Would he, or wouldn't he?
It was a question asked by racing fans and pundits alike in the weeks leading up to the Breeders' Cup World Championships, as the connections of Woodward Stakes (gr. I) winner Liam's Map mulled a start in the loaded Oct. 31 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) or an easier spot in the Oct. 30 Las Vegas Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) at Keeneland.
In the end, trainer Todd Pletcher broke the news Oct. 7 that the dappled gray son of Unbridled's Song would take the conservative route, running the shorter distance rather than throwing in his swift turn of foot against the likes of American Pharoah and Beholder in the Classic. Liam's Map drew post 3 of 11 for the Dirt Mile and will have Javier Castellano in the irons.
"He's a horse that is very, very fast," Pletcher said. "He's brilliantly fast. He also has the ability to carry it over a distance of ground ... he's got a high cruising speed—if you don't go with him you're in trouble and if you go with him, you're in more trouble."
In the Woodward Liam's Map was making his second straight start in grade I company after finishing as the runner-up to Classic contender Honor Code in the Aug. 8 Whitney Stakes (gr. I), his first graded stakes try. He has progressed steadily in his training at Keeneland, most recently breezing five furlongs in 1:01 1/5 Oct. 22 in his final pre-race work.
Awaiting in the Dirt Mile—which actually will have a 210-foot run-up, making it a mile and 70-yard race—are the likes of last year's Dirt Mile runner-up Tapiture and grade I winner Lea . The latter's connections decided to run him in the Dirt Mile instead of the Mile due to concerns over the soft going, and also after Lea worked a strong four furlongs in :47 2/5 Oct. 26 at Keeneland.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said Lea, a 6-year-old by First Samurai who won the 2014 Donn Handicap (gr. I) on dirt and comes off a runner-up finish in the Ricoh Woodbine Mile (gr. IT) on the lawn, runs well on both surfaces. Jose Lezcano picked up the mount from the 5 hole.
"Lea is going in the Dirt Mile, number one, because he can run on the dirt," Mott said. "He's a grade I winner on the dirt, he's got a track record on the dirt, and it looks to me like the turf is going to be extremely soft. It was soft today, and I think with another couple inches of rain, it's going to be soft on Saturday."
Also breezing Oct. 26 was Tapiture, who went four furlongs in :49 1/5. The 4-year-old son of Tapit , trained by Steve Asmussen for Winchell Thoroughbreds, missed the 2014 edition by 1 1/4 lengths to two-time Dirt Mile winner Goldencents . Tapiture's 2015 season has been less than inspiring, but he did rebound from a six-race skid with a win last time out in the Sept. 26 Ack Ack Handicap (gr. III) at Churchill Downs. He drew post 9 under jockey Ricardo Santana Jr.
"It's a good race, they'll go really fast, and I think Tapiture will fly home if he's allowed," Asmussen said. "And when I say 'allowed,' I mean if he's not completely eliminated in the first turn, either through how far you go or how rough it is.
"I thought the most important thing about his draw is who was where. With the Mile, the configuration here, I think that where you drew, it was extremely important compared to other horses, moreso than the post position, because of the obvious style of some very talented horses... (Liam's Map) most likely takes all they can give and makes it look like nothing, as we've seen in his previous races this year, but we are imagining a scenario which is favorable for us.
"And I think the key word is 'imagining.' "
Centennial Farms' Wicked Strong finished second in the Oct. 3 1 1/4-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) to Classic runner Tonalist . The 4-year-old Hard Spun colt was third in the Woodward behind Liam's Map and Coach Inge. He seeks to snap a nine-race losing span for trainer Jimmy Jerkens dating back to last year's Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II), in which he defeated Tonalist off that one's Belmont Stakes (gr. I) win.
Stakes-winning millionaire Mr. Z , grade I-placed on this track, comes in off a fourth in the 1 1/8-mile Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) and cuts back in distance in search of his first win since the June 20 Ohio Derby for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
Also of interest are Kelso runner-up Red Vine for trainer Christophe Clement; grade II winner Bradester for trainer Eddie Kenneally; and grade II winner Valid for trainer Marcus Vitali. War Story, Street Strategy, and War Envoy complete the field.
Keeneland, Friday, October 30, 2015, Race 7
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Red Vine (KY) Joel Rosario 126 Christophe Clement 6/1 2 2Bradester (KY) Corey J. Lanerie 126 Eddie Kenneally 10/1 3 3Liam's Map (KY) Javier Castellano 126 Todd A. Pletcher 1/1 4 4Mr. Z (KY) Joe Bravo 123 D. Wayne Lukas 50/1 5 5Lea (KY) Jose Lezcano 126 William I. Mott 8/1 6 6Street Strategy (KY) Robby Albarado 126 Randy L. Morse 50/1 7 7War Envoy (KY) Ryan L. Moore 123 Aidan P. O'Brien 30/1 8 8Wicked Strong (KY) John R. Velazquez 126 James A. Jerkens 5/1 9 9Tapiture (KY) Ricardo Santana, Jr. 126 Steven M. Asmussen 10/1 10 10Valid (VA) Nik Juarez 126 Marcus J. Vitali 10/1 11 11War Story (KY) Deshawn L. Parker 123 Jeffrey A. Radosevich 50/1
Keeneland, Friday, October 30, 2015, Race 7