Palace Malice impressive in G3 Westchester win; G1 Met Mile next on agenda
By Jon Forbes | 05/11/2014 04:31 PM ET
Palace Malice, the 2013 Belmont Stakes winner, sat behind a pair of frontrunners before sweeping to the lead in an efficient, runaway victory in the Grade 3, $150,000 Westchester for 4-year-olds and up on Sunday at Belmont Park.
The Westchester likely will serve as Palace Malice's prep race for the Grade 1, $1.25 million Metropolitan Handicap on June 7 at Belmont, according to his trainer, Todd Pletcher. Both the Westchester and the Metropolitan are contested at one mile on Belmont's main track.
Looking to extend his record to 3-for-3 in 2014, Palace Malice raced in third, four lengths behind the pacesetter I'm Steppin It Up, through an opening quarter mile in 23.61 seconds. He had cut the advantage to three lengths by the time I'm Steppin It Up ran a half in 46.69 and before employing a three-wide move to pass his stablemate Red Rifle and the early leader.
Once in front, Palace Malice steadily ran away from his opponents, going on to lead by 6 ½ lengths at the stretch call and by 9 ¾ lengths on the wire, stopping the timer in 1:35.53 over a main track labeled "good." Declan's Warrior came from last to finish second, 1 ½ lengths ahead of I'm Steppin' It Up, who was 2 ¼ lengths clear of fourth- and last-place finisher Red Rifle.
Bet down to 1-20, Palace Malice returned $2.10 for a $2 win wager.
Palace Malice, a 4-year-old owned by Dogwood Stable, also won the Grade 2, one-mile Gulfstream Park Handicap by a head on March 8 and the Grade 2, 1 1/8-mile New Orleans Handicap by 4 ¾ lengths on March 29 at the Fair Grounds.
"Anytime you're in a race that you fully expect to win you're always a little extra anxious and you're just hoping everything goes according to plan, everything goes smoothly," said Pletcher. "Luckily, for everyone involved today, it did."
The Westchester was the second time Palace Malice had been ridden by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who was aboard for the colt's win in the Gulfstream Park Handicap.
"As soon as he got out on the turn he got into a nice rhythm and I just let him do it," said Velazquez. "On the line I just kept him busy. I've been watching Mike Smith and the way he rides him, when he's coming down the lane he keeps him busy. I got surprised with him at Gulfstream Park so I didn't want something like that happening again."
As a 3-year-old, Palace Malice won a pair of graded stakes: the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park and the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga Race Course. The bay son of Curlin is 6-4-1 in 15 career starts and has earned $1,961,135, including $90,000 for his Westchester win.
"He's 3-for-3, so far, this year," said Pletcher. "He doesn't seem to have any distance limitations, short or long, to win twice at a mile, once at a mile and an eighth, Belmont [Stakes] on the résumé. We're really excited about where he is, how he is doing, and hopefully [there is] more to come."