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Aaron previews the 2022 Fort Lauderdale Stakes (G2) from Gulfstream Park, then gives his top picks & long shots from this important Grade 2 local prep for the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1). The Todd Pletcher trained Colonel Liam looks to win off of the layoff; however he faces a tough field today. Will the Pletcher trained horse get the job done? If so, does that make him the favorite for the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) once again this season? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Multiple graded-stakes winning millionaire Colonel Liam, unraced since the spring, will be in familiar surroundings when he makes his long-awaited return as a prelude to the Pegasus World Cup in Saturday’s $200,000 Fort Lauderdale (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
The Fort Lauderdale for 3-year-olds and up scheduled for 1 1/8 miles on Gulfstream’s new turf course is the richest of six stakes, five graded, worth $850,000 in purses on an 11-race New Year’s Eve program and serves as a local prep for the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) Jan. 28.
First race post time is 12:10 p.m.
Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, Colonial Liam is the two-time defending champion in the Pegasus Turf having beaten one of his stablemates each time, Largent in 2021 and Never Surprised in 2022. His presence did not scare off the competition in the Fort Lauderdale, which attracted an overflow field of 13 including fellow graded-stakes winners City Man, Decorated Invader, King Cause and Pao Alto.
“It’s an exciting time, obviously,” said Jacob West, racing manager for owners Robert and Lawana Low. “He has incredibly patient owners who are willing to do this. They are sportsmen and they love to watch their horses run and they’re excited to get him back and see how he does.”
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Colonel Liam has raced five times at Gulfstream with four wins and a third, his other victories coming in his April 2020 career debut as well as the December 2020 Tropical Park Derby as his Pegasus prep. He followed up his 2021 Pegasus win with triumphs in the Muniz Memorial (G2) and Turf Classic (G1).
“That’s obviously a big factor to it,” West said. “There was no rush to bring him back because we knew ultimately getting him back down to Gulfstream was going to be what he wanted. It’s all kind of coming into play now.”
This year Colonel Liam has raced only twice, capturing his second straight Pegasus Turf in his first start since finishing eighth in the 2021 Manhattan seven months prior. He has not been out since running ninth in the March 26 Dubai Turf, returning to the work tab at Palm Beach Downs where he shows eight timed breezes since early November, most recently going a half-mile in 49.74 seconds Dec. 24.
“It’s horse racing. You have to load them up in the gate and let them bust out of there and see how they do, but by all accounts from speaking with Todd and getting the feedback from his team and watching some breeze videos, it seems like after his little rehab stint he’s come back in good shape,” West said. “We’ve just got to see how he runs on New Year’s Eve.”
Colonel Liam was entered in an optional claiming allowance Dec. 15 at Gulfstream, where he was the first of three also-eligibles in an overflow field of 15. He ultimately was scratched when the race was rained off the grass to the all-weather Tapeta course.
Pletcher has previously won the Fort Lauderdale with Largent (2020), Mshawish (2015) and Silver Medallion (2012).
“He’s doing great. He’s been training well,” Pletcher said. “We wanted to get a prep race into him before the Pegasus Turf and it didn’t work out with the allowance race so we ended up in the Fort Lauderdale. He drew a pretty wide post, but hopefully he can work out a trip from there.
“He’s always run some nice races at Gulfstream,” he added. “He’s been sharp in his breezes and feeling good. He’s run well off the layoff before; hopefully he’s able to do that again. We’d love to have him run well and move forward for the next one.”
Colonel Liam drew Post 12 in the Fort Lauderdale and will retain the services of Irad Ortiz Jr., aboard for six of his seven career wins including both Pegasus Turf victories. He’s the 8-5 morning-line favorite.
“He drew the 12 hole which wasn’t ideal, but hopefully he can overcome a bad post and show up,” West said. “This isn’t the main goal. The main goal would be the Pegasus, so hopefully we get a good run and we’ll see how he comes out of it and go from there.”
Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Peter Searles and Patty Searles’ City Man is a 5-year-old son of Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Mucho Macho Man that enters the Fort Lauderdale off back-to-back stakes wins against New York-breds in the 1 1/8-mile Ashley T. Cole and 1 1/16-mile Mohawk at Aqueduct, the latter Oct. 30.
“He’s been really training well and seems to be on top of his game right now, so we thought we would give it a go and run here in the Fort Lauderdale and if all goes well take a shot on Pegasus day in the turf race,” co-owner Dean Reeves said.
