Trainer Brad Cox needed just one word to succinctly express what he witnessed in the $2,942,000 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1).
"Greatness," he said.
In a young race that has enjoyed its fair share of great moments thanks to horses like Arrogate and Gun Runner , a 5-year-old with humble Maryland roots added his name to that sparkling list when the Korea Racing Authority's Knicks Go rolled to a dazzling, front-running 2 3/4-length victory Jan. 23 in the fifth edition of the Pegasus at Gulfstream Park that left Cox gushing with pride.
"Great horses do great things, and he did something great today," Cox said. "I'm very proud of him."
Cox's pride is understandable considering how Knicks Go has morphed from a horse who couldn't win to one who can't lose since he moved into the trainer's barn last year.
A grade 1 winner at 2 for trainer Ben Colebrook, the son of Paynter was 0-for-8 for as a 3-year-old, but he's now 4-for-4 for Cox with Big Ass Fans Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) and Pegasus victories in his last two starts that have placed him at the center of a remarkable renaissance tale.
"We've had some horses we've claimed who have won stakes, but I haven't seen anything like this," Cox said. "I wish I could say why it happened, but I don't know what was happening before. He was great at 2 and looked like a good horse when we got him."
Now the fourth Breeders' Cup winner to emerge victorious in the Pegasus, Knicks Go still has some running ahead of him, according to Jun Park, a representative of the KRA.
"It was an outstanding performance. We appreciate everything the (Brad Cox) team did with him. Everybody did a great job with him," Park said. "We are honored to be here and he will continue to race."
The next target could be the $20 million Saudi Cup at 1 1/8 miles Feb. 20 at King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh.
While Knicks Go received an automatic spot in the field for the world's richest race through Saturday's win, Cox knows a lot will have to go right between now and then to set up an international showdown with the Bob Baffert-trained Charlatan in the Saudi Cup.
"We'll look at it," Cox said. "It's a lot to ask but we'll let him tell us. I'd say it's a 50-50 situation."
Another option could be the $12 million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1), a March 27 test at 1 1/4 miles. While Saturday marked Knicks Go's first start beyond 1 1/16 miles, Cox believes the son of the Outflanker mare Kosmo's Buddy has the breeding to stretch his speed over a 10-furlong distance.
"He can go farther," Cox said. "With Paynter and Awesome Again (the sire of Paynter), it's a mile-and-a-quarter pedigree. I actually think the mile-and-a-quarter around two turns is better for him than a mile-and-an-eighth around one turn. He excels on turns."
Knicks Go excelled from start-to-finish Saturday as he led throughout in the no raceday Lasix stakes and turned aside a bid from Grupo 7C Racing Stable's Jesus' Team to underscore the strength of the Dirt Mile. About 2 1/2 months ago, Knicks Go and Jesus' Team finished 1-2 at the World Championships, with Knicks Go prevailing by 3 1/2 lengths.
Jockey Joel Rosario took Knicks Go ($4.60) right to the lead when the field of 12 broke from the gate in the Pegasus and the 6-5 choice was \ahead by 1 1/2 lengths over 41-1 shot Last Judgment after a half-mile in :46.16.
As Knicks Go continued to motor along through six furlongs in 1:09.91, Last Judgment and Tax dropped back and Jesus' Team moved up from fifth to join Independence Hall and mount the lone serious rally from the back of the pack.
Not that it mattered in deciding the outcome.
Rosario had Knicks Go in front by a comfortable three lengths at the eighth pole and covered the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:47.89 on the fast track.
"What a training job by Brad Cox," Rosario said. "Thank you to (the Korea) Racing Authority for the opportunity and to Brad for letting me ride him. He's very special. You can see, he goes faster, like I said, faster and faster."
Jesus' Team, a 4-year-old son of Tapiture , was second under Irad Ortiz Jr. at 11-1 odds by a neck over Independence Hall, a Constitution 4-year-old trained by Michael McCarthy who was dismissed at 27-1.
"I am very proud of 'Jesus,' he's a great horse. Today, he didn't have the luck to win, because Knicks Go ran again alone in front," trainer Jose D'Angelo said about Jesus' Team. "I am very sure that 'Jesus' will be on top in big races. I feel proud of him."
It was another 6 1/4 lengths back to Sleepy Eyes Todd, who was three-quarters-of-a-length ahead of Will Farish's multiple grade 1 winner Code of Honor, the 4-1 second choice, who broke from post 10 and failed to generate his typically strong stretch run.
For Knicks Go, it was his sixth win in 18 starts and lifted his career earnings to $3,088,995.
He was bred by Angie Moore and is the lone stakes winner from Kosmo's Buddy's seven foals. Her last three foals have yet to race: a 4-year-old Orb colt named Believe Your Eyes; Cosmicality, a 3-year-old Broken View colt; and an unnamed yearling filly by Justify , after which she was reported bred to Ghostzapper .
Knicks Go was bought by the KRA for $87,000 from the Woods Edge Farm consignment at the 2017 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, and, speaking of breeding, the only puzzling element for Cox about Saturday's win involved how such an accomplished horse has yet to be locked up by a stud farm.
"I can't believe no one has made a stallion deal for him yet," Cox said. "He was a grade 1 winner at 2, a grade 1 winner at 4 and 5 as an older horse. A Breeders' Cup and Pegasus winner. A grade 1 winner around two turns without Lasix. What do people want?"
If the phone doesn't ring after the Pegasus, it will surely be a "great" mystery.