DEL MAR, Calif. (AP/WJZ) — The opposition knew Knicks Go would charge out of the starting gate. Yet, none of his rivals went after him.

He had it all his own way in setting an uncontested lead and winning the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic by 2 3/4 lengths on Saturday at Del Mar.

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Knicks Go ran 1 1/4 miles in 1:59.57. He earned his fourth straight victory and in the process solidified a bid to win the Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year.

“Speed is very dangerous,” winning trainer Brad Cox said. “I kind of felt like if they did try to go with him they may jeopardize their own opportunity to win the race.”

Ridden by Joel Rosario, 5-year-old Knicks Go squared off against a trio of top 3-year-olds — controversial Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit, Belmont Stakes winner Essential Quality and hometown hero Hot Rod Charlie, whose ownership has San Diego ties.

“He broke really sharp,” said Rosario, who won his 15th Cup race. “He looked like he was really enjoying what he was doing. I could see his ears, he was so relaxed.”

Knicks Go became the first Maryland-bred horse to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic since Cigar in 1995. The year prior, another horse from Maryland, Concern, won the Classic for owner and breeder Robert E. Meyerhoff.

Angie Moore and daughter Sabrina bred Knicks Go (by Paynter out of Kosmo’s Buddy) at GreenMount Farm in Reisterstown.

Sent off at 3-1 odds by the crowd of 26,553, Knicks Go paid $8.40 to win. He won the Dirt Mile at last year’s event and became the sixth horse to win two different Cup races. He has South Korean ownership.

“This one was very, very high on our list of races we wanted to win and we capped it off,” said Cox, who won his first Classic.

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Cox also saddled 9-5 favorite Essential Quality, who finished another length back in third.

Medina Spirit couldn’t muster the necessary late kick to threaten Knicks Go and was second for embattled trainer Bob Baffert. The colt failed a post-race drug test after the Derby and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has yet to make a final ruling based on its investigation.

“I’m very proud of him. He ran a great race,” Baffert said. “To me, he’s the best 3-year-old. He showed it today. That’s what racing is all about, proving it on the racetrack. And he proved it today that he’s the real deal.”

Baffert was allowed to enter horses in the season-ending world championships, but the event’s money-leading trainer had to meet certain conditions, including stricter out-of-competition testing of his horses and greater security at his barn. He agreed to the extra scrutiny and was required to pay for it out of his own pocket. He won the $2 million Juvenile with Corniche on Friday.

Hot Rod Charlie, second to Essential Quality in the Belmont, was fourth. Fans chanted “Let’s go Chuck!” before the race.

The Classic results provided balm for Cox, who didn’t win with any of his other horses during the weekend.

Stilleto Boy was fifth, followed by Art Collector, Tripoli and Max Player. The field was reduced to eight when Express Train was scratched.

In other races:

— Another Maryland-bred horse, Aloha West, scored a nose upset in the $2 million Sprint. The 4-year-old colt, who began his racing career this year, was sixth at the top of the stretch and edged Dr. Schivel at the wire under Jose Ortiz. Trained by Wayne Catalano, Aloha West ran six furlongs in 1:08.49 and paid $24.60 to win.

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Aloha West and Knicks Go became the sixth and seventh Maryland-bred runners to win a Breeders’ Cup race. Prior to Knicks Go’s win in the Dirt Mile last year, the previous winners from Maryland were Cigar, Safely Kept, Concern and Sharing.