Pletcher Still in Line for Third Straight Pegasus Turf (G1) with Wit
Queen Goddess Getting Chance to Reign in Filly & Mare Turf (G3)
Maryquitecontrary Testing Graded Waters in Inside Information (G2)
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – It won’t be with two-time defending champion Colonel Liam, retired Jan. 19 with an ankle injury, but Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher still has an opportunity to win a third consecutive $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) presented by Qatar Racing Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
Pletcher, 55, will be represented by Repole Stable, St. Elias Stable and Gainesway Stable’s Wit, a multiple Grade 3 winner on dirt that is Grade 1-placed on grass and has been third or better in nine of his 10 career starts, never having finished worse than fourth.
Wit heads into his 4-year-old debut having run third by less than a length following some traffic trouble in the Dec. 3 Hollywood Derby (G1) at Del Mar, contested at the Pegasus Turf’s 1 1/8-mile distance.
“He kind of lost some position down the backside and then spent the rest of the race trying to make it back up,” Pletcher said. “He was closing really well at the end and just kind of ran out of ground.”
Since being moved to the turf last summer, Wit was second in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame (G2) and won the Better Talk Now at Saratoga and was beaten a neck when second in the Bryan Station (G3) at Keeneland prior to his run in the Hollywood Derby.
Wit won the 2021 Sanford (G3) at Saratoga and Aqueduct’s 2022 Bay Shore (G3) before the surface switch was made following a 14-length loss when fourth in the seven-furlong Woody Stephens (G1) last spring.
“He was successful on the dirt but it looked like he had plateaued on the dirt,” Pletcher said, “so, we worked him on the turf and we said, ‘Wow, it looks like he really likes it,’ and his subsequent races have all been very good.”
Pletcher remembers having a similar feeling the first time he watched Colonel Liam train on the grass in the spring of 2020 after two races on dirt.
“Same thing,” he said. “We could tell the first time we put him on it, he was very happy out there.”
Colonel Liam won the 2021 Pegasus Turf in just his third race on grass, using a victory in Gulfstream’s 2020 Tropical Park Derby as a prep. Pletcher said it is too early to compare Wit to his former stablemate.
“So far it is,” he said. “Maybe after Saturday we can start doing that.”
Wit drew the rail against 11 rivals and two also-eligibles in the Pegasus Turf and will be reunited with jockey Jose Ortiz, aboard for his June 2021 debut victory as well as the Hall of Fame, Better Talk now and Bryan Station. They are co-fourth choice on the morning line at 8-1 with Hollywood Derby winner Speaking Scout.
“He’s a pretty tractable horse so hopefully he can get some position,” Pletcher said. “Obviously, you always want to try to save some ground in turf races when you can, so hopefully he’s able to do that from that post and he continues to step forward.”
Pletcher is the only trainer in Pegasus history, turf or dirt, to win back-to-back races, and is the only one to sweep both races in the same year, capturing the Pegasus World Cup with Life Is Good last January. He also has Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Steady On, back-to-back runner-up in the Gio Ponti and Tropical Park Derby, as the second also-eligible in the Pegasus Turf behind 2022 Knickerbocker (G3) winner King Cause.
Robert and Lawana Low’s Colonel Liam had been pointed to make a three-peat attempt in the Pegasus Turf, finishing sixth in his prep, the Dec. 31 Fort Lauderdale (G2) at Gulfstream, his first race in 281 days. He was retired with seven wins and more than $1.8 million in purse earnings from 12 starts, also capturing the Turf Classic (G1) and Muniz Memorial (G2) following his initial Pegasus Turf victory.
“It shows you how hard it is to win these things three years in a row,” Pletcher said. “He had a tremendous career and we’re excited. It sounds like he’s getting a great reception at Ocala Stud. He’s a horse with a lot of talent, very good-looking and a great pedigree, so we look forward to him hopefully being a successful stallion.”
Queen Goddess Getting Chance to Reign in Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Gary Barber’s Queen Goddess, having successfully launched her comeback last month, will bring Grade 1 credentials to Gulfstream Park for Saturday’s $500,000 TAA Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf (G3) presented by Pepsi.
