July 23, 2024

Knicks Go hailed as 2021 Horse of the Year at Eclipse Awards

Knicks Go with Joel Rosario riding wins the Breeders' Cup Classic at Del Mar (Photo by Horsephotos.com)

Recently named the World’s Best Racehorse of 2021 according to rankings by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, Knicks Go was the runaway choice for Horse of the Year and champion older dirt male. His U.S. honors were formally announced at Thursday night’s 51st Eclipse Awards festivities at Santa Anita.

The success of Knicks Go was part of the Eclipse-worthy seasons of his trainer Brad Cox and regular rider Joel Rosario. Several of the equine categories were more closely contested, chief among them the female sprinter crown that went to Ce Ce by a 136-97 vote over Gamine.

Knicks Go – Horse of the Year, Champion Older Dirt Male

Knicks Go’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

You might say that Knicks Go was a slam dunk for Horse of the Year. The frontrunner extraordinaire was unbeatable around two turns in 2021, a season bookended by romps in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

The basketball reference doesn’t work as well, though, since the Korea Racing Authority (KRA) runner isn’t a tribute to the NBA’s New York Knicks. Rather, the name actually alludes to the KRA’s genetic selection program, K-nicks.

Knicks Go has proven to be a terrific advertisement for its ability to identify potential power by analyzing the genome – in his case, from a hair sample as a yearling. The gray wasn’t fashionably bred, being by Paynter and out of the multiple stakes-winning Outflanker mare Kosmo’s Buddy.

Bred by Angie Moore in Maryland, sold for $40,000 as a Keeneland November weanling, and pinhooked by Peter O’Callaghan’s Woods Edge Farm, Knicks Go was purchased by the KRA for $87,000 as a yearling at Keeneland September. The game plan was to race in the United States and cultivate future stallion prospects.

Jun Park of Korea Racing Authority
Jun Park of the Korea Racing Authority accepts Knicks Go’s Horse of the Year trophy (Horsephotos.com)

Knicks Go validated the business model straightaway for initial trainer Ben Colebrook, winning the 2018 Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). Losing his way at three, Knicks Go transferred to Cox for 2020 and rediscovered himself. His limited four-year-old campaign culminated in back-to-back track records at Keeneland, memorably in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), and he maintained his momentum in the 2021 Pegasus.

The winning skein ended when Knicks Go tried the Feb. 20 Saudi Cup, where he battled with Charlatan early and tired to fourth behind Mishriff. That came around one turn. A similar configuration in his June 5 return in the Metropolitan H. (G1) produced the same result, as he argued the pace early and wound up fourth to Silver State.

Cox was convinced more than ever that Knicks Go’s wheelhouse was two turns, and he duly regained the winning habit on the stretch-out. An imperious 10 1/4-length display in the July 2 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker H. (G3) suggested that his Breeders’ Cup goal could be the Classic, not a title defense in the Dirt Mile. Knicks Go reinforced the idea by dominating Maxfield and Silver State in the Aug. 7 Whitney (G1) at Saratoga. Using the Oct. 2 Lukas Classic (G3) at Churchill Downs as his springboard, Knicks Go crowned a four-race winning spree in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar. A projected pace war never materialized as he sped forward through fast fractions and polished off 1 1/4 miles in 1:59.57.

Set to enter stud, Knicks Go sought one last hurrah in the Jan. 29 Pegasus World Cup. It didn’t pan out as connections hoped, with Life Is Good seizing the early lead, but Knicks Go didn’t give up in a hard-trying second. He retires with a career scorecard of 25-10-4-1 and $9,258,135 in earnings, more than $7.3 million earned in his 5-for-7 championship season.

Knicks Go, who joins Hall of Famers Cigar and Challedon as Maryland-bred Horses of the Year, will stand for $30,000, stands and nurses, at Taylor Made Stallions in Kentucky.

Loves Only You2

Corniche – Champion Two-Year-Old Male

Corniche’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

The $1.5 million sale topper at OBS April, Corniche proved a worthy investment for Speedway Stables. The son of Quality Road and multiple Grade 2-winning turfiste Wasted Tears capped a perfect season in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and accordingly took champion two-year-old male honors in keeping with the general trend. The Bob Baffert trainee wired all three starts, stretching out from a 5 1/2-furlong maiden at Del Mar to 1 1/16 miles in the American Pharoah (G1) and Breeders’ Cup. Although both stakes are scoring events on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, Corniche was ineligible to earn points because Baffert is suspended by Churchill Downs Inc. Connections are in no hurry to determine his spring agenda, and the bay has yet to publish a work since the Juvenile.

