10/30/2015 4:46PM

Liam's Map has to come from behind to take Dirt Mile

Barbara D. Livingston
Liam's Map, fifth after the first six furlongs, rallies under Javier Castellano to win the final race of his career in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - It was no surprise that Liam’s Map won Friday’s $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland. It was quite surprising the manner in which he won it.

Breaking slowly under Javier Castellano, Liam’s Map found himself in the unfamiliar position of being behind horses. Three-quarters of a mile into the race, he was still fifth, about four lengths behind Lea, who appeared to be cruising after taking the lead outside the quarter pole.

Swung out into the clear turning for home, Liam’s Map surged with a burst of speed he has typically shown at the start of his races, and he ran down and then blew past Lea to record a 2 1/2-length victory in the Dirt Mile.

Lea finished second, 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Red Vine, who finished 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Wicked Strong as the top four betting interests finished in parimutuel order. Valid, Mr. Z, Street Strategy, War Story, Bradester, Tapiture, and War Envoy completed the order of finish.

The win was the sixth in eight starts for Liam’s Map, a son of Unbridled’s Song who will now be retired and stand at stud at Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky beginning in 2016.

The result left many wondering how Liam’s Map would have fared in Saturday’s $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, against the likes of American Pharoah.

Teresa Viola, the principal owner of Liam’s Map, wasn’t one who was wondering.

“I just think he was a big fish in a little pond … and I knew he could do the mile,” she said.  “Just felt confident that he would win.”

Viola’s husband, Vinnie, and Terry Finley’s West Point Thoroughbreds also own Liam’s Map.

Everybody was confident Liam’s Map could win, which is why he was sent off as the 1-2 favorite. But most thought he would be on the lead, as he had been in the Grade 1 Woodward, which he won by 4 3/4 lengths, and the Grade 1 Whitney, a race in which he made all the pace before being run down by Honor Code.

On Friday, Liam’s Map broke slowly. Instead of being on the lead, he was behind Bradester and Mr. Z, who set fractions of 23.10 seconds for the quarter and 46.23 for the half-mile. Liam’s Map was third and fighting Castellano.

“I had to fight him a little bit, put him behind the horses,” Castellano said. “I had to cover him up a little bit. He wanted to go.”

Meanwhile, Jose Lezcano had Lea to the outside of Liam’s Map before launching his move entering the far turn. Lea had a 1 1/2-length lead at the quarter pole, and Liam’s Map, who was between horses and in fifth, seemed to be stalled.

But Castellano was able to get him into the clear straightening for home. Despite racing on the wrong lead until inside the sixteenth pole, Liam’s Map shot past Lea and into the winner’s circle.

Liam’s Map covered the mile in 1:34.54, a track record, eclipsing the time of 1:36.23 set by Street Strategy in an allowance race here Oct. 9.

“The thing that he’s done up to this point is display brilliance, and today he showed a new dimension and was able to overcome adversity, show some determination and heart,” winning trainer Todd Pletcher said.

The performance by Lea to run second justified trainer Bill Mott’s decision to run in the Dirt Mile as opposed to the $2 million Mile on turf. Mott had concerns with the condition of the turf course after several days of rain.

“I wouldn’t second-guess that whatsoever,” Mott said. “Apparently, [Liam’s Map] didn’t get off that good. They kind of had him buried down inside, and I thought that might take his race away from him. They didn’t keep him there long enough.”

While Liam’s Map will be retired, Lea could run back in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 28.