Joined by Stakes-Winning Stablemate Never Surprised in $1 Million Event
Among Seven Graded-Stakes Worth $5.2 Million in Purses Saturday
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Robert and Lawana Low’s Colonel Liam, thrilling winner of last year’s $3 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) in his graded-stakes debut, will end a 239-day gap between starts as he launches his comeback while attempting to defend his title in the richest turf race of the winter Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
Neither previous Pegasus Turf winner –subsequent 2019 Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar or Zulu Alpha (2020) – returned for a title defense.
“It would be awesome,” Pletcher said of back-to-back Pegasus Turf victories. “We feel good about everything going into it. We’ll just keep our fingers crossed for a good trip and, hopefully, he can come with another big effort.”
During Tuesday’s post-position draw inside Gulfstream’s Sport of Kings Theater, Colonel Liam was made the narrow 3-1 favorite among 11 stakes winners, nine of them graded, including fellow Grade 1 winners Channel Cat and Hit the Road. Second choice on the morning line at 7-2 is stablemate Never Surprised, with Sacred Life (6-1) and Hit the Road (8-1) the others listed at single-digit odds.
Following the Pegasus, Colonel Liam went on to capture the Muniz Memorial Classic (G2) and dead heat for first with Domestic Spending in the Turf Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs. A 5-year-old son of Liam’s Map, a two-time Grade 1 winner on dirt for Pletcher, Colonel Liam has not raced since finishing eighth to Domestic Spending in the 1 ¼-mile Manhattan (G1) last June at Belmont Park. He got some time off starting in late summer and returned to the work tab in early December at Palm Beach Downs.
The fourth running of the Pegasus World Cup Turf presented by Baccarat and the sixth renewal of the $3 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) presented by 1/ST BET on dirt, both at 1 1/8 miles, and the inaugural $500,000 TAA Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf (G3) presented by PEPSI comprise the Pegasus World Cup Championship Invitational Series, headlining a blockbuster 12-race program featuring seven graded stakes worth $5.2 million in purses.
First race post time is 11:30 a.m. EST. NBC will provide live national coverage from 4:30 to 6 p.m. EST.
Colonel Liam will become one of only five horses to run in the Pegasus Turf more than once, a group led by California-based Next Shares, who took part in each of the first three editions. Cross Border, third behind Colonel Liam and Pletcher-trained stablemate Largent last year, as well as Sacred Life and Channel Cat, respectively fourth and 10th in 2020, also return this year.
“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.”
Among his rivals in the Pegasus Turf will be 4-year-old Never Surprised, a front-running type that is coming off a victory in the 1 1/16-mile Tropical Park Derby Dec. 26 at Gulfstream, the same race Colonel Liam won in his Pegasus prep.
“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. “I think Never Surprised is coming in with a live chance. 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. It’ll be a fun race to watch.”
Riding a two-race win streak that includes the 1 1/16-mile Gio Ponti last November at Aqueduct, Repole Stable’s Never Surprised has never finished worse than second in seven career starts. He won the 2020 Central Park in his second lifetime trip and ran second in the 2021 Kitten’s Joy (G3) at Gulfstream, Saranac (G3) and Hill Prince (G2).
“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,” Pletcher said. “I think he made a real step forward last time in the Tropical Derby. It was a very impressive performance. We’ll let him do his thing and hopefully he won’t overachieve early on. If he’s able to just relax and settle in and get away with a decent pace, then I think he could be dangerous.”
Irad Ortiz Jr., aboard Colonel Liam for last year’s Pegasus Turf, gets the return call from Post 6, while Championship Meet-leading rider Luis Saez is named on Never Surprised from the far outside Post 12.
The Pegasus Turf will be the 31st career race for Calumet Farm homebred Channel Cat, a millionaire son of late grass champion English Channel. He became a graded winner in the 2020 Bowling Green (G2) at Saratoga and a Grade 1 winner in the 1 3/8-mile Man o’ War last May at Belmont.
Unraced since finishing second by a neck after setting the pace in the 1 3/8-mile Red Smith (G2) last November at Aqueduct, 7-year-old Channel Cat (12-1) has been working steadily at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach County, for his return.
“We couldn’t ask him to be doing any better. His final piece of work was last Thursday and it was probably the finest piece of work he’s ever done with us,” trainer Jack Sisterson said. “He came out of the breeze in good shape, and he just really seems to be getting bigger and stronger and faster and he should be going the other way because he’s getting older. It’s quite remarkable. We’re looking forward to Saturday.”
Joel Rosario, widely regarded as the favorite to earn his first Eclipse Award as champion jockey for 2021, will ride from Post 10.
D K Racing, Radley Equine Inc., Taste of Victory Stables, Rick Gold, Tony Maslowski and Dave Odmark’s Hit the Road, 5, strung together four consecutive wins between May 2020 and March 2021 capped by the Thunder Road (G3) and Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) at Santa Anita. He has raced 12 times, the last 11 at eight furlongs, and is coming off back-to-back thirds in the Del Mar Mile (G2) and City of Hope Mile (G2), the latter Oct. 2.
