Messi just collars Cage Fighter in Knickerbocker
Sent off the 34-1 second longest shot in the nine-horse field, Cage Fighter gunned it to the front once the gates opened. The Florida-bred bay set the pace through splits of :25.38, :50.38, 1:14.06 and 1:37.53 with War Dancer tracking just outside in second.
Meanwhile, Messi had settled into the back of the field, more than six lengths behind on the backstretch, as he waited for the cue to begin his run. The New Approach gelding slowly began picking off runners nearing the turn and was five wide entering the lane when finally coming under a ride from Velazquez.
Messi closed down the center of the track, slowly reeling in Cage Fighter who was living up to his name in front. Digging deep, Messi finally caught Cage Fighter in time to finish 1 1/8 miles over the firm inner turf in 1:49.70.
Cage Fighter was game in defeat, a half-length up on Mr Speaker while defending champion Legendary filled out the superfecta another 1 1/4 lengths behind in fourth. War Dancer, the 5-2 favorite, faded to seventh.
Messi earned his first stakes win in the Knickerbocker while making just his fourth U.S. start. The Graham Motion-trained five-year-old began his career in his native Germany, scoring twice from 12 starts, and made his stateside bow on July 2 at Belmont.
Messi captured that allowance/optional claimer, as well as the one after it on August 6, before finishing a one-paced seventh in the Sword Dancer S. (G1) most recently on August 29.
Messi photo courtesy of NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography