HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – It was déjà vu all over again Saturday with the Pegasus World Cup Turf at Gulfstream Park.
Not only was Colonel Liam a repeat winner in the Grade 1, $982,300 race, but his trainer, Todd Pletcher, again swept the exacta when Never Surprised held second after leading much of the 1 1/8-mile distance.
Moreover, it was an emotional victory again for jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. Last year, Ortiz was shouting and pumping his right arm with great enthusiasm on the gallop-out after Colonel Liam prevailed by a neck over Largent, but this time he was moved to tears because his status had been in doubt in recent weeks. Ortiz injured a knee here Jan. 7, with an initial diagnosis ruling him out for Pegasus Day. He eventually was cleared to return only after getting a second doctor’s opinion.
“Thank God for my health,” Ortiz said.
Saturday produced another flawless performance aboard Colonel Liam from Ortiz, who now has won three of the four runnings of the Pegasus Turf after winning the 2019 inaugural with Bricks and Mortar.
Racing several lengths off the pace set by Never Surprised, the 5-year-old gray horse steadily crept closer while kept in the clear in an outside lane, finally wearing down his stablemate with a relentless stretch run to prevail by a length. Space Traveller rallied belatedly up the rail to be third, another half-length back in a field of 12.
Colonel Liam, owned by Robert and Lawana Low, returned $5.20 as the favorite after finishing in 1:47.48 over firm going. Colonel Liam received a 102 Beyer Speed Figure.
“It unfolded the way we expected it to,” said Pletcher, who hurried off shortly after photos were taken in the winner’s circle to saddle Life Is Good to capture the next race, the $3 million Pegasus World Cup. Ortiz also rode Life Is Good.
“It looked like the fractions were reasonable. Colonel Liam was traveling really well in behind. Irad kind of went after Never Surprised in the middle of the turn and both horses fought on gamely.”
The Pegasus Turf showcased another superb training feat by Pletcher, who was enshrined in August in the Racing Hall of Fame. Colonel Liam had not raced in nearly eight months after finishing eighth in the Manhattan at Belmont Park in early June. The horse returned to the work tab at Palm Beach Downs in early December, making for a very tight schedule, but everything worked out in the end.
“We needed everything to go exactly according to schedule,” Pletcher said. “We didn’t have time for a prep race. It was really a matter of could we have him ready to run off the layoff, and thankfully we did.”
Colonel Liam “never missed a step,” Ortiz said. “It was like he never was away.”
Colonel Liam, by Liam’s Map, was bred in Kentucky by Phillips Racing Partnership. He now has won seven of 10 starts and $1,810,565.
After the top three, the order was Atone, Cross Border, Sacred Life, Doswell, Hit the Road, Channel Cat, Field Pass, March to the Arch, and Flavius.
The $2 exacta (6-12) paid $27, the $1 trifecta (6-12-1) returned $141.80, and the 10-cent superfecta (6-12-1-2) was worth $83.44.