Trainer Todd Pletcher's dynamic duo of Palace Malice and Verrazano , leading contenders for the upcoming Travers Stakes (gr. I), took to the Saratoga Race Course main track right after the renovation break Aug. 18 for their final serious works leading up to the race.
An eager Palace Malice went first under exercise rider Jake Nelson, breezing through a half-mile in :48.21, the 17th fastest of 70 at the distance. A few moments later, Verrazano, working in company with Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez in the irons, went a half-mile in :48.65, ranking 25th at the distance.
The 144th running of the $1 million Travers is Aug. 24 at Saratoga.
Pletcher said he was pleased with the way both Palace Malice and Verrazano look six days out from the 1 1/4-mile "Mid-Summer Derby." Palace Malice captured the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) in June and the Jim Dandy (gr. II) July 27 at Saratoga, and Verrazano was triumphant in the William Hill Haskell Invitational (gr. I) July 28 at Monmouth Park,
"Palace Malice is feeling good," Pletcher said of the Dogwood Stable color-bearer. "He's feeling great, actually, so we were happy to get him on the track. He seems to be thriving. The more he does, the better he gets.
"With both horses, it's rare that you go through these Triple Crown prep series, run in the Derby—and in Palace Malice's case, the Belmont—and seem to get bigger and stronger and better as you're doing it. I think the key to the really good ones is they're able to withstand those types of campaigns and flourish while doing it."
Verrazano, owned by the partnership of Let's Go Stable, Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith, worked in company with Capo Bastone, who is unraced since a seventh-place finish in the Woody Stephens presented by NYRA Rewards (gr. II) June 8 at Belmont Park.
"Verrazano always goes in company," said Pletcher. "He's a little different personality than the other horse. I thought he went very well. His gallop-out was very good. We kind of flip-flopped their gallop-outs from last week. Palace Malice last week was a little bit stronger, so we wanted to do a little more on the day with Verrazano. We got what we were looking for."
The Travers will be the colts' second race at 1 1/4 miles after the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) in May. While Palace Malice faded to 12th after a setting a torrid pace in the Derby, he went on to prove victorious in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes. Following his 14th place finish in the Derby, Verrazano proceeded to win the Pegasus (gr. III) at 1 1/16 miles and the 1 1/8-mile Haskell.
"With the way the racetrack came up that day in the Haskell, I think any horse that could handle a mile and an eighth and finish up as strongly as he did that day can handle a mile and a quarter at Saratoga," said Pletcher in reference to Verrazano's effort at Monmouth. "That was a very deep, demanding track that day. I think a mile and a quarter shouldn't be an issue."
Pletcher noted that Verrazano, a son of More Than Ready , and Palace Malice, by Curlin , have similar pace-pressing running styles. He said he hopes that doesn't cause complications.
"It will come down to post positions and Johnny (Velazquez) and Mike (Smith) are going to have to make decisions on where they want to be. Hopefully, they don't get in each other's way, but each of them will have to run their own race to try and win. We'll talk about strategies for each individual horse, and those guys will have to sort it out."
Elsewhere, Whitney Invitational Handicap (gr. I) winner Cross Traffic recorded his first published work since his victory Aug. 3, zipping four furlongs in :47.83 in company with Forty Tales over the main track.
Pletcher is pointing Cross Traffic, a 4-year-old son of Unbridled's Song, toward the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) at 1 1/8 miles Aug. 31.
"He's been showing us pretty good energy here since the Whitney," Pletcher said of Cross Traffic, who also finished second by a nose to Sahara Sky in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) this year. "I actually feel like he's training better coming out of (the Whitney) than he was going into it, so we're trying to make sure the Woodward is the right spot. Certainly, the way he worked this morning indicated that he's coming out of the Whitney in good shape."
Pletcher's long-range goal is the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic Nov. 2. There is a chance Cross Traffic could be held back for the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) Sept. 28 at Belmont.
"So, that's the decision we have to make, whether to run back here or in the Jockey Club," Pletcher said. "Based on what we're seeing, it would be pretty hard not to run him back."
Forty Tales, winner of three straight graded stakes, is on track for a run in the Foxwoods King's Bishop (gr. I) at seven furlongs on Aug. 24, Pletcher said. He was timed in the same :47.83 for the half mile.
"It was an exceptional work for Forty Tales, who's not, generally, a very good work horse," Pletcher said. "Today, I thought he was really good."
Pletcher also worked 2012 juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby in company with Graydar , winner of the Donn Handicap (gr. I) who hasn't been out since taking the New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) in March.
Both traveled four furlongs in :49.02 on the main track.
"Both were in a similar situation in terms of fitness level, so I thought it worked out really well," Pletcher said.
Pletcher said he and Ed Stanco of King of Prussia Stable haven't decided whether Aug. 17 Alabama Stakes (gr. I) winner Princess of Sylmar will compete again in 2013, and, if she does, where she will make her next start.
"We just need to see how she comes back, how she trains, how her weight is, her disposition, attitude, and all the other things you evaluate horses with," said Pletcher. "She's run two very powerful races in four weeks time."
In her two starts prior to the Alabama, Princess of Sylmar posted a 38-1 upset in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) in May at Churchill Downs, and captured the TVG Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) in July at Saratoga.
If Pletcher and Stanco are content with how Princess of Sylmar exits the Alabama, she could make her next start in the Cotillion Stakes (gr. I) for 3-year-old fillies Sept. 21 at Parx Racing or the Beldame Invitational (gr. I) for fillies and mares Sept. 28 at Belmont.
"If we don't go in the Cotillion and she runs again, then the Beldame would be the next possibility," said Pletcher. "I don't think we're under any time crunch. We can give her a normal three days off and go back to the track, and play it by ear over the next couple of weeks."
Pletcher said Stanco intends to race Princess of Sylmar as a 4-year-old and maybe even as a 5-year-old.