Colonel Liam leads out three-pronged Pletcher Turf team

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Mar 31, 2018; Hallandale Beach, FL, USA; Trainer Todd Pletcher stands in the winners circle after a race during Florida Derby day at Gufstream Park. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The up-and-coming Colonel Liam headlines a three-strong team from Todd Pletcher’s stable amongst a dozen contenders for Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Park.

The $1m contest is to be run over one-mile-one-and-a-half furlongs at Gulfstream in what will be the third instalment of the invite-only race.

This year, the Pegasus Turf will serve as a ‘Win and You’re In’ qualifier for the $1m Middle Distance Turf Handicap on next month’s Saudi Cup card at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Colonel Liam concedes an experience advantage to his 11 rivals, with ten of them graded winners already, including Grade 1 winners Aquaphobia, Next Shares, Say the Word and Storm the Court.

In a wide open renewal, Colonel Liam will be joined by stablemates Largent and Social Paranoia. All three trade at single-figure odds, but it was Colonel Liam that shaded favouritism when the books opened.

He’s a four-year-old son of Liam’s Map, a two-time Grade 1 winner on dirt for Pletcher having bagged the 2015 Woodward and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

Having cost connections $1.2m as a two-year-old, Colonel Liam didn’t race until he had turned three but he forged a burgeoning reputation for himself last year.

Though he placed second on debut over a mile at Gulfstream in April, he was awarded the race in the stewards’ room after encountering traffic woes.

He took an open allowance at Saratoga on his turf bow, his third start overall, and ran fourth in the Saratoga Derby next up – again having met trouble in going down less than a length at the post.

Most recently, he was a strong-finishing winner of the Tropical Park Derby at Gulfstream last month and his trainer was impressed with that effort.

“I loved the way he pulled away at the end. We’ve always had high hopes for him, so it’s nice to see him living up to those,” said Pletcher reflecting back on that race this week.

Seeing the progeny of his former Grade 1 winner thrive is something that gives Pletcher an extra kick.

“It’s always fun when you’re training the offspring of a horse that you’ve trained,” Pletcher said. “It’s great to see Liam’s Map doing well as a stallion and showing his versatility of getting dirt horses and turf horses and good two-year-olds, and showing that he’s capable of siring just about any type of horse.”

Irad Ortiz Jr, who was on board in the Tropical Park Derby, rides again and Colonel Liam will break from gate five.

Largent, the mount of Paco Lopez, is next door in gate six, while Social Paranoia and Luis Saez are widest of all in stall 12.

Pletcher suggests all three of his hopefuls should relish the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational distance.

“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 has won as far as a mile and five-sixteenths, and Colonel Liam was a little bit unlucky in the Saratoga Derby at a mile and a quarter. I think [the distance] should work for all three of them.”