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It was already a good day for trainer Mike Maker and his team before Three Diamonds Farm’s Atone rallied for a three-quarter-length victory in the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) last January at Gulfstream Park.
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Earlier on the program, they saw Endorsed win the Fred Hooper (G3) on the main track and ran 1-2-3 with Red Knight, Value Engineering and Wicked Fast in the William L. McKnight (G3) on the grass. Oh, and Temple also ran fifth.
[Pegasus] is a great day, it really is. Especially last year,” Maker’s assistant trainer Nolan Ramsey said. “We had a great day overall and then to cap it off in a race like the Pegasus Turf, that’s one you’ll never forget. Obviously, it’s a very big race that attracts some very, very nice horses. To show up and be able to win a race like that really speaks to the volume of your horse.”
Entering his 7-year-old season, Atone is getting the chance to defend his title in the 1 1/8-mile Pegasus Turf and join Colonel Liam (2021, 2022) as a repeat winner. No other horse in either the $3 million Pegasus World Cup (G1), which launched in 2017, or $500,000 Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G2), through its first two runnings, has won a second Pegasus race.
“He’s a class act. He shows up it seems like every race. He’s always there for you. Very straightforward horse to train,” Ramsey said. “He tells you when he’s having a good day, and he’ll tell you when he’s having a bad one, so he definitely makes our job easy. To have a horse like that that’s able to travel the way he does and then show up everywhere he goes, it’s very special.”
This will be the third Pegasus Turf for Atone, who was fourth to Colonel Liam in 2022, beaten less than two lengths at odds of 9-1. He went off at 7-2 last year under Irad Ortiz Jr.., who has won the race three straight years and four of the last five. With Ortiz committed on I’m Very Busy for trainer Chad Brown this year, Paco Lopez gets the call on Atone.
“He seems like he’s best when he can sit off of it just a little bit. Last year’s race he was probably a little further back than what I would have liked him to be, but the way the race unfolded it worked out to his advantage and he got a great, clean trip,” Ramsey said. “We got very lucky. I’d like to see him be able to relax a little bit and have a target in front of him and make one run, just like he did last year.”
Atone tuned up for his title defense running third by a length as the favorite in a one-mile optional claiming allowance Dec. 2 at Gulfstream, one of the first races over its brand-new turf course. A winner of more than $1.3 million in purses from 29 starts, the 7-year-old gelding has yet to visit the winner’s circle since last year’s Pegasus Turf.
“The allowance prep probably was a little too short for him. Pace-wise, it didn’t work out for us. Personally, I thought the turf was playing to speed, especially right as it opened. It seems like now that they’ve got into it a little more it’s playing a little more fair,” Ramsey said. “But he came out of the race really well. He’s been training really, really well. He’s one of those horses that tells you when he’s ready to run. Physically he looks different the way he trains every day. He’s been forward in his training. He’s eating up and doing great. I’ve got no complaints with him.”
Ramsey said the South Florida scene appears to agree with Atone, who has raced at 12 different racetracks in seven states and Canada since making his debut in February 2020 at Gulfstream.
“He’s done well down here in the past. Even just watching him in the stall, he looks like a different horse down here. I think he really relishes the warmer temps and the environment a little better,” Ramsey said. “He can handle the distance. He can handle the turf. Maybe the competition will shape up a little different than last year, but we’ll see how that goes. He’s doing well and I’ve got confidence that he’ll show up for us.”
Team Maker’s Saturday contingent includes Anatolian in the $150,000 La Prevoyante (G3) and Value Engineering, Red Run, Starting Over, Catch that Party and Shawtyshawtyshawty in the McKnight before Atone caps what the stable hopes is another big day.
“It’s cool. It’s a great experience. Gulfstream does a great job with it. They put on a big show, so to be part of it is always fun,” Ramsey said. “But to be the center of attention, so to speak, always makes it a little more special. We enjoy it. We’ve been coming down here for years. This is one of the places I’d consider our home track, so to knock off a big one here is always special.”
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