Palace Malice , a prohibitive favorite at odds of 1-20, made easy work of his three opponents in the $142,500 Westchester Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO) May 11 at Belmont Park in his prep race for the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I).
With John Velazquez riding for trainer Todd Pletcher and Cot Campbell's Dogwood Stables, Palace Malice tallied officially by 9 3/4 lengths while running the one-turn mile in 1:35.53 on a track rated good. Getting a good stalking trip, the race became little more than a paid workout for the top handicap horse.
"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, who also won the Westchester in 2011 with Caixa Eletronica. "Luckily, for everyone involved today, it did."
Last year's Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner posted his third straight win in 2014 following earlier victories in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) March 8 and the New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) three weeks later at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. Palace Malice, a 4-year-old son of Curlin , is expected to make his next start in the $1.25 million Met Mile June 7, Belmont Stakes day.
"We'll talk to Mr. Campbell, but we came into today with the idea that if this went well we'd look at the (Met Mile). He certainly ran well enough today to keep that as a top priority." Pletcher said.
The winner's share of $90,000 boosted Palace Malice's career earnings to $1,961,135 with a record of 6-4-1 in 15 starts.
Palace Malice eased back into third behind pacesetter I'm Steppin' It Up and Pletcher stablemate Red Rifle up the backstretch in quarter mile fractions of :23.61 and :46.69. Allowed to pull his way up to the front-runners around the sweeping turn, Palace Malice staked a one-length advantage as they reached the quarter pole in 1:11.32. He took command through the lane, leading by 6 1/2 lengths midstretch and came home under some coaxing from Velazquez.
"As soon as he got out on the turn he got into a nice rhythm and I just let him do it," Velazquez said. "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."
Declan's Warrior, who trailed the leader by 10 lengths for the first half of the journey, ran on for second under Joe Bravo, with I'm Steppin' It Up and Jose Caraballo holding third.
Bred in Kentucky by William S. Farish out of the stakes-winning Royal Anthem mare Palace Rumor, Palace Malice was a $25,000 buy as a Keeneland September yearling in 2011 by pinhooker Colin Brennan, agent. Brother Niall Brennan consigned Palace Malice to the 2012 Keeneland April sale of 2-year-olds in training, where Dogwood Stable supplied the winning bid of $200,000.
Palace Malice was the first grade I winner for his classic-winning sire Curlin and is also the first stakes winner for his dam, who has produced four winners from her four foals to date.
Carrying top weight of 123 pounds, Palace Malice paid $2.10 and $2.10, teaming with 9-1 second choice Declan's Warrior ($2.60) for a $4.90 exacta. There was no show wagering.
Palace Malice now has two wins and two seconds in four starts at Belmont Park. He won last year's Belmont Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths before finishing a distant second to Ron the Greek in last fall's Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I). Palace Malice completed his 3-year-old season with a sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I).
He showed his adaptability to the mile distance in his head victory in the Gulfstream Park Handicap to begin his 4-year old campaign. Palace Malice then defeated Normandy Invasion by nearly five lengths in the 1 1/8-mile New Orleans March 29.
"He's 3-for-3, so far, this year. 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, the Belmont (Stakes) on the résumé," Pletcher said. "We're really excited about where he is, how he is doing, and hopefully there's more to come."