Palace Malice returns to scene of biggest win for G3 Westchester
By Jon Forbes | 05/08/2014 06:08 PM ET
Palace Malice, the winner of the 2013 Belmont Stakes who is unbeaten in two graded stakes starts this year, heads the list of entrants for the Grade 3, $150,000 Westchester, one of three graded stakes on Sunday at Belmont Park.
Fox Sports 1 will show the Westchester, which was carded as race 3 with a scheduled post time of 2:24 p.m., on tape delay during a broadcast that also will include live presentations of the Grade 1, $400,000 Man o' War and Grade 2, $250,000 Ruffian.
Palace Malice, owned by Dogwood Stable, won his first graded stakes when he posted a 3 ¼-length triumph in the Grade 1 Belmont at 13-1 in June and followed that score with a one-length victory in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy in July at Saratoga Race Course. In his final three starts as a 3-year-old, he missed by three-quarters of a length in the Grade 1 Travers in August at the Spa, was 6 ¾ lengths in arrears when second to Ron the Greek in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup in September at Belmont, and was sixth, beaten seven lengths, in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic in November at Santa Anita.
In his 4-year-old debut, Palace Malice successfully cut back to one turn when he pressed the pace, led briefly with three-sixteenths to travel, and came back on the inside after being passed to win the Grade 2, one-mile Gulfstream Park Handicap by a head over Golden Ticket on March 8. Later that month, Palace Malice easily defeated Normandy Invasion when he romped by 4 ¾ lengths around two turns in the Grade 2, 1 1/8-mile New Orleans Handicap on March 29.
Trainer Todd Pletcher said he and Cot Campbell of Dogwood Stable selected the Westchester for Palace Malice's next race because it would set up the colt for a start in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Metropolitan Handicap on June 7, Belmont Stakes Day.
"We felt like it made sense to run him between the New Orleans Handicap and the Met, and we felt like the Westchester made a lot of sense," said Pletcher. "If he performs well in the Westchester it would add confidence that the Met is the right race for him. If he were to not run well - which I don't anticipate will be the case - then maybe we could go in another direction, like the Brooklyn [Grade 2, $500,000, June 7].
"It's rare you have so many options with one horse, but he's already proven he can win anywhere from 6 ½ furlongs to a mile and a half. He's already won at a mile this year, and we want us to put ourselves in a good position for the Met. Hopefully, the Whitney [Grade 1, $1.5 million, 1 1/8-miles, August 2, Saratoga] would be a big goal after that."
Palace Malice's stalking style is what makes him effective at various distances, Pletcher said.
"I think he is pretty versatile," said Pletcher. "He has enough speed to get in the game. He can sit off if he needs to. He's very tractable."
Hall of Famer John Velazquez, aboard Palace Malice in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, will be reunited with the son of Curlin on Sunday. Palace Malice drew post 3 and installed as the 1-9 favorite on the morning line.
Pletcher also entered WinStar Farm and Twin Creeks Racing's Red Rifle, who won the Maxxam Gold Cup by 2 ¾ lengths in March. Most recently, he was ninth over Keeneland's Polytrack in the Grade 3 Ben Ali on April 12.
Javier Castellano will ride Red Rifle, 10-1, from post 3.
Declan's Warrior, victorious in the 2013 Grade 3 Bay Shore, seeks his first win since taking the Gygistar overnight stakes in May 2013. He was subsequently fifth in the Grade 2 Amsterdam and was eased in the Grade 1 King's Bishop to conclude his 3-year-old season. In his 2014 debut, he led in the stretch and yielded late when second by three-quarters of a length in a starter allowance on March 20 at Gulfstream.
"We've been looking at the Westchester since he ran in Florida," said Hall of Famer Nick Zito, who trains Declan's Warrior for his wife Kim's Lucky Shamrock Stable. "We decided to stick with the plan even after Palace Malice was pointed to the race. [Declan's Warrior] made a good run first time off the layoff, and we hope to have a good year with him. We want to see if he can stretch out, and a one-mile race is a way to go."
Declan's Warrior, 8-1, drew post 1. Joe Bravo has the call.
I'm Steppin' It Up, who prevailed by 3 ¼ lengths in an optional claimer on March 23 at Calder Race Course, completes the field.
The field for the Grade 3, $150,000 Westchester: