(Trainer Todd Pletcher / Photo by Gene McLean)

From the Gulfstream Park Media Team:

Robert and Lawana Low’s Colonel Liam, the least experienced contender in the richest grass race of the winter season, looked like a seasoned pro in his graded-stakes debut, powering through the stretch to edge Grade 2-winning stablemate Largent by a neck in Saturday’s $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Park.

The third running of the 1 3/16-mile Pegasus Turf and the fifth renewal of the $3 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) at 1 1/8 miles on dirt, both for 4-year-olds and up, comprised the Pegasus World Cup Championship Invitational Series, headlining a blockbuster 12-race program that featured seven graded-stakes worth $4.725 million in purses.

Colonel Liam ($7) completed the distance in 1:53.09 over a firm course to lead a Todd Pletcher-trained exacta with Largent, winner of the Fort Lauderdale (G2) Dec. 12 at Gulfstream in his previous start. Cross Border, trying to give trainer Mike Maker his second straight Pegasus Turf victory, was third followed by multiple graded-stakes winner Social Paranoia – the third of Pletcher’s talented trio.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with the way they all ran,” Pletcher said. “It was a heck of a race between Largent and Colonel Liam at the end. I thought Social Paranoia put in a huge effort from the 12 post. Just really, really happy with all three of them.”

It was the first Pegasus win for Pletcher and second in three editions of the Turf for jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., also winning with eventual 2019 Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar. Ortiz won the 2020 Pegasus World Cup with Mucho Gusto.

“This is just unreal. It’s fantastic,” Robert Low said. “We just had a great combination. We had the horse, we had the trainer, we had the rider, and they got it done. We’re just very, very thankful and very grateful. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

Sent off as the 5-2 top choice, Colonial Liam was unhurried racing in mid-pack as Storm the Court, winless since being named the 2-year-old male champion of 2019, and multiple graded-stakes winner Anothertwistafate took the field through splits of 23.59 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 48.69 for a half and six furlongs in 1:12.85. Largent saved ground in fourth with Social Paranoia right behind after working his way over from outside Post 12.

Ortiz sat chilly on Colonial Liam while waiting for room around the turn, advancing to fourth just a half-length off the lead. Ortiz found an opening and tipped outside approaching the stretch, setting down for a drive once straightened for home. They were able to get by Social Paranoia, who briefly held a lead near the eighth pole, then outsprinted Largent, who snuck through a seam along the rail and dug in under Paco Lopez.

“In the second and third quarter everybody slowed down and I got good position. I waited inside and got through a little late,” Lopez said. “If I was able to get through earlier, it might have been different.”

Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Twin Creeks Racing Stable’s Largent, a two-time Virginia-bred stakes winner in addition to his Fort Lauderdale triumph, now has six wins and four seconds in 10 lifetime tries.

“He’s run 10 times now and has never been worse than second,” Pletcher said. “He ran a hell of a race today and just was on the tough side of a stretch duel there.”

Tyler Gaffalione had to navigate through traffic to get up for third with Three Diamonds Farm’s Cross Border, promoted winner of the Bowling Green (G2) and second as the favorite in the Sword Dancer (G1) last summer at Saratoga. They were two lengths behind Largent.

“It wasn’t an ideal trip. He didn’t get away the smoothest and there was a lot of traffic around the first turn and down the backside,” Gaffalione said. “We were just trying to wait for a spot but nothing really developed until we came into the stretch and then a spot opened up. He really finished up well. It’s a shame. I felt like I had more horse and I could have finished better but definitely a very encouraging race moving forward.”

The Elkstone Group’s Social Paranoia was only a half-length behind Cross Border in fourth. He won the Appleton (G3) over the Gulfstream course last winter and was coming in off back-to-back victories five months apart – the Poker (G3) at Belmont Park last July and an optional claiming allowance Dec. 16 at Gulfstream.

“He still dug in and put his head in front at one point. He made everyone run and it was a great effort from him,” Pletcher said. “I think with a little better draw he would have been a little closer.”

Following Social Paranoia under the wire were Pixelate, Next Shares, Storm the Court, Aquaphobia, Breaking the Rules, North Dakota, Say the Word and Anothertwistafate.

Colonel Liam was purchased for $1.2 million as a 2-year-old in training in April 2019 and began his career on dirt, with one win via disqualification and a third in two tries, both last spring at Gulfstream. He has since won three of four on the grass, including a 3 ¼-length triumph in the Dec. 26 Tropical Park Derby to punch his Pegasus ticket. The lone loss came by less than a length in the Saratoga Derby (G1).

“We really were [confident]. He showed us a lot of ability in his couple of starts on the grass. We felt like he was getting better and better,” Pletcher said. “We loved the way he handled the turf in the Tropical Derby and he had trained great. We were very optimistic, He’s a little less experienced than some of the other horses, but I think this proves his quality.”