Brad Cox’s reasoning for taking Knicks Go from the bright lights of New York to the cornfields of Iowa is simple, even if the idea of running a multiple-Grade 1-winning, Eclipse Award candidate in the Grade 3 Cornhusker Handicap stopped most racing fans in their tracks.
“I’m hopeful he’ll get back to his winning ways around two turns,” Cox texted OG News.
The Cornhusker Handicap is a 1 1/8-mile, two-turn route. It’s a race Cox won last year with Night Ops. That’s the Eclipse Award-winning trainer’s second win in the race, dating to his first graded stakes win with Carve in 2014.
So there’s good mojo there, which Knicks Go could certainly use right about now. And if it takes an Iowa field trip to Prairie Meadows to get Knicks Go’s systems back to go, Cox has no problem with that. Especially at a track Cox is well familiar with. He cut his early training teeth at Prairie Meadows.
Two consecutive losses in one-turn races
Knicks Go comes into the Cornhusker riding a two-race losing streak. Not coincidentally, both fourth-place setbacks came over one turn at the Saudi Cup and at last month’s Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park. In that latter race, Knicks Go and his considerable speed came in as the 4/5 favorite, and he took his customary lead entering the stretch.
At that point, the son of Paynter tired. By the three-sixteenths post, he weakened, getting passed by winner Silver State, runner-up By My Standards, and third-place Mischievous Alex. The latter two are good horses, but neither will be confused with Charlatan, who battled Knicks Go early, middle and late in the Saudi Cup.
This got Cox’s wheels turning. He wants a confidence boost for his star 5-year-old coming into Saratoga’s summer season and stacked stakes slate. Coming back to his roots and taking Knicks Go back to two turns in the Cornhusker checked both boxes.
The Cornhusker could give Knicks Go an ear up
So Knicks Go takes his act to the provinces in an effort to regain the form that brought him two Grade 1 wins and two allowance wins between February 2020 and January 2021. The Grade 1s came in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and the Pegasus World Cup.
He does so coming off a strong, five-furlong workout in 1:00.60 at Cox’s Churchill Downs base. That was No. 3 of 15 running that distance that day. And Knicks Go plays Iowa carrying top weight of 126 pounds, spotting his rivals anywhere from six to 13 pounds.
What serious competition awaits him likely comes from two sources: Last Judgment and Modernist. The former comes in with three victories and a second in his last five races, including three stakes wins: the Sunshine Classic at Gulfstream in January, the Grade 3 Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in March, and the Grade 3 Pimlico Special Preakness weekend.
Knicks Go put Last Judgment in the Pegasus rear-view mirror
The only time Last Judgment missed the board was in that Pegasus, when he finished eighth – nearly 13 lengths behind Knicks Go.
Cornhusker contender No. 2 is Modernist. Yes, that Modernist, who finished seventh in last year’s Belmont Stakes and fifth in the Grade 3 Peter Pan before putting matters together. After an eight-month layoff, Modernist returned in 2021 with a win sandwiched by two seconds in Grade 3s. He won the Excelsior Stakes at Aqueduct in April. In between, he finished second to Last Judgment in both the Challenger Stakes and the Pimlico Special.
The Cornhusker Handicap is the third of three stakes races on Prairie Meadows’ Friday card. It follows the Grade 3 Iowa Derby and Grade 3 Iowa Oaks. Arkansas Derby winner Super Stock, last seen finishing fourth in the Texas Derby, is the Iowa Derby favorite. Black-Eyed Susan Stakes winner Army Wife is the heavy favorite in the Oaks.