SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — When Palace Malice placed second in his debut, it was a performance that seemed to suggest he was capable of more.
“We always thought he was a horse that was going to appreciate more distance,” Palace Malice’s trainer Todd Pletcher said of the second-place showing that came in the colt’s sophomore campaign at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 19. “If anything, we were surprised that he was doing as well as he was at the shorter distances and showed as much speed. I thought his race against Majestic Hussar was actually a good comeback race, and set us up well for the Risen Star.”
Palace Malice has become a different horse since his third-place effort in the Risen Star on Feb. 23. The son of Curlin has demonstrated focus and efficiency.
“He’s just a more professional horse that knows how to finish a race,” said Pletcher. “He kind of got to the wire in the Risen Star and became a little distracted. He went back to his left lead, and I still felt like it was a good race. It set him up for the Louisiana Derby.”
Fate wasn’t on Palace malice’s side in his second start at the Crescent City oval. Luck was something that Palace Malice would find in short supply on March 30 at the Fair Grounds.
“Unfortunately, his Louisiana Derby was one of those bad trips, where he got stuck on the rail, and he never had anywhere to go,” said Pletcher.
The decision to start the horse back two weeks later in the Blue Grass Stakes, yielded dividends. It provided Palace Malice with enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
“We went to the Blue Grass, and we made a mistake late, saw some tracks, and he went back to his left lead, and that’s why we tried the blinkers on him in the Derby,” said Pletcher. “We were too fresh with those (the blinkers). But, it seemed like he was more focused and professional and learned how to polish off a race.”
And although he captured the third jewel of Thoroughbred’s racing’s Triple Crown authoritatively, Palace Malice’s victory in his most recent race – the Jim Dandy – was his most professional.
“Hopefully it will be the same again on Saturday,” Pletcher said of the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.
Palace Malice has won both of his career starts at Saratoga, breaking his maiden at the upstate New York racetrack during his juvenile campaign and winning the Jim Dandy Stakes last month.
“He trained well over the training track as a 2-year-old, broke his maiden impressively on the main track, and not that he’s a horse that has to have a certain track, but he definitely does seem to appreciate Saratoga,” said Pletcher.
Ben Baugh has been covering the equine industry and equestrian sport for the Aiken Standard since 2004.
AT A GLANCE
What: 144th Travers Stakes
Where: Saratoga Race Course; Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
When: Saturday, 5:46 p.m.
Winning purse: $1 million
TV: NBC (Broadcast will begin at 4:30 p.m.)