With the Eclipse Award for 3-year-old males squarely on the line, Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice and Kentucky Derby champion Orb will do battle for the fourth time this year in Saturday’s Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.
The rubber match between these two five weeks ago in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga might have come close to settling things, but turned out to be indecisive. Palace Malice, the Dogwood Stable colt thought to have been the best in the race, broke from the gate poorly and lost more at the start than the length by which he was beaten at the finishing post.
Orb made a bold move on the rail turning for home to take the lead, but couldn’t hold it.
With Orb fading at the end and Palace Malice finishing strongly, it took a photo to determine that the Derby winner had a nose on the local hope – but the picture was for third place.
The morning-line favorite for this edition of the Gold Cup is Whitney Handicap winner Cross Traffic, a barn-mate of Palace Malice in the powerful stable of trainer Todd Pletcher. A son of the recently deceased and highly-influential sire Unbridled’s Song, Cross Traffic did not make his first start until turning four last January and the Whitney represented his initial stakes score. Pletcher will also start the Brazilian import, Vitoria Olimpica
Orb will break from the No. 2 post, while Palace Malice is in the No. 7 slot and Cross Traffic on the outside at No. 8.
The presence of others from under the same roof will not surprise Palace Malice, as he left four others from the Pletcher barn in his dust in the Belmont and finished well ahead of the highly-touted Verrazano in both the Kentucky Derby and the Travers. Cross Traffic looms as the pace-setter in the Gold Cup and, if he fulfills this role, Palace Malice could be the beneficiary, as he has been most successful when stalking just behind the leader.
“We’d like to be sitting a few lengths behind him,” Dogwood’s Cot Campbell said. “If the pace is slow, we should be a bit closer.”
And if he conquers Cross Traffic, Orb and the others, he will take a huge step toward an Eclipse Award and just might seize the throne as king of the Pletcher shed row.