DEL MAR —
If you take anything away from Saturday’s running of the $6-million Breeders’ Cup Classic, it’s that horses can get better with age.
With a lot of attention being paid to a trio of 3-year-olds, it was 5-year-old Knicks Go who shot out of the gate and went wire-to-wire to win the richest race in the United States. The three 3-year-olds — Medina Sprit, conditional winner of the Kentucky Derby; Essential Quality, winner of the Belmont Stakes; and Hot Rod Charlie, second in the Belmont Stakes — finished second to fourth.
The fact that Knicks Go won should not be a surprise as he has won three Grade 1 races since moving to the Brad Cox barn at the beginning of last year, this after a very undistinguished career with previous trainer Ben Colebrook. Knicks Go won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile last year.
Knicks Go was never seriously tested under a ride by Joel Rosario. He darted to the lead quickly and relaxed down the backstretch, allowing the following pack to inch closer. Then, as they turned for home, he went very wide entering the stretch but put it back together to win by 2¾ lengths.
Knicks Go paid $8.40, $6.20 and $4.00, beating seven other horses in the 1¼-mile race. The field was reduced by one when Express Train was scratched in the morning because of a minor injury.
Each of the losing 3-year-olds has their own story.
Medina Spirit’s win in the Kentucky Derby is expected to be under review after he tested positive for an anti-inflammatory that is legal, but not on race week. No charges have been filed against trainer Bob Baffert.
Essential Quality, who could easily be a star in this sport, is retiring because of his stallion value.
And Hot Rod Charlie ran one of the best races of the year when he lost to Essential Quality in the Belmont. He later won the Haskell Stakes but was disqualified for interference.