Based in California, Hit the Road (8-1) was purchased privately by trainer Dan Blacker and Australian bloodstock agent Craig ‘Boomer’ Rounsefell. The son of More Than Ready has six wins and ventured east once before, running fifth in the Maker’s Mark Mile (G1) last April.
“He’s the best horse I’ve ever trained. Hopefully there’ll be more like him to come, but, he’s a really special horse,” Blacker said. “It meant a lot that myself and Craig Rounsefell bought him ourselves at the sale and watched him develop into a great horse. I always had a confidence that he could be a top-level horse, but you never know. To have him go and win a Grade 1, it was more than I could have hoped for, a real thrill. I’m just thankful to the owners to give me the chance to buy horses like him.”
Hit the Road will have the services of Tyler Gaffalione from Post 5.
Trainer Mike Maker has had two Pegasus Turf starters each of the past two years, winning with Zulu Alpha and finishing third last year with Cross Border, who is part of Maker’s quadruple threat this year along with Atone, Field Pass and recent acquisition Flavius. A triple stakes winner for breeder Juddmonte Farms, Flavius (15-1) was purchased for $230,000 at Keeneland’s November breeding stock sale and turned over to Maker at Gulfstream, where the 7-year-old ridgling has breezed eight times over the main track. Paco Lopez will be up from Post 3.
Kirk Wycoff’s Three Diamonds Farm owns both Cross Border and Field Pass. An 8-year-old millionaire son of English Channel, Cross Border (15-1) has the most experience among Pegasus Turf horses with 39 previous starts, 11 of them wins including the 2021 Bowling Green and Dec. 18 Prairie Bayou over Turfway Park’s all-weather surface last time out. Winless with a second and two thirds over Gulfstream’s turf, Cross Border gets the services of Reylu Gutierrez from Post 11.
Field Pass (10-1) has more stakes wins than any of his Pegasus Turf rivals with seven, five of them in graded-company, the most recent in the 1 1/16-mile Seabiscuit Handicap (G2) Nov. 27 over the Del Mar turf. He also owns four Grade 3 victories and won in his only previous try over Gulfstream’s grass course in the 2020 Dania Beach. Umberto Rispoli rides from Post 9.
Jordan Wykoff’s 5-year-old Atone (20-1), by Into Mischief, will be making his second straight graded-stakes start and third overall after finishing second to fellow Pegasus Turf contender Doswell in the 1 1/8-mile Fort Lauderdale (G2) Dec. 18 at Gulfstream. Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, up for a one-mile optional claiming allowance win Nov. 21 at Aqueduct, rides back from Post 2.
Coming into the Pegasus Turf off a last-out win over the track is Joseph Allen’s homebred Doswell (10-1), who captured the Fort Lauderdale by 1 ½ lengths Dec. 18 for trainer Barclay Tagg. Doswell ran a troubled second in last year’s Fort Lauderdale and Tagg opted to skip the Pegasus and run Doswell in the 1 ½-mile W.L. McKnight (G3) instead, where he finished third.
“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.”
Junior Alvarado, up in the Fort Lauderdale, rides back from Post 7.
Live Oak Plantation homebred March to the Arch (20-1) will give U.S. and Canadian Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse his first starter in the Pegasus Turf. The 7-year-old son of Arch is a six-time stakes winner, including Grade 2 victories in the 2020 King Edward and 2019 Wise Dan. He is two-for-five over Gulfstream’s turf course, breaking his maiden in 2018 and winning the Sunshine Millions Turf in 2020, and was sixth in the one-mile Artie Schiller on the grass at Aqueduct in November to cap 2021.
Edwin Gonzalez will be aboard from Post 4.
Michael Dubb, Madaket Stables, Wonder Stables and Michael Caruso’s Sacred Life (6-1) beat Field Pass by a head in the 1 1/8-mile Knickerbocker (G3) last October at Belmont, then fell short by the same margin in the Seabiscuit. Overall, the 7-year-old ridgling has finished third or better in 16 of 22 starts with seven wins, including the 2017 Prix Thomas Bryon (G3) in his native France.
Jose Ortiz rides from Post 8.
Completing the field is Clipper Logistics’ Space Traveller, a British-bred 6-year-old that in 2019 won the Jersey Stakes (G3) in England and Boomerang Salonaway Stakes (G2) in Ireland. He is winless in four U.S. tries, all last year, running fourth in the Mr D (G1) shortly after arriving stateside. Second in the Woodbine Mile (G1) and fifth in the Keeneland Turf Mile (G1), Space Traveller made a belated run to be fourth, beaten 3 ¾ lengths by Doswell, in the Fort Lauderdale.
“He seems like he came out of it good. We were a little disappointed that he didn’t run better, but to be fair to him he had his excuses. He was drawn wide and there was a bit of lack of pace, as well, I think,” trainer Brendan Walsh said. “I think we could have done with a little bit of a better setup, plus he was coming off a layoff. He’s been doing really well since, so I’m hoping he can turn it around on the big day.”
Irish jockey Jamie Spencer, based in England, is named to ride from the rail.