Trained by southern California-based Michael McCarthy, who captured the Pegasus World Cup (G1) in 2019 with City of Light, Queen Goddess is third choice on the morning line for the Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf at 5-1 behind fellow Grade 1 winners Shantisara (2-1) and Dalika (7-2).
Queen Goddess has been third or better in eight of 10 career starts, five of them wins, including a front-running 2 ½-length triumph in the 1 1/8-mile Robert J. Frankel (G3) Dec. 31 at Santa Anita. It was the first start in 232 days for the now 5-year-old Empire Maker mare since finishing second in the 1 ½-mile Santa Barbara (G3) last spring.
“It was just what we were looking for to get her going off the bench,” Eclipse founder and president Aron Wellman said. “She had things all her own way that day, for sure. I don’t think she’ll have it as easy in the Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf, especially on the cutback in distance to a mile and a sixteenth.
“But, she’s come out of that return race in great form,” he added. “[Jockey] Johnny [Velazquez] put a lot of great work into her with Mike McCarthy in the mornings that translated into a dominant victory on New Year’s Eve in the Frankel.”
Queen Goddess ran fifth behind Shantisara in the 2021 Queen Elizabeth II over a yielding Keeneland turf in her stakes debut, finishing the year by winning an off-the-turf edition of the American Oaks (G1) going 1 ¼ miles at Santa Anita in gate-to-wire fashion.
Last year Queen Goddess raced four times, all in Grade 3 stakes, finishing fifth in the 1 1/16-mile Bayakoa on dirt at Oaklawn Park in her season debut. She went on to win the 1 ¼-mile Santa Ana (G3) last March and owns two wins and a third, beaten less than a length, in three 1 1/16-mile grass races.
Gulfstream’s three-time Championship Meet-leading jockey Luis Saez gets the riding assignment for the first time on Queen Goddess, breaking from Post 6 in a field of 11.
“It’s one of those situations where there’s not a lot of opportunities for fillies and mares going long on the turf to run for half a million dollars,” Wellman said. “There are certain questions that she’s going to have to answer, as well, but she’s another one who hold in high regard.
“She already is a Grade 1 winner. Even though this race is a Grade 3 it’s arguably got Grade 1 prestige and competition, so she’s going to have to prove she can do it at a mile and a sixteenth on the turf,” he added. “But, we feel like we’re bringing a very live filly over to Gulfstream for this event.”
Maryquitecontrary Testing Graded Waters in G2 Inside Information
Rodney Lundock’s Florida homebred filly Maryquitecontrary, already a multiple stakes winner with five wins from six career starts, will take on graded company for the first time in Saturday’s $200,000 Inside Information (G2) presented by Brightline at Gulfstream Park.
The seven-furlong Inside Information for fillies and mares 4 and up is the fourth of nine stakes, seven graded, worth $5.4 million in purses on a spectacular 13-race Pegasus World Cup Invitational Series program.
Maryquitecontrary has raced exclusively at Gulfstream and enters the Inside Information having won each of her last four starts, three of them over her elders, returning from a short break to capture the one-mile Rampart by 3 ½ lengths Dec. 31.
Her four prior races each came at seven furlongs, three of them wins including the Sheer Drama against fellow Florida-breds last September.
“Absolutely, we know she likes the mile,” jockey Luca Panici said. “This race is seven furlongs. She’s won before at seven furlongs, so I’m pretty confident that she’ll run good.”
All of Maryquitecontrary’s wins have come with Panici aboard, starting with her debut triumph last June. Her lone loss came in the seven-furlong Azalea last summer, her second career start, with Hall of Famer Edgar Prado aboard.
“She’s undefeated with me, and she runs good. She always tries hard and gives you everything she’s got,” Panici said. “The race is tough, but at this point you have to go ahead against the best. But, we belong there.”
Maryquitecontrary drew Post 7 in a field of 10 for the Inside Information that includes Grade 1 winner Obligatory, exiting a fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1); Grade 3-placed Colorful Mischief, second in the Rampart; and fellow stakes winners Famed, Miss Speedy, Diamond Wow, Last Leaf and R Adios Jersey.
“She settles always in the back and has a late push,” Panici said. “It should be a fast race and she’s always coming from behind, and I won’t change her style.”