The robust son of two-time Horse of the Year and current Hall of Fame candidate Curlin has always been a generous horse in the mornings and has worked forwardly for trainer Todd Pletcher since shipping from Aiken to the Palm Meadows training center in South Florida in early January.
The mile distance appears suitable for the colt’s comeback, but if things go according to plan, he won’t be racing at such a short distance with any frequency this year.
“All systems are go,” Pletcher said. “It’s come up a good race, as you would expect. We expect him to run well, too.”
Palace Malice will face seven others in the race in an evenly matched field. Palace Malice is top weight at 119 pounds, while Narvaez gets in lightest at 115 – the entire field only being spread by four pounds.
“It’s a pretty salty race,” Dogwood president Cot Campbell said. “We hope he likes a mile, but we understand it might be a little short for him. Of course, we’re anxious to get him going after four months; this race fits his schedule and doesn’t require that we travel.”
Perhaps the most interesting rival is Itsmyluckyday, second to Oxbow in last year’s Preakness. His following start, however, was not a lucky day as the colt fractured his pelvis in the Pegasus Handicap at Monmouth and was finished for the season. Itsmyluckyday has an affinity for the Gulfstream surface, having won the Gulfstream Park Derby and the Holy Bull Stakes there last year, before finishing second to Kentucky Derby winner Orb in the Florida Derby.
The speed of the race on a track that is usually favorable to speed is Falling Sky, vastly improved since finishing 19th in the Kentucky Derby and much more comfortable at today’s shorter distance. Falling Sky prepped for today’s contest by demolishing his opposition, leading from pillar to post in the seven-furlong Gulfstream Park Sprint. Other contenders appear to be the inconsistent Golden Ticket and Brazilian import Brujo de Olleros, second and third in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile last November.
Palace Malice has drawn the outside post, which starts out of a chute thereby providing a straight run of a half mile for the field to sort itself out.
“I think it’s actually a good post position for him,” Pletcher said. “It will give him a few options depending on how things unfold inside of him. We will ask him to come away running a little bit to put him in the race.”
Based on past performance, the start may well be the moment of highest tension for the Palace Malice crew. A clean break would be deeply appreciated and the skill of jockey John Velazquez surely will be on demand when the starter springs the latch. A poor start in last summer’s Travers Stakes cost Palace Malice the victory and an inefficient start compromised the colt’s chances in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, when a win might have made him Horse of the Year.
Campbell and Pletcher hope that is in the past and, while victory would be nice today, a good effort is what is needed. Most thoroughbred horses have run out of potential by the time they race at age four. They are, simply, what they are.
Palace Malice is an exception to that rule. For him, this year’s campaign could be a wild ride, with the sky the limit.