“He can compete with anybody. We’re excited about having him in the race,” he added. “It’s obviously going to be very competitive and a very tight race, but we got Joel [Rosario] back on him and that’s a good combination.”
Among Rosario’s wins aboard City Man are the Mohawk as well as July 15 Forbidden Apple (G3) at Belmont and April 9 Danger’s Hour at Aqueduct, each going one mile. Overall, City Man has won eight of 25 starts with nearly $872,000 in purse earnings and will be making his Gulfstream debut. City Man is 9-2.
“I think Gulfstream’s turf course is in good shape and hopefully the weather cooperates. I think the distance is perfect for him,” Reeves said. “He’s training really well and coming into this race in good shape. We want to run this and the Pegasus Turf and then maybe give him some time off after that.”
City Man’s Christophe Clement-trained stablemate Decorated Invader, a Grade 1 winner of nearly $581,000 in purses owned by West Point Thoroughbreds, William Sandbrook, William T. Freeman and Scarlet Oak Racing, is the lone also-eligible in the race.
Like City Man, the connections are hoping to draw into the field to use the Fort Lauderdale as a prep for the Pegasus Turf.
“He’s traditionally been more of a miler, but with his running style I think you’ll see him a little more forwardly placed than he has been in the past,” West Point executive vice president Tom Bellhouse said. “I think that’s one of the goals is to use the tactical speed he has more. If things go well, obviously there’s the big race in a month. It just kind of determines which path we’ll take with him as we move forward.”
Decorated Invader won the 2019 Summer (G1) at Woodbine in his third career start. He captured the Pennine Ridge (G2) and National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame (G2) in 2020 but raced just twice in 2021 before going to the sidelines. The 5-year-old Declaration of War horse returned after more than a year away Sept. 24 at Pimlico, finishing second in an optional claiming allowance.
Since then, Decorated Invader won a similar spot going 1 1/16 miles Oct. 23 at Woodbine before finishing fourth last out over yielding turf in the one-mile Artie Schiller Nov. 13 at Aqueduct under jockey Kendrick Carmouche.
“It was kind of a soft turf and a soft pace. His stablemate kind of went out to the lead and I think with the scratches, the whole race is a toss,” Bellhouse said. “I think in a perfect world he’d have been sitting closer. Kendrick was kind of told to make one run, and the whole dynamic of the race went against him. But he’s been down in Florida and training great. It’s a nice field and it’ll be a great indicator of where we go next.”
Clement has won the Fort Lauderdale twice, with Summer Front (2014) and Statesmanship (1998). Decorated Invader is 15-1.
Trainer Mike Maker, who won the Fort Lauderdale with Shining Copper in 2018, entered the pair of King Cause (5-1) and Shadow Sphinx (12-1). Nice Guys Stables’ King Cause is a multiple stakes winner of more than $601,000 in lifetime purses that exits a front-running two-length triumph in the 1 1/8-mile Knickerbocker (G3) Oct. 9 at Belmont Park. Paradise Farms Corp. and David Staudacher’s Shadow Sphinx was claimed three starts back for $62,500 and has run second in each of two races for Maker, closing but coming up a half-length short in the Nov. 13 Artie Schiller.
Maker won the Pegasus World Cup Turf in 2020 with Zulu Alpha.
No trainer has won the Fort Lauderdale more than Hall of Famer Bill Mott, whose eight victories began with Kings River in 1988 and included five of six runnings between 1996 and 2002 with Classic Campaign his most recent in 2007. He will be represented Saturday by Diversified Pedigree Acquisitions, Inc.’s Carpenter’s Call (30-1), winner of the 1 1/16-mile Peach Street over Presque Isle Downs’ all-weather surface Aug. 22 and third in the one-mile Appleton (G3) April 2 on the Gulfstream turf.
Wertheimer and Frere’s Pao Alto (12-1) was bred in France and raced primarily in Europe, winning the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Cup (G2) Feb. 18 in Qatar. Trained by Graham Motion, he made his U.S. debut in the Baltimore-Washington International Turf Cup (G3) Sept. 10 at Pimlico, taking a lead into the stretch before settling for second behind Set Piece. Since, he has run eighth in the Knickerbocker and third in the Artie Schiller.
Also entered are graded-stakes placed Good Governance (12-1), Tango Tango Tango (20-1) and Winfromwithin (15-1); stakes winner Kentucky Ghost (10-1); Marwad (30-1), third in the July 30 Bear’s Den at Gulfstream; and Street Ready (10-1).
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