This Side Up: For This Road, The ‘Knight’ Will Need Armor

No matter where you start from, the choice on Saturday is the same for everyone: do you head southeast, or southwest? Okay, if you happen to be in Key West, you’ll uniquely have to head a little way north to join the party in Miami. For many of us, however, the compass needle will instead be quivering towards to the GIII Southwest S.

The big bucks are obviously at Gulfstream. But it tells you plenty about the inside-out values of this business that even a prize exceeded in the U.S. by a single other race would not quite fund the docket signed on behalf of Zedan Racing Stables, up the road at OBS last April, for a son of Uncle Mo. And it’s in Hot Springs that we’ll start to find out whether even those giddy stakes might yet yield a dividend.

Now, anyone who spends as much as $2.3 million on a colt that has clocked :9 4/5 under tack will typically do so in the hope of putting him right where we find ‘TDN Rising Star’ Arabian Knight now–as the current No. 1 in colleague T.D. Thornton’s GI Kentucky Derby “Top 12”. As things stand, however, his trainer remains ineligible to bank the 20 starting points available to the winner of this race. And there’s a curveball, this time, in that any Derby candidate in the Bob Baffert barn must move out by the end of February. That’s over a month earlier than when Baffert had to send out his refugees last year.

With his lawyers trying to break those chains next week, we can leave for another day what has for everyone become a rather wearisome sub-plot. For now, it will be compelling simply to see how Arabian Knight responds to some talented and rather more seasoned opposition, having presumably learned little in outclassing a field of maidens at Keeneland. It’s obviously encouraging that his closest pursuer that day has done so well since; and we saw, last year, how adeptly Baffert educated another expensive 2-year-old purchase for the same owners, Taiba (Gun Runner), so that he could win the GI Santa Anita Derby for his new trainer, with only a similarly undemanding debut behind him.

True, the first Saturday in May still came too soon for Taiba. Arabian Knight, however, is miles ahead of that curve and he’s going to learn plenty from this whole experience, however it plays out, after boarding a plane to run a second turn for the first time. Unsurprisingly, he has been laying a foundation of powerful works back in California, but he must square up to a rival in Corona Bolt (Bolt d’Oro) who has, despite a rather upright head carriage, looked extremely fast and professional in two sprints.

If these two instinctive talents are likely to resemble sparkling new sabres, sending sparks flying until one is finally forced clattering onto the floor, then they need to keep Corona Bolt’s barnmate Jace’s Road (Quality Road) in the corner of their eye. For here is a rival who knows the difference between a mere duel and a pitched battle; one who’s been learning self-defense and strategy at the marine training camp.

Yes, he too flashed raw talent with a ‘Rising Star’ sprint debut. But it was as long ago as September that he started on the kind of life lessons that still await Arabian Knight. Sampling the Derby surface in the GIII Iroquois S., he got drawn into pursuit of a couple that turned out merely to be hauling each other to the ground. But whereas they dropped out accordingly, Jace’s Road bravely renewed battle with the closers and grabbed a place.

After that chastening rite of passage, his next start made it possible to wonder which way Jace’s Road was going: his whole demeanor was irritable, and his mood cannot have improved as he trailed home splattered in slop. But then came the Gun Runner S., over the same course as this race, and suddenly he had it all figured out. He broke sharply, went bounding along in the lead and opened up late for a decisive score.

Brad Cox, who additionally saddles Hit Show (Candy Ride {Arg}) here, has an absolute cavalry to sieve down on the Classic trail. Last weekend he saddled Instant Coffee (Bolt d’Oro) for that efficient score in the GIII Lecomte S., as well as two fillies that finished over a dozen lengths clear of the rest in the Oaks trial. It feels very much as though Cox has now entered upon an even more potent cycle, after his four winners at the 2020 Breeders’ Cup invited all the top programs to conclude that if they couldn’t beat him, they may as well join him.

Instant Coffee runs in the same silks as Cyberknife, who gets the chance to stage his very own, flesh-and-blood stallion promotion in the Pegasus. Knowing Spendthrift, he’s likely to enjoy a heroically lascivious lifestyle over the coming months. If only somebody could get him to understand the situation, he’d be the bet of all time.

Actually, I suppose the chances are that he’s already operating on some primal sense of the benefits reserved for the herd leader. Anyway, be that as it may, this will be Cyberknife’s 11th start in 13 months since he broke his maiden, so he evidently has the hardware to have sustained another campaign on the track. But we all recognize that he stands to make much more in his second career than in his first, even if he tops up an account already through $2 million by winning the Pegasus.

Certainly Cyberknife has achieved as much as anyone could dare to hope in spending $400,000 for a Saratoga yearling. But while everyone involved will thank him for his sterling service, and will miss him once he has moved on, the reality is that Instant Coffee–while not yet half the racehorse–has already supplanted Cyberknife in the attention of most.

For the Eclipse Awards are all on the mantlepiece now, and even Flightline‘s only job is to nourish a new dream. And, actually, that’s great. Because it’s the next dream that will always refresh our appetite for the game; that will have all those mares waiting in line at Spendthrift.

It’s this mutual stimulus between racing and breeding, between track and field, that maintains human passion as the driver of the billions invested, not just in our industry, but in our sport. That’s why someone will give $2.3 million for a horse bought a few months earlier for $250,000; and also why a fellow can get it into his head, after a fairly random visit to the Bluegrass, to buy himself a horse farm and populate it with a few mares. That’s how Corser Thoroughbreds came to buy a young mare by Astrology at the 2019 Keeneland November Sale, carrying a first foal by Uncle Mo, for $285,000. That foal is Arabian Knight.

So the end of one chapter for Cyberknife will only open a new one. Who knows? Perhaps there’s another novice breeder out there, who will end up putting a colt by Cyberknife on the 2027 Derby trail. And if we’ll all be older then, and probably no wiser, then those are the kind of dreams–endlessly repeated, ever revitalized–that also keep us young.

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