The connections of Liam's Map may have had a few "What ifs?" in their heads after opting to run in the $1 million Las Vegas Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I)rather than the $5 million Classic (gr. I), as the 4-year-old son of Unbridled's Song rallied from fourth for what turned out to be an easy 2 1/2-length victory Oct. 30 at Keeneland. Watch Video
Pinched a bit at the start the speedy Liam's Map, who entered off a gate-to-wire victory in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I), raced an uncharacteristic fourth early in the Dirt Mile as Bradester set the pace through a quarter-mile in :23.10 and raced close to Mr. Z who led through a half-mile in :46.73.
ANGST: Liam's Map Reaches Destination in Woodward
Liam's Map and jockey Javier Castellano were boxed inside early but did appear to be comfortable throughout.
In the far turn, grade I winner Lea moved first for jockey Jose Lezcano and opened a clear lead into the stretch as Liam's Map was moved into the clear. Liam's Map surged past Lea before mid-stretch on his way to the clear victory, his second straight grade I score. Liam's Map completed the mile test in 1:34.54, as one might expect a track record on the relatively new track and rarely run Keeneland distance.
The race will be the final career effort for Teresa Viola Racing and West Point Thoroughbreds' Liam's Map, who will stand at Lane's End Farm near Versailles, Ky., in 2016. Before the race Lane's End announced it had bought into the colt. Viola said she wasn't that nervous despite the change in running style as she thought Liam's Map was capable of rallying.
ANGST: Liam's Map to Stand at Lane's End in 2016
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who secured his eighth Breeders' Cup win, was not as confident.
"I was very concerned. The one thing Javier talked about is that he's a horse with a lot of speed, but he's not always quick away from there on the first step. We were hoping he'd get a clean break, but he didn't and was behind horses," Pletcher said. "I was very concerned at that point."
Prior to the Woodward, Liam's Map also led early in the Whitney Stakes (gr. I) before being edged by Honor Code at the wire. Honor Code will go in the Classic Saturday. Pletcher liked how Liam's Map handled the early challenges.
"What was so impressive is that he recovered a couple times. He got steadied about the five-eighths pole and didn't have anywhere to go," Pletcher said. "But every time Javier had to tap on the brakes a little bit, you could see Liam's Map jump back into the bridle. I kept hoping. I kind of lost him at the five-sixteenths pole, but when I saw him turning for home I could see he had some momentum."
Liam's Map was followed home by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider's Lea and Jon and Sarah Kelly and Don and Joan Cimpi'sRed Vine. The biggest favorite in the history of the Dirt Mile, Liam's Map returned $3 to win, $2.40 to place, and $2.10 to show. Lea brought $4.20 and $3, while Red Vine paid $3.40 to show.
Castellano, now a five-time Breeders' Cup winner, said he had planned to go to the lead early.
"Unfortunately he didn't break sharply," Castellano said. "In this game you have to a Plan B. I think the key was patience. He showed a lot of patience. He waited behind horses and it was phenomenal. He showed great skill. He can run on the pace or off the pace. I had to fight a little to put him behind horses, but when he was in the clear, he exploded."