November 30, 2023

Colonel Liam the one to beat in Turf Classic

Colonel Liam
Colonel Liam wins the Tropical Park Derby (Coglianese Photos/Lauren King)

Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic (G1) — Race 11 (5:27 p.m. ET)

Colonel Liam will enter Saturday’s $1 million Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs as the top-rated grass horse in the country, but will be tested to preserve that status over the course of nine furlongs in the traditional race before the Kentucky Derby (G1).

Beaten just once on grass in five attempts, the Todd Pletcher-trained Colonel Liam enters off back-to-back wins this season in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and Muniz Memorial (G2). That record is identical to the one brought into this race two years ago by eventual Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar, whose trainer Chad Brown provides the most serious challenges to Colonel Liam.

Digital Age, who posted a mild 8-1 upset of this event in its belated 2020 renewal last September, subsequently fared poorly in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1). However, the five-year-old has a thing for performing his best on Derby Day, having also captured the 2019 American Turf (G2).

Brown’s other starter is Domestic Spending, whose photo-finish scores in the Saratoga Derby and Hollywood Derby (G1) last season marked the gelding as top of the sophomore turf class. He out-finished the hard-luck Colonel Liam by three parts of a length in the Saratoga fixture, but hasn’t been out since the Del Mar run in late November.

Ivar upset last fall’s Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) at Keeneland before running fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, while Smooth Like Strait, Ride a Comet, Count Again, and Masteroffoxhounds all bring strong Southern California form into Saturday’s heat. The field is rounded out by Cross Border, third in the Pegasus World Cup Turf and Pan American (G2) in his last two.

Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2) — Race 6 (1:14 p.m. ET)

The connections of Got Stormy hope the third time underneath the Twin Spires will be the charm for the multiple Grade 1-winning mare in the $500,000 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2). Second in this event two years ago and fourth in another previous run over the local turf, Got Stormy is the likely favorite against six rivals and enters off a nose win over returning rival Zofelle in the Feb. 27 Honey Fox (G3) at Gulfstream.

Blowout, one of two in the field for Chad Brown, is overdue for better luck after losing all three starts last season in photo finishes, including the Noble Damsel (G3) and Matriarch (G1). She’s joined by stablemate She’s Got You, a stakes winner at Monmouth last fall prior to a third-place effort in the Athenia (G3).

New York Girl placed in both of Tampa Bay Downs’ graded events for fillies and mares over the winter, while Abscond, a Grade 1 winner at two, was a solid second to Sharing over this course last summer. The field is rounded out by the speedy Jakarta.

American Turf (G2) — Race 9 (3:40 p.m. ET)

There are no standouts among the full field of 14 in the $500,000 American Turf (G2) for three-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles, but the Shug McGaughey-trained Scarlett Sky figures to attract attention off his last-out win in the Transylvania (G3) over Palazzi. Both horses have drawn the two outside posts.

Annex enters undefeated from three starts for Bill Mott after narrow scores in he Palm Beach S. and Cutler Bay S. at Gulfstream, while Todd Pletcher and Bob Baffert bring viable contenders in Winfromwithin and Du Jour, respectively.

Chad Brown, who’s won this race three times previously, relies on Excellent Timing, who to date has raced exclusively against New York-breds on the main tracks of his home state.