Palace Malice and Itsmyluckyday were among the best of the 3-year-old crop in 2013, the former claiming Belmont Stakes (gr. I) victory and the latter running second in the Preakness (gr. I) after winning the Holy Bull (gr. III) earlier in the season.
The two return for the first time in 2014 March 8 as part of an eight-horse field set to go in the $250,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park. Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) runner-up Golden Ticket will also be in the mix, along with Team Valor International and Richard Santulli's Brazilian-bred Brujo de Olleros. The 6-year-old son of Wild Event was third in the BC Dirt Mile and third in the Feb. 8 Gulfstream Park Sprint Stakes (gr. III) for trainer Rick Mettee.
Dogwood Stable's Palace Malice is unraced since a sixth-place finish in the Nov. 2 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) and a second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) before that. He spent some time off during the winter for a freshening in Aiken, S.C., before rejoining trainer Todd Pletcher's Palm Meadows string.
The 4-year-old Curlin colt has put in a consistent work pattern at the training center since returning, including a Feb. 23 bullet five furlongs in 1:00 2/5. That was followed by his most recent move, four furlongs in :48.90 March 2.
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez gets the mount on Palace Malice from the outside. Palace Malice is the 119-pound high weight in the one-mile event.
Itsmyluckyday was a star last season in South Florida, capturing the Holy Bull (gr. III) and finishing second behind eventual Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Orb in the $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby (gr. I). He finished 15th in the Kentucky Derby due to an obvious dislike for the sealed sloppy track, but rebounded to finish second in the Preakness. His sophomore campaign came to an abrupt end at Monmouth Park June 16 in the Pegasus Stakes (gr. III), in which he was pulled up and did not finish. It was later determined that the Kentucky-bred colt sustained a pelvic fracture.
"It's been a long road back. We decided to take our time with him, and it looks like he approved of it," trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. said. "I will tell you, when he goes to the gate, no matter where he finishes, he'll be 110% ready to run."
Itsmyluckyday has also been working steadily for his return and turned in a five-furlong bullet workout in :59.75 Feb. 27 at Palm Meadows. Jockey Paco Lopez will be in the irons from post 7 aboard the 4-year-old Lawyer Ron colt who carries 116 pounds for Laurie Plesa and Trillogy Stable.
"I couldn't be more pleased with how he's been training," Plesa said. "He's just about ready to get started."
"His race in the Breeders' Cup was a really good race," McPeek said.
The mile distance is run around two turns at Santa Anita, while the Gulfstream Park Handicap will be contested around just one turn.
"I really think he can be really effective at a mile," McPeek said. "But this race is a good starting off point for the year."
Golden Ticket, who captured a one-turn allowance at Churchill Downs last spring before finishing second in the two-turn Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) at 1 1/8 miles, has shown a distinct affinity for the Gulfstream racing strip. He broke his maiden at Gulfstream going 1 1/16 miles in February 2012 and made his 2013 debut with a 5 1/2-length score at the same distance.
"I don't know if I can tell you he's 110% fit, but I can tell you he's not far off," McPeek said. "He's ready to run."
Manoel Cruz is named to ride Golden Ticket from the 2 hole. Golden Ticket carries 118 pounds.
Newtown Anner Stud and Joseph Bulger's Falling Sky, who upset the Feb. 8 Gulfstream Park Sprint Stakes (gr. III) in front-running fashion at 14-1, returns off his first victory since taking the 2013 Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III). Elvis Trujillo rides the Pennsylvania-bred son of Lion Heart from post 4 for trainer George Weaver; Falling Sky also carries 118.
Stipa Racing Stable's Narvaez was second by 5 1/2 lengths in the seven-furlong Sprint Stakes at 139-1 in his second start off a layup; the Holy Bull gelding had only a fourth in allowance company back in January for trainer Agustin Bezara since going to the sidelines following an eighth-place finish on a sloppy track in the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) back in May.
John Oxley's Uncaptured has been unsuccessful in five attempts since taking the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie last July. The Ontario-bred Lion Heart runner was fifth in the Feb. 9 Donn Handicap (gr. I) going 1 1/8 miles last time out, and fourth in the one-mile Hal's Hope Stakes (gr. III) before that in January. He did run a fine third in the Delta Mile back in November, but needs to step up his game for trainer Mark Casse in this spot.
DDRD Racing's mutliple stakes winner Sr. Quisqueyano, eighth in the Dec. 22 Harlan's Holiday Stakes at Gulfstream last time out, completes the field.
$250,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II, Race 9, approximate post 5:10 p.m. EST), 4YOs & Up, one mile (dirt)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Brujo de Olleros, C. Lanerie, 117, R. Mettee
2. Golden Ticket, M. Cruz, 118, K McPeek
3. Uncaptured, L. Contreras, 116, M Casse
4. Falling Sky, E Trujillo, 118, G Weaver
5. Sr. Quisqueyano, C. Olivero, 116, L Olivares
6. Narvaez, A. Jaen, 116, A. Bezara
7. Itsmyluckyday, P. Lopez, 116, E Plesa Jr.
8. Palace Malice, J. Velazquez, 119, T A Pletcher