Farewell Liam's Map

November 04, 2015 10:18am


With a new dawn comes the realization that the Breeders’ Cup is over and American Pharoah, who has captured the admiration and love of many, has been retired. His dominance in the Breeders’ Cup Classic was pure brilliance and was a perfect farewell to his illustrious racing career. However, through the dust of the Triple Crown winner, we’ve lost sight of another horse who’s set to begin his stud career in 2016.


The four-year-old son of Unbridled’s Song put on a dazzling display of talent and determination in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile that left even average fans in awe. A known speed horse who likes to be on the lead, he missed the break and was forced to a racing position he had not yet experienced in his career: running off the pace. Jockey Javier Castellano had his hands full around the two turns at Keeneland as he had to check the eager Liam’s Map several times before giving him clear running room entering the stretch. Once given a clear path, Liam’s Map showed his abilities that proved to be an order of magnitude better than the rest.


Accelerating through the entire stretch, he passed a very classy horse in Lea who had a perfect trip, and on any other day would have been the first to the wire. Stopping the clock in 1:34.54, Liam’s Map finished first by 2 ½ lengths and broke the track record for a dirt mile at Keeneland by over a second and half. In this finish, the racing community gawked at the brilliance of the performance they witnessed, especially considering the poor trip he ran.


While no one, including myself, can overstate how impressive Liam’s Map performance was in the Dirt Mile, there is one conclusion I have reached that may be less popular. Liam’s Map looked immature in his win. His multiple speed checks were not due to poor placement by Castellano, or unpredictable racing of the other horses. It was solely due to Liam’s Map’s affinity to being on the lead and not know what to do when he wasn’t. Despite finally being able to relax down the backstretch, once Castellano made any movement or gesture, Liam’s Map took that as a cue and surged into the bridle. Good horses can accelerate once during a race. Great horses can recover from unforeseen obstacles, and accelerate twice. Legendary horses can accelerate at will on multiple occasions making themselves seemingly invulnerable to opposition.


While immaturity in racing is something commonly seen in younger horses, it is not something we come to expect from four-year-old multiple G1 winners. In the previous 7 starts of his career, Liam’s Map had been on the lead for nearly every call of the race. With his unexpected placement in the Dirt Mile, and his determination to win I find myself disappointed at his announced retirement from racing. It’s too soon. There’s still complexity to Liam’s Map that we haven’t seen yet, and unfortunately never will be able to.


Drawing comparisons to the horses of our past, Liam’s Map reminds me of one legend who is still very fresh in our minds: Frankel. The brilliant European turf racer has been claimed by many as the greatest horse that has ever lived. While opinions will never fully converge on a single “greatest ever” no one can deny the talent and speed that Frankel possessed. Early in Frankel’s career, he was eager. He was unbelievably fast. He was headstrong and immature. He possessed a talent that was seemingly unbounded. My father used to always tell me, “talent is a gift. You can’t teach talent.” It has taken me most of my life to accept this and understand its truth.


However, I will now argue that although talent cannot be taught, it can be honed. It can be molded. It can be perfected.


Liam’s Map’s Dirt Mile drew comparisons to Frankel’s Greenham Stakes. Frankel was off the pace and keen to go. It took 100% of Tom Queally’s strength to hold his champion back and to accelerate only when asked. Of course Frankel went on to an easy victory, and used the race as a springboard into the English 2000 Guineas. We all know what happened that day at Newmarket as Frankel ran one of the most impressive races anyone has ever seen.


Sir Henry Cecil spotted Frankel’s talent, and rather than exploiting it uncontrollably, he patiently built on it. He taught Frankel how to harness his gift and explode when the time was right. His management was perfect. Cecil held his monster to 1 mile races through his entire three-year-old season, and refused to extend his star pupil to classic distances until he had reached a level of maturity that would allow him to succeed.


The world was given the gift of Frankel, and Sir Henry Cecil only provided the guidance to show us how good he really was. Liam's Map did not race at 2. Given that he just finished his second year of racing, and like Frankel, I wish Liam's Map was given one more year to mature more mentally, so we can see how good he really is.


While Liam’s Map may not be as good as Frankel, he certainly possess similar levels of talent. The dirt mile showed Liam’s Map that there are other ways to race besides full throttle on the front end. Under masterful guidance from Todd Pletcher, I am certain that if given the opportunity, he could find ways to harness Liam’s Map’s talent and teach him to control it in ways that would elevate him to levels seldom seen in American racing. We will never know where the talent of Liam’s Map could have taken him, but based on what we saw in the Dirt Mile, I do not think we got to see the full depths of his capabilities. I wish him a wonderful retirement from racing and can’t wait to see what he can accomplish in his second career as a stallion.


He could have been the best horse that American Pharoah never raced.


 

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Meet Matt Scott 

My horseracing journey began when I was 16 years old and my mom took me to Hollywood Park. Although I did not fully appreciate it at the time, the experience stuck with me forever. 10 years later, during one of my many international business trips to Hong Kong, I visited Sha Tin racetrack to watch the races. This is where my true passion began. 

 

Holding a masters degree in mechanical engineering, the puzzle of handicapping intrigued me. I have made a career of making decisions based on trends, patterns, and formulas, which is why I think I was initially drawn to the sport. However, I have truly learned to appreciate the horses and how magnificent they are as athletes. 

 

I currently live in San Jose, CA, and when not following racing, I like to spend time with my wife, mountain bike, and design high-speed bicycles that I build and race For reference, 55,000 furlongs is the distance from Hong Kong to my home in San Jose. Also, I have 1-year-old dachshund (aka wiener dog) that I am training to race in the annual Wiener Nationals held at Golden Gate Fields.   

 

The purpose of this blog is to help give people the viewpoint of a fan that is newer to the sport and eager to learn. I like to respectfully speak my mind, and often the ideas come out of left field, which could give a fresh perspective on a sport rich with tradition and history. hope to represent the many future fans that I wish to follow my footsteps into the Sport of Kings. 

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