Continuing the Kentucky Derby Day theme of thrilling finishes, turf stars Colonel Liam and Domestic Spending were literally inseparable at the wire of Saturday’s $1 million Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic (G1). The duo served up the first dead-heat victory in the Churchill Downs feature, dating back to its 1987 inaugural won by Hall of Famer Manila.
Robert and Lawana Low’s Colonel Liam, the 14-10 favorite, and Klaravich Stables’ Domestic Spending, off at 5.90-1, had crossed swords once before in last summer’s Saratoga Derby. While Domestic Spending won with a furious late charge, Colonel Liam was a sneaky fourth who looked poised to improve off that stakes debut.
The two had gone their separate ways in the interim. Domestic Spending solidified his status as the top three-year-old turf male in the Nov. 28 Hollywood Derby (G1), getting up over Smooth Like Strait, and called it a season. Colonel Liam, who missed the major fall races, resumed to outclass the opposition in the Dec. 26 Tropical Park Derby, and ascended to 2021 divisional leadership by taking the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and Muniz Memorial Classic (G2).
In their long-awaited rematch here, Colonel Liam figured to get the jump on Domestic Spending, who relies on a whirlwind closing rush. Both employed their tactics effectively, but had to share the spoils.
Expected pacesetter Smooth Like Strait lived up to the script, setting moderate fractions of :24.40, :49.17, and 1:12.83. Cross Border tracked in second but couldn’t keep that spot once the pace lifted.
When Smooth Like Strait tried to get away on the far turn, Colonel Liam advanced from his stalking third and ranged alongside in the stretch. Trained by Todd Pletcher and piloted by Irad Ortiz Jr., the favorite asserted over a stubborn Smooth Like Strait.
Domestic Spending was patiently handled by Flavien Prat near the back of the pack, until finding a seam in the lane. The Chad Brown pupil engaged turbo in the final sixteenth and drew even with Colonel Liam as they flashed across the wire. Although Domestic Spending had the momentum in those last yards, Colonel Liam was reaching for the line himself.
Even the camera couldn’t find a pixel between them after 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.99.
Brown commented on the jockey dynamic, with Ortiz having been the regular rider of both winners. Prat picked up the mount on Domestic Spending once Ortiz stuck with Colonel Liam:
“It was a nailbiter there. Irad had a tough choice. He stayed with Colonel Liam because he’s been running this year and I was so fortunate to get Flavien to ride the horse. I had a lot of confidence in him.
“It was a real tough decision for Irad, so I totally understand those things. We’ve had a lot of success together. You can see why it was very tough decision. It was very close between the horses.
“I thought Flavien did a great job. He rode to instructions. We nearly got there to get the whole prize in one more jump, but I’ll take it. Especially when I see the slow-mo, I’ll take the dead heat because of the head bob.”
Prat was sure that Domestic Spending was in the process of passing Colonel Liam, but felt that the exact instant came after the line.
“I sat behind some horses, taking my time and saving some ground, then when I had the chance, we got in the right path,” Prat said. “He had a tremendous turn of foot today. To be honest, I didn’t know the results. I came up on him so fast, I wasn’t sure. Right past the wire, I knew I was ahead of him, but at the wire, I wasn’t so sure.”
Smooth Like Strait, just a neck astern in third, validated the depth of last year’s sophomore turf brigade. Count Again made late headway on the inside for fourth, followed by defending champion Digital Age, Ivar, Cross Border, Masteroffoxhounds, and Ride a Comet.
Both Turf Classic heroes were extending winning streaks. Colonel Liam’s fourth straight upped his scorecard to 8-6-0-1, $1,264,565. Domestic Spending’s third in a row boosted his earnings to $914,500 from a 6-5-0-1 line, his lone loss being a third in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame (G2).
Both were also auction purchases. Kentucky-bred Colonel Liam was a $50,000 Keeneland September yearling turned $1.2 million OBS April juvenile, while British-bred Domestic Spending sold for 300,000 as a yearling at Tattersalls October.
Both hail from deep families. Colonel Liam, bred by the Phillips Racing Partnership, is from the first crop of Liam’s Map. His dam, the Bernardini mare Amazement, is a daughter of multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Wonder Again, who is in turn a sister to Japanese champion Grass Wonder. Domestic Spending, a product of Rabbah Bloodstock Ltd., is by Kingman and out of the stakes-winning Street Cry mare Urban Castle from the family of Queen’s Trust, Warrsan, and Luso.
One significant difference is that Colonel Liam is a colt, and Domestic Spending is a gelding. Hopefully his career will continue long after Colonel Liam ventures off to stud.