By Richard Rosenblatt
Todd Pletcher is a seven-time Eclipse Award winning trainer. He’s a two-time Kentucky Derby (G1) winner and three-time Belmont Stakes (G1) winner, and best known for preparing precocious (and expensive) juveniles for a Triple Crown campaign during their 3-year-old campaigns.
So it’s noteworthy to see a race on the turf with Pletcher as the trainer of 25% of the field – a trio of older horses in a field of 12 entered for Saturday’s $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Park.
The turf race is the companion to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1), a dirt race in which Pletcher has no entries.
For the 1 3/16-mile turf race, though, Pletcher has the morning-line favorites in 7-2 Colonel Liam and 9-2 Largent, as well as 8-1 choice Social Paranoia. All three are coming off victories of various types at Gulfstream.
Colonel Liam, purchased for $1.2 million, drew the No. 5 post and will be ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr. The 4-year-old gray colt won the 1 1/16th-mile Tropical Park Derby on Dec. 26 by 3 1/4 lengths, and makes his first appearance in a graded stakes race.
Largent, a 5-year-old gelding, won the Fort Lauderdale (G2) on Dec. 12 for his sixth victory in nine career starts. He drew the No. 6 post and will be ridden by Paco Lopez.
“The mile and three-sixteenths is a little different distance for Largent. He’s never been quite that far but the way he ran in the Fort Lauderdale going a mile and an eighth certainly gives you confidence he’ll handle it,” Pletcher said.
Social Paranoia won an allowance optional claimer on Dec. 16 in his first start since winning the Poker (G3) on July 4. The 5-year-old will be ridden by Luis Saez and drew the outside No. 12 post.
“The good thing for us is they all seem to like this turf course. They all have very good records here,” Pletcher said. “We’re pretty pleased with their final races over this course and the way they’ve been training, and the fact that their records are all good here gives us added optimism.”
The rest of the field includes a pair from Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey – Breaking the Rules and North Dakota, both at 10-1 – and a duo from trainer Mike Maker – Cross Border at 15-1 and Aquaphobia at 20-1.
Also entered are Anothertwistafate (5-1), Say the Word (6-1), Next Shares (20-1), Storm the Court (15-1), and Pixelate at (15-1).
Pletcher has won his share of Grade 1 turf races, the Fourstardave with Halladay at Saratoga on Aug. 22 comes to mind as the most recent, and four of his 11 Breeders’ Cup wins came on the turf. He’s had a turf Eclipse champion in English Channel in 2007. But he’s built his Hall of Fame resume with his brilliant success on dirt.
McGaughey’s pair ready to go again
North Dakota needed seven tries to break his maiden but has won four of his last six races for the Hall of Fame trainer. The most recent win came in the 1 3/8-mile Red Smith (G3) on Nov. 21 at Aqueduct.
“His races, really all [last] year, have been good so we’re looking forward to running him here,” McGaughey said. “He’s a true distance horse, probably even a little more than a mile and three-sixteenths. The way he’s doing and the way he’s been coming around, all year really, [is great], and his races have been spaced and he’s fresh and we’re ready to give it a try.”
As for McGaughey’s other entry, he’s hoping the distance suits 6-year-old Breaking the Rules.
“I thought his race here in the Fort Lauderdale [third] was pretty good. I think that Edgard [Zayas] was not familiar with him and he told me he thought he was too far back and I think he moved a little bit soon on him,’’ McGaughey said. “He got caught up on the outside and didn’t get beat far. It was a fast race, so I’m looking forward to getting him stretched out.”
This time, Hall of Famer John Velazquez will be aboard Breaking the Rules.
Maker looking for two in a row
Maker, whose Zulu Alpha won last year’s Pegasus World Cup Turf, is back looking for another upset.
“It was cool to win it last year, it’d be cooler to win this year and even cooler than that to win it again next year,” Maker said.
Cross Border owns nine wins from 30 lifetime starts and became a graded stakes winner after he was moved up to first in Bowling Green (G2) at Saratoga when Sadler’s Joy was disqualified.
Aquaphobia has won nine of 39 career starts, his most notable victory coming in the United Nations (G1) last July at Monmouth Park.
“He’s a horse we were trying to get for quite some time and we were fortunate to get him,” Maker said of the 8-year-old. “We gave him some freshening. He just got outrun last time and he’s doing super now. He’ll get a firmer course here which he likes and I think the distance is favorable for him.”
The winner of the Turf receives an automatic berth into the $1 million Middle Distance Turf Handicap in Saudi Arabia on Feb. 20; the winner of the Pegasus World Cup receives an automatic berth in the $20 million Saudi Cup on the same day.
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