Jack Christopher12

Echo Zulu – Champion Two-Year-Old Filly

Echo Zulu’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

The record-breaking freshman crop sired by 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner was led by juvenile filly champion Echo Zulu, who dominated the division from coast to coast with four wins and by an average margin of 5 1/2 lengths. A comfortable winner first out at Saratoga going 5 1/2 furlongs, Echo Zulu subsequently landed the seven-furlong Spinaway (G1), one-mile Frizette (G1), and 1 1/16-mile Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), all at odds-on. She ran the latter in faster time than the colts did in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on the same Del Mar program. Echo Zulu races for L and N Racing and Winchell Thoroughbreds and is trained by Steve Asmussen, Winchell and Asmussen being the connections behind Gun Runner. Echo Zulu, who just posted her first work of the year at Fair Grounds, is nominated to the Triple Crown.


Essential Quality – Champion Three-Year-Old Male

Essential Quality’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

With his major wins highlighted by a Belmont S. (G1)/Travers S. (G1) double, Essential Quality built the most solid body of work in a competitive three-year-old male division. The Godolphin homebred thereby joined the exclusive club of champion juveniles to follow up with another Eclipse at three. Since Spectacular Bid in the late 1970s, only Lookin at Lucky (2009-10) and American Pharoah (2014-15) have achieved the feat. Essential Quality’s 2021 resume also includes scores in the Blue Grass (G2), Jim Dandy (G2), and Southwest (G3). Both of his losses came on the two biggest stages. Enduring a wide trip when fourth across the wire in the Kentucky Derby (G1), beaten a length by Medina Spirit, Essential Quality concluded his career with a third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The Tapit colt was part of a tremendous year for the global Godolphin operation, which swept the outstanding owner and breeder Eclipse Awards. Essential Quality enters stud under the Darley banner at Jonabell, where he commands a fee of $75,000, stands and nurses.

Medina Spirit84
Life Is Good18

Malathaat – Champion Three-Year-Old Filly

Malathaat’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

None of last year’s three-year-old fillies enjoyed the consistency and rate of success as Malathaat, whose championship for Shadwell Stable is a posthumous tribute to stable founder Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who passed away last March. A long-striding daughter of Curlin, Malathaat fired fresh with a head victory in the Ashland (G1) in April. She then met the division’s best in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) later that month and again eked out a narrow victory, this time against Search Results. Placed in the unusual spot of setting the pace in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), Malathaat was run down late by longshot Maracuja, but rebounded with her most decisive win of the season in the Alabama (G1), scoring by 1 1/2 lengths. In her only attempt against older rivals, Malathaat finished third by a half-length to Japanese outsider Marche Lorraine in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1). Malathaat stays in training in 2022 with trainer Todd Pletcher.

Going Global3

Letruska – Champion Older Dirt Female

Letruska’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

Fausto Gutierrez waxes lyrical when accepting Letruska’s Eclipse Award (Horsephotos.com)

Although beaten 32 lengths as the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), Letruska had virtually sewn up champion older dirt female honors before turning in that vastly subpar performance. The St. George Stable homebred began her career in Mexico, where she was a champion at three, and came to the fore in the U.S. at five winning six graded stakes. Her most significant triumph of the season was an upset of champions Monomoy Girl and Swiss Skydiver in the Apple Blossom H. (G1). Other victories during the season occurred in the Spinster (G1), Personal Ensign (G1), Ogden Phipps (G1), Fleur de Lis (G2), and Houston Ladies Classic (G3), with her only other setback a head defeat in the Azeri (G2). The daughter of Super Saver stays in training with Fausto Gutierrez in 2022, with a title defense in the Apple Blossom to follow a scheduled return in the Feb. 26 Royal Delta (G3) at Gulfstream.

