SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- No doubt about it, Liam's Map is an A-list horse.
There was speculation that the rangy gray colt might regress after running brilliantly a month ago in the Whitney Stakes, which he lost by a neck to the country's leading older horse, Honor Code. Liam's Map was just as impressive Saturday in the Woodward Stakes, and this time the front-runner won easily.
Javier Castellano immediately put Liam's Map on the lead, and he never gave it up. The 6-5 favorite turned back a mild challenge from pace presser Bay of Plenty at the top of the stretch and drew away by 4¾ lengths from Coach Inge, with Wicked Strong 1½ lengths farther back in third.
"The Whitney was as tough a loss as you'll experience,'' trainer Todd Pletcher said. "He ran an unbelievable race that day, and he indicated to us that he was ready to put forth another great effort. I'm just happy to see him get that Grade I he deserves so much.''
It was the third winner of the card for Pletcher, who also saddled Coach Inge. Pletcher took a 32-30 lead over Chad Brown with two days left in the 40-day meeting. Pletcher is seeking an unprecedented sixth consecutive Saratoga title and 12th overall. Castellano, the two-time defending Spa champion, picked up his fifth Grade I trophy of the meet. He rode three winners but still trails leader Irad Ortiz Jr. 55-49.
Liam's Map didn't run as quickly as he did in the Whitney, setting comfortable fractions -- a 47.49-second half-mile, 6 furlongs in 1:10.94 and a mile in 1:34.97. His time for 1 1/8 miles was a snappy 1:47.44, four-fifths of a second off Lawyer Ron's 2007 track record.
The late-developing 4-year-old improved to 5-for-7 (two seconds) and earned $360,000, raising his career total to $848,940 for Teresa Viola Racing Stables.
"The early fractions were very much in his favor,'' Pletcher said, "and Liam's Map has that style where he can get into a high cruising speed and keep carrying it. He gets into that rhythm and just runs horses off their feet.''
Sound like anybody else you know? That's how American Pharoah dominated the Preakness, Belmont and Haskell. If he gets into it up front with Liam's Map in the Breeders' Cup Classic, the Triple Crown winner will be severely tested.
As NYRA handicapper Andy Serling said: "For American Pharoah, Liam's Map is his worst nightmare.''
'Rachel' wins Spinaway
Six years after Rachel Alexandra's Woodward triumph, Rachel's Valentina did her mommy proud. The 2-year-old filly is 2-for-2 after rallying for John Velazquez to take the Grade I Spinaway Stakes. The 8-5 favorite beat Tap to It by a length.
"The expectations were very high,'' Pletcher said. "I thought she ran fantastic. ''
The 2009 Preakness winner's only other foal, the 3-year-old colt Jess' Dream, won his debut at the meeting.
Owner-breeder Barbara Banke named Jess' Dream for her late husband, Jess Jackson, who purchased Rachel Alexandra after her Kentucky Oaks runaway. Banke said last month that the 2009 Horse of the Year will not be bred again.
"I'm glad it's Woodward day,'' Banke said. "She's a chip off the old block.''