Cox surprised by Knicks Go Progress

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Wells Bayou trainer Brad Cox

Brad Cox has admitted he’s been somewhat surprised watching Knicks Go turn into a top level performer over the last 12 months.

The Paynter colt had already won the 2018 Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and taken second spot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile that same season when in the care of former trainer Ben Colebrook, but Cox says he didn’t foresee what has unfolded when Knicks Go arrived in his yard.

The 2019 campaign was largely a tale of underachievement for the horse, with his best finish being second place in the Ellis Park Derby. On his final start for Colebrook, he ran in 10th in the Commonwealth Turf Stakes (G3) in November 2019.

Then he made the move to the Cox team and 2020 became a year of resurgence.

“I was just inheriting a horse that had some back class and was obviously a Grade 1 winner,” Cox said. “I never really expected to win any Grade 1s with him. Once we started training him, my expectations were to win a second-level allowance race. And he was able to do that – and do it to give me enough confidence to think that he was a stake horse.”

After his winning stable bow in an allowance race at Oaklawn Park, where he ran home more than seven-lengths clear of the field, Knicks Go suffered with bone chips and was sidelined for seven months.

During that downtime, retirement was a possibility.

“We weren’t going to run him if he wasn’t as good as he was before, and he was. He was every bit as good as he was before his layoff in the spring. And when he came back in the fall he was every bit as good,” added Cox.

After winning a Keeneland allowance race in October, Knicks Go got his chance on the big stage with a run in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. He grabbed that opportunity in some style, taking a decisive victory from Jesus’ Team in a track record time.

The recent defections of Charlatan and Mucho Gusto are a positive for Knicks Go heading into next weekend’s $3m Pegasus World Cup (G1) in Cox’s eyes.

His charge has shown fondness for racing on the front end, so the removal of two ‘speed horses’ is no bad thing.

The likes of Mr Prospector winner Sleepy Eyes Todd, Cigar Mile scorer True Timber and Chug McGaughey’s Code Of Honor join Tax, Anothertwistafate and the re-opposing Jesus’ Team in the Gulfstream line-up.

It sets up a tough challenge, but Cox is happy to allow Knicks Go compete again on his own terms.

“We’re not going to try to do anything out of the ordinary,” Cox said. “The three starts we’ve had him, he just kind of finds himself on the lead. I expect to be there on the lead or very, very close to it. I think, if we want it, we should be able to get it.

“I think he’s got a good clock in his head, and he’s a good judge of pace. When you’ve got a horse that wants the front end, that’s what you’ve got to have.”