There are times when one can brace for the expected and still be bowled over by its reality.
After having to check up at the start and then having to rate behind rivals, 1-2 favorite Liam's Map swung out on the final turn and unleashed his crushing blaze of speed to capture the $1 million Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland on Friday.
The son of Unbridled's Song proved all the expectations valid when hit the wire 21/2 lengths in front of his 10 challengers, the 8-furlong distance the only thing preventing the margin from being wider.
They might have known it was coming. But it didn't stop exercise rider Nick Bush from running joyously after his favorite charge onto the track. It didn't stop Taylor Made Farm president Duncan Taylor from falling over himself with emotion. It didn't stop trainer Todd Pletcher from chucking his stoic demeanor and plastering the widest of smiles on his face.
The final chapter of Liam's Map's short, but exceptional, career was storybook. The 4-year-old gray colt — who is retiring to stud at Lane's End Farm for 2016 — overcame a slow start and having to steady more than once under jockey Javier Castellano before blowing by fellow Grade I winner Lea in the stretch to earn his sixth win in eight career starts.
Liam's Map became the fourth Breeders' Cup winner for his sire Unbridled's Song, the flagship stallion for Taylor Made Farm who passed away in 2013.
"This horse is the best I've ever sat on," beamed Bush as he stood with the blanket of flowers draped over his shoulders. "We wanted to go to the (Breeders' Cup) Classic with him but the (11/4-mile) distance was kind of a question.
"He's unbelievable. He's freakish. The way he moves ... the way he does everything."
Liam's Map has been wicked on the front end, as evidenced by his gate-to-wire, 43/4-length triumph in the Grade I Woodward at Saratoga on Sept. 5.
In the Dirt Mile, he showed he could equally handle being taken out of his game. After gathering himself up after getting away slow out of post No. 3, Liam's Map rated fourth on the rail behind Bradester as that one was pushed by Mr. Z through an opening quarter in :23.10.
Castellano had to hit the breaks around the half-mile mark when Liam's Map ran up on those two. But when Lea took over the lead on the final turn, Liam's Map came up outside of Mr. Z and found his best run en route to covering the distance in a track-record time of 1:34.54.
"What was so impressive is that he recovered a couple times," said Pletcher, who later won the Distaff with Stopchargingmaria. "He got steadied about the five-eighths pole and didn't have anywhere to go. He took it to another level today. It's hard to find horses this talented."