Knicks Go tops three year old competition for $6 million purse at the Breeders Cup in Del Mar

Knicks Go in front of the pack for the winner of the 2021 Breeders Cup Classic at Del Mar on Sat Nov 6, 2021 (AP News photo)

By Jessica Kwong

Knicks Go defied age and beat a trio of three-year-old top horses including controversial Kentucky Derby champion Medina Spirit in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday in Del Mar.

The five-year-old with 3-1 odds, ridden by Joel Rosario and trained by Brad Cox, set the pace and finished with a 2 3/4-length victory. Knicks Go covered 1 1/4 miles in 1:59.57, coming within three-fifths of a second of the record at Del Mar Racetrack for that distance.

“He broke really sharp,” Rosario said. “He looked like he was really enjoying what he was doing. I could see his ears, he was so relaxed.”

Knicks Go paid $8.40 to win on a $2 wager. It was his fourth consecutive win and boosted him in the running for the Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year.

“Speed is very dangerous,” Cox said.

Embattled trainer Bob Baffert’s Medina Spirit, who failed a drug test after the Derby, came in second. Medina Spirit is expected to be tested for the anti-inflammatory which is legal, but after the race week. Baffert currently does not face any charges.

Belmont Stakes winner Essential Quality, the 9-5 favorite, finished third. Essential Quality is retiring due to his stallion value.

The hometown hero Hot Rod Charlie, who enjoyed “Let’s go Chuck” chants leading up to the race, came in fourth.

The Breeders’ Cup classic had only eight horses because Express Train had swelling in his right hock in the morning and was scratched.

Last year, Knicks Go won all three of his races, including the G1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. In January, the Maryland-bred Paynter colt won the G1 Pegasus Invitational.

While Baffert’s horse came in second in the classic on Saturday, his horse Corniche won the $2 million Juvenile on Friday. Corniche became a horse to watch in next year’s Derby, but it remains to be seen who will train him since Baffert is banned from the race for two years amid the Medina Spirit controversy.

Baffert horse Corniche wins Breeders Cup at Del Mar

Corniche crosses the finish line with Jockey Mike Smith at the Breeders Cup at Del Mar on Fri Nov 5, 2021 (AP News photo)

By Jessica Kwong

Corniche, trained by embattled trainer Bob Baffert, on Friday won the Breeders’ Cup $2 million Juvenile, becoming a horse to watch for next year’s Kentucky Derby.

On the opening day of the 38th Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in California, jockey Mike Smith led Corniche to a 1 3/4-length victory.

Smith guided Corniche to break from the outside in the pack of 11 horses and did not give up the lead in completing the 1-1/16 miles in 1:42.50.

The jockey said he was mostly concerned with how warm Corniche was before the race.

“The only thing I was worried about was that he got hotter than he ever had. It just made me get calmer,” Smith said. “I don’t think I have ever been so calm in a big race. I just sat really still, he caught a flyer leaving the gate and I just left him alone.”

Corniche, the 7-5 favorite, earned his third victory in three attempts and positioned himself as an early favorite for the 2022 Derby.

Baffert said he knew from the 11th hole that Smith was going to have to push Corinche harder than usual.

“Mike is a great rider. I love him on a horse like that,” said Baffert, who won his 18th Breeders’ Cup and fifth Juvenile.

While all eyes are now on Corniche, it remains to be seen who will prepare him for the Derby. Baffert is banned from the race for two years after his Derby winner this year, Medina Spirit, came back with a positive drug test. Corniche would not be able to earn points to qualify for the Derby if trained by Baffert.

Pappacap, a 15-1 longshot, came in second with jockey Joe Bravo, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Giant Game, also a longshot.

Giant Game’s trainer Dale Romans said he thought they would win the Juvenile, but congratulated Corniche.

“Congratulations to the winner. It was a big race by him,” Romans said. “It’s hard to beat Bob on his home court.”

The Breeders’ Cup continues for its second day on Saturday.