Marche Lorraine11

Yibir – Champion Turf Male

Yibir’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

From challenging project to Eclipse Award winner, Yibir’s trajectory is a testimony to the horsemanship of Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby and his team. The homebred son of Dubawi started his sophomore campaign promisingly enough in the Sandown Classic Trial (G3), finishing a close third to Alenquer and future Derby (G1)-winning stablemate Adayar. But a couple of losses ended his classic aspirations, and he was gelded. Yibir responded with a breakout performance in the Bahrain Trophy (G3) at Newmarket (G3), only to compromise his own chances when sixth in the Gordon (G3). The addition of a hood was all it took to transform Yibir into a champion. After a convincing win in the Great Voltigeur (G2) at York, he dominated both of his U.S. forays. Yibir rocketed from last to first in Belmont Park’s Jockey Club Derby and delivered a similar rally to lift the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Del Mar. With his future on the racecourse rather than at stud, the full brother to multiple Group 1 queen Wild Illusion could be a globetrotting presence for years to come. Yibir, the first three-year-old to win champion turf male since Conduit (2008), is pointing to the Mar. 26 Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) on World Cup night.

Domestic Spending33
Space Blues33

Loves Only You – Champion Turf Female

Loves Only You’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

The nattily attired Yoshito Yahagi (center) among Loves Only You’s team (Horsephotos.com)

The first Japanese-based Breeders’ Cup winner is also her nation’s first Eclipse Award champion, both clinched when Loves Only You surged late in the Filly & Mare Turf (G1). Trained by Yoshito Yahagi for DMM Dream Club Co., the daughter of the legendary Deep Impact also wrapped up the champion older mare title in Japan. Ironically, her laurels are primarily dependent upon her exploits on the world stage, since her last top-level win at home came in the 2019 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) (G1). Loves Only You beat males three times in 2021, capturing the Kyoto Kinen (G2) in her reappearance and winning both of Sha Tin’s premier events, the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) and the Hong Kong Cup (G1) in her thrilling career finale. She also placed third to Mishriff in the Sheema Classic and second to Japanese champion filly Sodashi in the Sapporo Kinen (G2). A full sister to 2016 Dubai Turf (G1) hero Real Steel, Loves Only You was feted in a retirement ceremony at Tokyo Jan. 30. The six-year-old is beginning life as a broodmare for her breeder, Northern Farm.

War Goddess70

Jackie’s Warrior – Champion Male Sprinter

Jackie’s Warrior’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

Nearly flawless versus fellow three-year-olds around one turn, Jackie’s Warrior was favored at 1-2 to beat his elders in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1). Unfortunately, the Asmussen pupil retreated to an uncharacteristic sixth. The reason was soon discovered – a bone chip in his left knee. That fit the pattern for Jackie’s Warrior, who only lost in unfavorable circumstances. The son of Maclean’s Music was third in the Southwest, when his stamina limitations were confirmed, and a troubled start was costly in his Woody Stephens (G1) heartbreaker. Otherwise, Jackie’s Warrior held on in a thoroughly brave Pat Day Mile (G2), romped in the Amsterdam (G2) and Gallant Bob (G2), and edged Life Is Good in an epic H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) at Saratoga. Voters sided with his overall resume in a division lacking a standout among the older sprinters. The J. Kirk and Judy Robison colorbearer, well recovered from surgery for his knee chip, recently rejoined Asmussen’s string at Fair Grounds.

Aloha West50

Ce Ce – Champion Female Sprinter

Ce Ce’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

Ce Ce split her two-race series with reigning division champ Gamine in 2021, but her decisive score in the division’s signature event, the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1), trumped Gamine’s earlier success over Ce Ce in the Ballerina H. (G1). Her third-place finish in the Ballerina was the only loss sprinting for Ce Ce during the season, which also saw her take the Princess Rooney (G2) at Gulfstream and the Chillingworth (G3) at Santa Anita. Owned by Bo Hirsch and trained by Michael McCarthy, Ce Ce kicked off her 2022 season last Saturday in the Santa Monica (G2) at Santa Anita, in which she proved second best to Merneith.

CE CE136

The Mean Queen – Champion Steeplechaser

The Mean Queen’s coronation as champion steeplechaser is only the second ever accomplished by a filly or mare in this division. The first was Life’s Illusion, whose successes in 1975 were limited to a pair of stakes wins at Saratoga. In contrast, The Mean Queen traveled widely and won everywhere. Starting the season in her native Ireland, where she won once from two outings, The Mean Queen crossed the wire first in five of six starts following her importation. She would have been perfect stateside, if not for shying from the whip and losing jockey Tom Garner when well clear in the Jonathan Kiser Novice at Saratoga. She rebounded by winning three of the division’s five Grade 1s: the Jonathan Sheppard H., Lonesome Glory H., and Grand National. Owned by Buttonwood Farm, the now six-year-old daughter of Doyen is trained Keri Brion, a former protégé of Sheppard’s. The Mean Queen is slated to return in the Iroquois (G1) at Percy Warner Park in Nashville in May.

