10/07/2015 1:15PM

Breeders’ Cup Classic: Less speed in field as Liam’s Map chooses Dirt Mile

Keeneland/Coady Photography
Liam's Map, shown training last Monday, will go in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile instead of the BC Classic.

The speedy Liam’s Map will be pointed to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on Oct. 30 at Keeneland and bypass the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Oct. 31, trainer Todd Pletcher said on Wednesday from Keeneland.

The decision has major implications for the $5 million Classic, as Liam’s Map would have added considerable pace to a race that now might find American Pharoah, the Triple Crown winner, as the controlling speed.

In addition, jockey Javier Castellano is now able to avoid having to choose between Honor Code and Liam’s Map for the Classic. Castellano will ride Liam’s Map in the Dirt Mile, Pletcher said, and Honor Code in the Classic.

Castellano rode another Classic contender, Keen Ice, to an upset over American Pharoah in the Travers Stakes in his last start, but Castellano has accomplished far more with Honor Code, who should be no higher than the third choice in the Classic, with Keen Ice a higher price.

Liam’s Map worked at Keeneland on Monday with Castellano. He was officially timed in 48.60 seconds but had a considerable gallop-out. Pletcher said that after talking it over with all parties – Castellano, majority owners Teresa Viola and her husband, Vincent, and Terry Finley, whose West Point Thoroughbreds has a minority interest in Liam’s Map – “we’re planning on running in the Dirt Mile.”

“The lone caveat is that it’s not etched in stone, but all things being equal, assuming the Classic field stays intact as it now appears, our plans are to run in the Dirt Mile, and we’re comfortable with that,” Pletcher said.

Liam’s Map has never run 1 1/4 miles, the distance of the Classic. The farthest he has raced is 1 1/8 miles, that coming in his two most recent starts, both at Saratoga. He and jockey Mike Smith were caught in the final strides by Honor Code when second in the Grade 1 Whitney on Aug. 8. Liam’s Map then came back to win the Grade 1 Woodward under Castellano by 4 3/4 lengths while earning the highest Beyer Speed Figure of his career, a 114.

Pletcher said that if the Classic “was a mile and an eighth, it would be a no-brainer, but a mile and a quarter is a little more difficult.”

He also said that the news that the fleet Private Zone would stick with the Sprint rather than go to the Dirt Mile “doesn’t hurt my feelings.”

Final entries are taken and posts drawn for all Breeders’ Cup races on Oct. 26.

:: BREEDERS’ CUP 2015: See DRF’s top contenders

:: Breeders’ Cup Challenge: Results, replays, charts, and more

Liam’s Map, 4, a son of Unbridled’s Song out of the Trippi mare Miss Macy Sue, has won five times in seven starts. In both of his losses, he finished second. His only stakes win besides the Woodward came in the listed Harlan’s Holiday at Gulfstream Park last December.

The news has to be welcomed by both Castellano and his agent, Matt Muzikar, who now don’t have to turn down a trainer for whom they ride extensively, either Pletcher or Shug McGaughey, the trainer of Honor Code.

Jockeys and their agents usually like to hold out as long as possible on making decisions when faced with similar situations. After all, you wouldn’t want to commit to a mount who subsequently bows out, with your other potential choices having found substitutes in the meantime. Trainers usually want answers sooner.

In 2011, Jose Lezcano had ridden Drosselmeyer in four straight starts prior to the Classic. He also had just won the Pennsylvania Derby on To Honor and Serve. Both runners were trained by Bill Mott. Lezcano wound up on To Honor and Serve, and most bettors agreed, with To Honor and Serve at 9-1 and Drosselmeyer at 14-1. But To Honor and Serve could only finish seventh as Drosselmeyer rallied for the win under Mike Smith.

In 2002, Shaun Bridgmohan had just ridden Volponi to a second-place finish in the Meadowlands Cup, the eighth time he had ridden that horse in his last 10 starts. He also had ridden Evening Attire in 10 straight races, including victories in his last two, the Saratoga Cup and Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Bridgmohan wound up on Evening Attire, and bettors overwhelmingly thought he had done the right thing. Evening Attire went off at 9-2, while Volponi was the longest shot of 12 at 43-1. But Evening Attire only managed to finish fourth, as Volponi scored the upset, in the process exposing the infamous Fix Six scandal.

– additional reporting by David Grening and Mike Welsch