of Tuesday’s post-position draw for the $3 million Grade 1 event.

Knicks Go-Pegasus preview
Knicks Go opened his 2021 season winning the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational. He hopes to close his stellar career by becoming the first repeat winner in the event’s history on Saturday. (Image: Gulfstream Park)

The presumptive favorite to be named Horse of the Year at next month’s Eclipse Awards arrived at Gulfstream Park late Monday night. Trainer Brad Cox, himself a finalist to defend as Trainer of the Year, was so pleased with what he saw that he took Knicks Go out for a Tuesday morning jog.

“His energy level was really good and we decided to train him,” Cox told Gulfstream Park. “We just jogged him about a mile and a half. He went really, really good. He seemed happy, fresh, and full of himself.”

If Knicks Go was aware of honors humans bestow upon him, he’d probably be more full of himself. On Tuesday, the National Horse Racing Museum in Newmarket, England, named him the 2021 Longines World’s Best Racehorse in a virtual ceremony.

Can Knicks Go go back-to-back?

Next on Knicks Go’s farewell tour — he’s retiring to his stallion career after this race — is becoming the first horse in event history to defend a Pegasus World Cup title. He opened his 2021 campaign with a 2 3/4-length victory over Jesus’ Team in last year’s Pegasus World Cup.

Knicks Go closed the year with a 2 3/4-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. In between those Grade 1 bookends, Knicks Go won three other races, including the Grade 1 Whitney. He comes into Gulfstream Park with a four-race winning streak. In those four races, Knicks Go dismissed his rivals by a combined 21 1/2 lengths.

“He’s older and wiser. I think last year, we probably had a bit of a question mark if he could perform at a mile and an eighth,” Cox said. “He’s obviously proven that having won two Grade 1s at a mile and an eighth and a Grade 1 at a mile and a quarter last year. Distance isn’t an issue. There was a little bit of a question mark (last year). He’s very sound and doing phenomenal. We know him better this year. We have even more confidence this year than we had last  year.”

This Pegasus doesn’t come with depth

Knicks Go’s main rival here, Life Is Good, is the only other horse carrying single-digit odds. He’s starting from Post 4 as the 7/5 second choice. The Into Mischief 4-year-old comes in 6-for-7 lifetime, winning his last two races, the Grade 3 Kelso at Belmont Park and the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, by a combined 11 lengths.

The 1 1/8-mile Pegasus World Cup marks Life Is Good’s first trek past 1 1/16 miles. His lone race at that distance produced an eight-length dissection in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita last winter.

“With Life Is Good, you’re talking about a horse that — if you wanted to — could probably be the best sprinter in the country,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “He’s just naturally very quick and very fast. He’s also showed in the Dirt Mile that he has the ability to go at a high cruising speed and keep going, and that’s what we’ve seen in his training. Everything he shows us is he’ll run further.”

Don’t expect a speed duel

None of this is good news for the other seven candidates in the nine-horse field. Knicks Go has been remarkably resistant to pace meltdowns from better horses than we’re seeing here. Witness his Breeders’ Cup Classic victory or his Whitney score. And Life Is Good is electric on the open track.

The two likely contenders, according to the morning line, are Chess Chief (Post 2-10/1) and Sir Winston (Post 6-12/1). Trained by upset maestro Dallas Stewart, who has a penchant for springing the improbable, Chess Chief scratched from last week’s Louisiana Stakes to enter the much-more lucrative Pegasus World Cup. His closer style, last displayed in his Tenacious Stakes victory at Fair Grounds last year, could grab him a piece here.

Sir Winston is another closer who needs the perfect pace scenario to replicate his 2019 Belmont Stakes victory.

“He needs a lot of things to go his way,” trainer Mark Casse said.

Rounding out the field are California shipper Stilleto Boy (Post 3-20/1), Empty Tomb (Post 5-20/1), Title Ready (Post 7, 20/1), Endorsed (Post 8-20/1), and long shot Commandeer (Post 9-30/1).

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