Fresh and ready: Red Knight wins Grade 3 McKnight

Saturday, January 28th, 2023

Still going strong at age 9, Red Knight wins the William L. McKnight Saturday at Gulfstream Park. Jeff Zamaiko/Gulfstream Park Photo.

Tom Egan and Chad Stewart strategized a plan late last year to give Red Knight a break after the Grade 1, $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf in advance of a 9-year-old campaign in 2023.

“How long should we turn him out here?” Egan asked Stewart, who runs the Grace Full Acres Training Center in Ocala with his wife and veterinarian Dr. Laurie Stewart.

“No more than a month,” Stewart said. “Don’t let him get too settled down, just a month and then get him back to the racetrack.”

That’s the plan Egan followed and Red Knight showed yet again how beneficial that break would be with a victory in Saturday’s Grade 3 William L. McKnight Stakes presented by Davidoff Cigars on Gulfstream Park’s Pegasus World Cup Day undercard. The Pure Prize gelding, bred by and the lone horse owned by Egan’s Trinity Farm, led a 1-2-3 finish for trainer Mike Maker in the McKnight with a 1-length victory over Value Engineering as the 3-1 second choice. Wicked Fast finished third in the $200,000 stakes to complete the Maker trifecta.

“He’s a superb racehorse,” Egan said. “He loves what he’s doing. He was tugging when they walked him in (to the paddock). He’s just incredible.”

Irad Ortiz Jr., two days removed from winning his fourth Eclipse Award as North America’s outstanding jockey, rode Red Knight to victory in the 1 1/2-mile McKnight in 2:25.11 over the firm turf.

Red Knight collected his third graded stakes victory in the McKnight, adding it to his wins in last year’s Grade 2 Kentucky Turf Cup at Kentucky Downs and Grade 3 Sycamore at Keeneland in 2020. He’s won six stakes overall and improved to 11-for-32 with eight seconds and earnings of $1,330,013.

“As I call him, he’s a gift from above. He really is,” Egan said. “You’d never get into racing and think you’d have a horse like that.”

Foaled at Keane Stud in Amenia, Red Knight is one of five winners produced by the late Isabel Way, whom Egan bought for $60,000 at the 2003 Keeneland September yearling sale. She won once in 11 starts, earning $71,149, but has produced two stakes winners.

Ortiz let Red Knight trail the field through the opening half-mile as Abaan, Agitare, Channel Maker and Pao Alto scrimmaged through sharp splits of :24.18 and :48.27. They advanced to ninth as Abaan clicked off the mile in 1:37.31.

“Thank God I had a good trip from tough post 11,” Ortiz said. “He’s perfect for the distance because he relaxes very well. With 5 furlongs to go he started to gain ground on the outside and I just let him do his thing.”

Red Knight cruised past rivals around the far turn and only had stablemate Value Engineering to run down in midstretch. He collared that foe inside the eighth pole and drew off to win while drifing out just a bit in deep stretch.

“Irad had Red Knight settled in the back of the pace. The pace was hot, which favored him. The rest is history,” Maker said. “I had a lot of confidence in him. The first time he ran for us, he hadn’t run in a year and won. He likes to run fresh. He loves his job.”

Maker won his fifth McKnight, adding Red Knight to scores in 2017 with Taghleeb, 2018 with Oscar Nominated, 2019 with Zulu Alpha and 2021 with Tide of the Sea. He finished 1-2 in the 2019 and 2021 editions.

“One, two, three and five,” Maker said, adding a fifth-place from Temple. “We just missed the superfecta. Every horse ran a great race and I’m proud.”

Egan said he’d discuss with Maker what to do next with Red Knight, adding that it’s a safe bet it won’t include another run in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (where he finished 11th at Keeneland). A trip to Lexington – possibly by way of Ocala again – might still be in the cards.

“He doesn’t need that and I don’t either,” Egan said of the Breeders’ Cup. Ideally, and I have to talk it over with Mike, I’d like to send him back to the farm in Ocala for February, and then go to Mike in March in Kentucky and then run in the Dixiana Elkhorn at Keeneland. As Mike says, he’s a fantastic layoff horse. It was 84 days here, he’s had some long layoffs. When he ran second at Kentucky Downs a couple years ago it was a 231-day layoff. He’s amazing.”

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