It isn't often that bettors find a Todd Pletcher-trained runner sent off at high odds, but on past performances alone, Gala Award didn't exactly figure to ace the $150,000 Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream Park March 1 (VIDEO).
The 3-year-old Bernardini runner had just two starts under his belt and only one in 2014, a three-quarter-length maiden special weight score as the even-money favorite going 1 1/16 miles on the Gulfstream turf Jan. 20. In his previous outing, he finished second at 10-1 when making his debut at the same distance on the same surface at the South Florida oval Dec. 7.
Then again, Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith went to a hefty $1,550,000 for the colt at the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale. He was bred in Kentucky by Bill Currin out of the Carson City mare Wilshewed, and is a half brother to grade I winner and sire Stormello. He is also a half to My Best Brother, who took the 2012 Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT).
When no one told Gala Award he was taking a big step up into graded stakes conditions, he enjoyed the stretch-out to 1 1/8 miles and rewarded his connections—and those who backed him at 8-1—with his debut graded stakes win.
"It is a big jump and I think it says a lot about his quality," Pletcher said. "He's been improving. His dirt works have improved a lot. I'm not going to rule out something like the dirt or the Blue Grass (gr. I). I think with today's effort he put everything in play and we'll see where we go from here."
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez kept Gala Award close to the pace set by 5-2 favorite Storming Inti, who led through fractions of :23.90, :48.25, and 1:11.42 before rolling into the stretch under Javier Castellano. Gala Award raced third in the three path and rallied to gain a slim lead inside the eighth pole after a mile in 1:34.57, then was all out to hold off the late charge of Mr Speaker. That rival, closing with a good run after being steadied in the early going, missed the victory by half a length. Storming Inti held a neck back for third.
"It was a perfect trip," Velazquez said. "He did everything that Todd said he would do. He said he'd place himself pretty forwardly and that I had to make sure to get after him a little bit early, because the horse that Javier was riding (Stormin Inti) was a fighter. When he gets there, he likes to hang a little bit, but he put in a good fight today."
"I'm very proud of this horse," Pletcher said. "It seems like he's been improving leaps and bounds over the winter. We felt like his maiden race was strong enough from a figure standpoint to take a shot and the mile and an eighth would suit him, and it worked out really well."
Gala Award paid $18, $8, and $4.60 while Mr Speaker brought $5.20 and $3.20. Storming Inti returned $2.80, while Pleuven, Can'thelpbelieving, My Storm Trooper, Cabo Cat, Morning Calm, So Lonesome, Patent, Smart Cover, and Two Jacks Wild completed the order of finish. Ring Weekend, entered for the main track only, scratched.
Gala Award has earned $123,180 in his three starts.