Feast or famine: Knicks Go and the Big Apple

Profile Picture: Rowan Ward

June 3rd, 2021

Being a fan of the New York Knicks has been a story of feast or famine.

In the earliest days of the NBA, under coach Joe Lapchick, the Knicks made the finals in three straight seasons, from 1951-1953. Tougher times came through the late 1950s and into the 60s.

But, with the Red Holzman era, success came anew. Led by star center Willis Reed — who became the first player to sweep MVP awards in the All-Star Game, the regular season, and the NBA Finals — the Knicks defeated the Lakers to clinch their first NBA championship in 1970. They defeated the Lakers again to win their second championship in 1973, and Reed was Finals MVP once again.

Success and strife have alternated through the rest of the Knicks' history. Though they haven't won an league title since 1973, they have had some good moments. They had the Patrick Ewing years, the late 1980s through the 1990s, and made the NBA Finals in 1994 and 1999.

The 2000s have been more of the same — back and forth between tantalizing nips at the playoffs and seasons of struggle. In 2020-2021, the Knicks went as well as they had in a long time. It was their first winning season and first playoff berth since 2012-2013

Sure, it's no secret. The Knicks in "Knicks Go" nods to the system of nicks that the Korea Racing Authority uses to select horses. And the KRA has never made a better yearling selection than Knicks Go.

The Maryland-bred son of Paynter, out of the the Outflanker mare Kosmo's Buddy, cost the KRA $87,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale in 2017. He was the KRA's most expensive yearling of 2017, and the sixth-most expensive of Paynter's yearling sons to sell that year, over four times the median $20,000 cost of a 2017 Paynter yearling.

Fast forward almost four years. Knicks Go has made more than $4.5 million on the track.

But, would his name be as fun if there weren't also parallels to an iconic sports franchise?

Like New York Knicks history, Knicks Go's racing career hasn't been smooth. It has been victory punctuated by disappointment. At age two, he shocked the world when he wired the Breeders' Futurity (G1) at Keeneland at 70-1 odds, by far the longest shot on the board. He proved he wasn't a one-race fluke when he finished second to Game Winner in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G2).

At three, he went winless in nine starts. He showed flashes of love for Kentucky, when he finished second to Gray Magician in the Ellis Park Derby and second to Looking At Bikinis in an allowance over his beloved Keeneland dirt. But few thought he would be a Grade 1 horse again.

The next year he moved from the barn of Ben Colebrook to Brad Cox's shedrow. He found the top again. After allowance wins at Churchill Downs and Keeneland, he put on a show in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1), when he flew early and stayed on to set a track record.

Though many doubted he would get the mile and an eighth of the Pegasus World Cup (G1) two and a half months later, he was too fast for them early and all by himself late. He won his first Grade 1 outside of Keeneland, and became a Grade 1 winner at ages two, four, and five.

Now, Knicks Go heads into the Metropolitan H. (G1), one of the United States' great stallion-making races. His future as a stallion in South Korea was almost certainly inked when he won the Breeders' Futurity. But with a name that hearkens to a basketball team based in the heart of Manhattan, and a racing history that's as much of a roller coaster as the Knicks' history, wouldn't it be perfect if Knicks Go prevailed on New York's biggest day?