If you had stated prior to the running of Saturday’s $500,000 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland that Knicks Go would not only win, but do so by 5 ½ lengths, the majority of handicappers would have scoffed at the notion.
After all, the Maryland-bred son of Paynter had previously finished a distant third in the Arlington-Washington Futurity and appeared to be overmatched against his dozen Breeders’ Futurity rivals, to the extent that bettors allowed him to start as the longest shot in the field at 70-1.
But under an aggressive ride from jockey Albin Jimenez, Knicks Go took the bull by the horns and never gave his challengers a chance to catch up. After an alert beginning, the gray colt sprinted clear through an opening quarter-mile in :23.67 seconds, and he maintained a minimum of a one-length lead while parading along through a half-mile in :47.59 and six furlongs in 1:12.68 seconds.
In the end, this served two useful purposes—it allowed Knicks Go to settle into a nice rhythm on the front end, and it also kept him away from the woeful amounts of trouble unfolding behind him. Seemingly everyone encountered difficulties of some sort, primarily the race favorite Dream Maker, who was badly squeezed coming out of the starting gate, causing him to clip heels and wind up far off the early pace. Unionizer was likewise compromised by the ragged start, and the two colts ultimately finished twelfth and thirteenth.
And the trouble hardly ended there. Rounding the far turn, the ground-saving Signalman and the pace-tracking Sombeyay were badly hampered when the rallying Derby Date appeared to slightly cut off Mr. Ankeny, who shifted inward and bumped hard with Sombeyay, who in turn collided with Signalman. Those three subsequently exchanged several bumps as they attempted to straighten back out, and it was fortunate that no one fell.
In the meantime, Knicks Go—happily oblivious to the troubles behind him—powered away from the field when Jimenez asked him to run approaching the homestretch. The colt led by three lengths passing the eighth pole and only extended his advantage from there, crossing the wire 5 ½ lengths in front while stopping the clock in 1:44.23 seconds. Meanwhile, Signalman forged on to finish second-best over the late-running Standard Deviation (who endured a very wide trip), and Sombeyay came back to finish fourth over the fading duo of Derby Date and Mr. Ankeny.
“Albin just stole it really (today),” trainer Ben Colebrook told Keeneland after the race. “They didn’t give him any respect and he got out there and just got to gallop. I could see (Knicks Go) on the backside, his ears were just going. I could tell he was going to run big. But I didn’t think he was going to run that big. It was just amazing.”
From a visual perspective, Knicks Go’s decisive victory was eye-catching, though the clock told a somewhat different tale. Despite the modest early pace, Knicks Go ran the second half-mile in just :50.11 seconds, and his final time translated to a Beyer speed figure of 81. But slow times aside, the performance earned Knicks Go a “Win and You’re In” berth to the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), as well at 10 qualifications points on the 2018-19 Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Signalman also appears bound for the Breeders’ Cup, with trainer Kenny McPeek telling Keeneland “We came into this really confident. He had a lot of trouble at the head of the lane. (Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.) explained it to us and said he got stopped. He said he might have been able to win if that hadn’t happened. This horse wants a longer stretch and he has punched his ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.”
The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is scheduled to be held on November 2nd at Churchill Downs.