Snap Decision2

Godolphin – Outstanding Owner and Breeder

Leading all owners and individual breeders by earnings in 2021, Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum’s Godolphin won its fifth Eclipse Award for leading owner and second for leading breeder. The voting wasn’t close in either category. The international operation established a single-season North American earnings record ($17,401,604), and North American-bred horses bankrolled $18,447,150. Godolphin won 84 races from 479 starts, and highlights included three Breeders’ Cup wins (Modern Games, Space Blues, and Yibir) and a Belmont S. victory (Essential Quality). Yibir and Essential Quality themselves earned Eclipse Awards, respectively, as turf male and three-year-old male.

Klaravich Stables7
Calumet Farm8

Brad Cox – Outstanding Trainer

Brad Cox is honored with his second straight Eclipse Award (Horsephotos.com)

After earning his first Eclipse Award in 2020, Brad Cox continued to raise the bar in 2021, conditioning his first Horse of the Year (Knicks Go) and classic winner (Essential Quality), and the 41-year-old was recognized with his second consecutive Eclipse Award for leading trainer. Cox captured 30 graded stakes and established a new single-season earnings record ($31,832,345), winning 269 of 1,025 starts (26%). Knicks Go won five graded stakes, capped by the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Essential Quality counted the Belmont S. and Travers among his triumphs. Born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Cox appears poised for another successful campaign in 2022.

Steve Asmussen33

Joel Rosario – Outstanding Jockey

Joel Rosario celebrates his first Eclipse Award (Horsephotos.com)

Joel Rosario parlayed a terrific season, leading all riders by purse money, graded stakes and overall stakes wins, into his first Eclipse Award for leading jockey. His top mounts included Horse of the Year Knicks Go, sprint champion Jackie’s Warrior, and two-year-old filly champion Echo Zulu. Rosario compiled $32,994,478 in purse money won, $1.6 million short of the record, and the 37-year-old native of the Dominican Republic was sidelined in December due to a fractured rib from a spill. Rosario accumulated 69 stakes victories, including 49 graded events, and won a total of 228 races from 1,083 mounts.

Irad Ortiz17

Jessica Pyfer – Outstanding Apprentice Jockey

Jessica Pyfer achieved her lofty goal of winning the Eclipse for apprentice jockey (Horsephotos.com)

Based in Southern California, Jessica Pyfer led all apprentices by earnings in 2021, and she received the Eclipse Award for leading apprentice. The 23-year-old won 56-of-535 starts, and her mounts earned $2,738,863, before her apprentice allowance ended on Nov. 13. Pyfer recorded her first win at Santa Anita in October, 2020.

John Hiraldo46

Additional awards

The Honorable Earle I. Mack received the Award of Merit (Horsephotos.com)

Also honored were former Ambassador Earle I. Mack, who received the Eclipse Award of Merit; Horseplayer of the Year Justin Mustari; and the winners of the media categories.

Sandra McKee won the Feature/Commentary Writing category for her Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred article, “A Jockey’s Life. Baltimore’s Adams Set Riding Record in 1930”; June 2021.

The News/Enterprise Writing category went to Eric Mitchell of Bloodhorse.com for “Tracks Join Rallying Cry to End Cargo Shipping”; Aug. 24, 2021.

NBC Sports took both Eclipses for Television, the Nov. 6 “Breeders’ Cup World Championships” on NBC for Live Racing Programming and the Apr. 30 “Hot Rod Charlie” piece on NBCSN for Features. Billy Matthews and Lindsay Schanzer were the Breeders’ Cup telecast producers, while the Hot Rod Charlie feature was the handiwork of Sam Flood, Executive Producer; Rob Hyland, Coordinating Producer; Jack Felling, Coordinating Producer; David Picker, Senior Feature Producer and Annie Koeblitz, Producer. 

Attheraces.com received the Audio/Multi-Media Internet Eclipse for “Breeders’ Cup Magical Moments,” posted on Oct. 25, 2021. Matthew Taylor, Director of New Media and Innovation; Peter Fornatale, writer and interviewer and Naomi Tukker, interviewer. 

Jeff Faughender of the Louisville Courier-Journal won the Photography Eclipse for “Between the Shadows,” a photo of the Kentucky Derby field framed by the shadows cast on the track by the iconic Twin Spires, published on courier-journal.com May 1, 2021.