Four weeks after just missing his first grade I victory—his first graded stakes victory for that matter—in the Whitney Stakes (gr. I), Liam's Map will try again when he faces an expected seven other horses in the $600,000 Woodward Stakes (gr. I) Sept. 5 at Saratoga Race Course.
Making his graded stakes debut in the Whitney for trainer Todd Pletcher, Liam’s Map dueled with Moreno through a half mile in :46 and six furlongs in 1:09.72, put that one away and opened a 4 1/2-length advantage in the stretch of the $1.25 million race before Honor Code got up in the final jump to win by a neck.
While that outcome disappointed the connections of Teresa Viola Racing Stables’ Liam’s Map, the son of Unbridled’s Song certainly delivered a memorable performance. Consider the first three quarter-mile times turned in by Liam’s Map in the 1 1/8-mile test of :22.79, 23.21, and :23.72 in a race that was completed in 1:47.82.
The horses closest to that early Whitney pace—Moreno, who was second through each of the first three calls; Noble Bird, who was third through the opening quarter-mile; and Normandy Invasion, third through the opening half-mile—finished second-last, last, and third-last, respectively, in the field of nine. They were beaten from 17 1/4 lengths to 24 1/4 lengths. Meanwhile, Liam’s Map defeated all but the winner and finished 1 1/2 lengths ahead of third-place Tonalist.
"I thought he ran a huge race," Pletcher said. "It was very disappointing not to win, to run as well as he did. He got beat by a very good horse and I think he earned as much respect as you can earn without winning a race. We prefer to win but we're proud of the horse's effort all the same."
The biggest question for Liam’s Map Saturday will be the relatively short turnaround of four weeks since that big effort, as he tries the 1 1/8-mile distance for a second straight start. Liam’s Map closed out last season with three straight wins, capped by a victory in his stakes debut, the Harlan’s Holiday at Gulfstream Park. He prepped for the Whitney with a front-running victory in an allowance-optional claiming race June 19 at Belmont Park.
Liam’s Map will not be the only horse looking to claim his first top-level win Saturday, as the lone previous grade I winner in the field is Centennial Farms’ Wicked Strong, who won last year’s TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I) and enters off a fourth in the Whitney, finishing six lengths behind Honor Code.
Two of those horses looking to break through are Godolphin Racing’sBay of Plenty, who cruised to his first stakes win in the Alydar Aug. 9 at Saratoga, and Effinex, who edged Tonalist to win the Suburban Handicap (gr. II) July 4 at Belmont.
Besides Liam’s Map, Pletcher will send out four other horses looking to break through at the highest level. Protonico will be making his first start since winning the Alysheba Stakes (gr. II) May 1 at Churchill Downs, Mylute enters off a second in the Alydar, and Coach Inge led early before fading to third in the Suburban.
"All four of them are coming up to the race really well," Pletcher said of his Woodward contingent. "I think they're all proven horses that on a given day are all capable of running big races. I feel good about the way that all four of them are doing."
Rounding out the field is late-running Commanding Curve, who finished second in last year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).