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Especially when it comes to major turf stakes, trainer Mike Maker believes in the power of numbers. In that regard, he's hoping to get as many as four horses into the 12-horse starting gate for Gulfstream Park's $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) January 29th.
While last year's third-place finisher, Cross Border, and multiple graded-stakes winner Field Pass are among the original invitees to the 1 1/8-mile grass race, the Maker-trained Atone and Flavius await on the also-eligible list.
Maker is particularly hoping that Atone, second in Gulfstream Park's Fort Lauderdale (G2) Dec. 18 behind Pegasus Turf invitee Doswell, gets in the field. Owner Three Diamonds Farm could have some say-so in Atone's destiny, as it also owns Field Pass and Cross Border.
"I'd sure be disappointed if he doesn't make it into the body," Maker said. "He's run well every time we've had him. Before we had him, he had some behavior issues and they gelded him. That seemed to work. I'm really high on that horse."
Kirk Wycoff of Three Diamonds purchased Atone for $130,000 at Fasig-Tipton's horses of racing age sale last July. After an initial sixth place, the son of Spendthrift Farm's stallion sensation Into Mischief sported two wins and a second in three New York allowance races before making the Fort Lauderdale only his second stakes appearance.
"He's just improved, holds his weight really well," Maker said. "It seems like he's getting better each race."
Field Pass comes into the Pegasus off a victory in Del Mar's Seabiscuit (G2), his fifth graded victory at five different tracks. The Maryland-bred son of Lemon Drop Kid owns two additional stakes among his eight career victories, including Gulfstream Park's 2020 Dania Beach on turf.
Maker said Field Pass will definitely run in the Pegasus Turf. He called the Three Diamonds trio "all classy horses. Atone is an up-and-comer. Cross Border, you could say that it seems like he's been running forever. Field Pass, he's won a stakes in California, won a stakes in Kentucky. He's won on the [Polytrack] at Woodbine and Turfway. He's won a stakes in Maryland. At Gulfstream."
Three Diamonds has the option of keeping Cross Border with Maker's division at Turfway Park, which has stakes for older horses in February and April 2 over its all-weather Tapeta surface. Cross Border, an 8-year-old millionaire, won Turfway's $100,000 Prairie Bayou Stakes in his last start. Cross Border won last summer's Bowling Green (G2) at Saratoga before taking third in the Sword Dancer (G1).
"He ran third in the race last year, so he deserves his chance, too," Maker said of the Pegasus Turf. "He's an old classy veteran who loves Saratoga and always runs well at Gulfstream. He had some tough luck last year in the Pegasus but still managed to run up for third."
The stable's fourth Pegasus Turf contender is Flavius, purchased for $230,000 by Michael Iavarone from Juddmonte Farms at Keeneland's November sale. Flavius has yet to start for Maker but has four strong workouts at Gulfstream for his new barn. Flavius is graded-stakes placed with his biggest victory Kentucky Downs' $750,000 Tourist Mile in 2020. He was fifth in the same race in 2021, with the stakes promoted to a Grade 3 worth $1 million and renamed the WinStar Mint Million.
"His works have been very good," Maker said. "We've worked him with some good horses and he's held his own, galloping out. His hair, weight, I'm very pleased with his appetite, his energy level, everything is doing well."
The 7-year-old Flavius, who was previously trained by Chad Brown after starting his career in Ireland, has not raced farther than 1 1/16 miles since finishing a close fourth in the 2019 Fort Lauderdale, whose 1 1/8 miles is the same as the Pegasus Turf. However, he won a minor stakes at 1 1/4 miles in Ireland in his third start.
"I'd like to get all four in," Maker said of his Pegasus Turf contenders.
Maker ran two horses in the Pegasus Turf each of the past two years, including winning with Zulu Alpha in 2020.
He also said that Endorsed will run in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) if he can get in that field. Endorsed, a $100,000 claim at Saratoga last August, has raced four times for owner Mark Breen and Maker, all in one-turn races but closing well. He was a very good second in Gulfstream Park's seven-furlong Mr. Prospector (G3) Dec. 11 in his last start.
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