July 25, 2024

Colonel Liam faces 11 in Pegasus World Cup Turf defense

Colonel Liam
Colonel Liam wins the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (Coglianese Photos/Lauren King)

Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) — Race 11 (4:49 p.m. ET)

Colonel Liam returns from an extended layoff in Saturday’s $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) at Gulfstream Park as the defending titlist. His younger stablemate, Never Surprised, enters the race having won the same prep Colonel Liam used a year ago. The two Todd Pletcher trainees figure to attract a bulk of the betting action in the 12-horse fixture, which has been shortened this year from 1 3/16 miles to 1 1/8 miles.

Colonel Liam, one of the top two older turf runners in the country last season, will go favored. After registering a neck victory as the World Cup Turf favorite, the son of Liam’s Map went on to win the Muniz Memorial (G2) at Fair Grounds and dead heat for the win with Domestic Spending in the Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs. However, he’s be out of action since finishing a sub-par eighth to Domestic Spending in the Manhattan (G1) on Belmont Stakes Day in June.

“I think over the years we’ve done pretty well in layoff situations, so I think it was important that we got the works into him that we did and we were fortunate enough that everything went according to the way we mapped it out,” Pletcher said. “So, I feel good about that. You never know if they’re going to be quite as sharp off a layoff, but he’s certainly trained well enough and has run well fresh before. Hopefully we can get the same type of effort. He’s given us every indication that he’s come up to it as good as ever.”

Colonel Liam won last year off a victory in the Tropical Park Derby, the same path which speedy Never Surprised has taken into this race. After running second in three straight graded events to start his three-year-old campaign, Never Surprised ended 2021 on a high note with blowout victories in both the Gio Ponti S. at Aqueduct and Tropical Park Derby.

“When we came down looking at the Tropical Derby, we were hoping he’d run well enough to earn his way into the Pegasus. He was able to do that,” Pletcher said. “Never Surprised is a free-running horse and he’s got good natural speed. The key is just trying to get him to settle and relax. We’ll see how much speed is in the race, but he’s kind of shown that he’s able to get into that high cruising speed and keep going.”

The next two favorites on the morning line are Sacred Life and Hit the Road. Fourth in the World Cup Turf in 2020, Sacred Life ended last season on a positive note by exchanging photo-finish decisions with Field Pass in the Knickerbocker (G3) and Seabiscuit H. (G2).

The California-based Hit the Road, until now limited to a mile, captured the Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) at Santa Anita last March, but proved no match to that circuit’s leading turf performer, Mo Forza, in a pair of stakes late in the season.

Doswell captured his first stakes in the Ft. Lauderdale (G2) last month over Atone, and trainer Barclay Tagg sees optimistic signs toward a potential repeat.

“He came out really, really well. Not a blemish on him. He’s happy, eating well and he hasn’t missed a breeze since. We feel good about him,” Tagg said. “If he can get to where he can relax and be up close, then I think it’ll work out fine.”

The remainder of the field are familiar division mainstays, but generally appear outclassed or beyond their peaks. They include March to the Arch, Channel Cat, Cross Border, Flavius, and Space Traveller.