Dogwood Stable's Palace Malice, on the shelf since an even sixth-place finish in the 2013 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), showed no signs of rust with a gritty victory in the $250,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) March 8 at the Florida racetrack (VIDEO).
With John Velazquez riding for trainer Todd Pletcher, Palace Malice rallied from fifth early in the one-mile race to take command in the lane. He lost the lead to the rallying Uncaptured, but came back along the rail to defeat a closing Golden Ticket by a head. Uncaptured finished a half-length back in third after his big move.
The early fractions, set by the battling Falling Sky and Itsmyluckyday, were :23.34 for the opening quarter-mile and :45.46 for the half-mile. Palace Malice took over on the far turn and had the lead through six furlongs in 1:09.21 as the top pair began to fade, and the winner completed the one mile in a sharp 1:33.80 on a fast track.
Palace Malice, the favorite, paid $4.60, $3, and $2.20. Golden Ticket returned $5.20 and $3.40, while Uncaptured paid $4.80 to show. The exacta paid $23 and the trifecta returned $87.80 in the seven-horse field.
Palace Malice, winner of last year's Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) as a 3-year-old, is by Curlin out of the Royal Anthem mare Palace Rumor. He was bred in Kentucky by William S. Farish.
"He pressed solid fractions, and was carrying top weight and went a little wide," Pletcher said. "It looked like they took a couple big runs at him and he fought back. It was a heck of a horse race and a huge effort off the layoff.
"Those are good horses, too. You've got a Travers Stakes (gr. I) winner and a Prince of Wales winner and the runner-up in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). It was a good race, I thought."
Pletcher said he and Dogwood chief Cot Campbell talked and are considering the Metropolitan Mile (gr. I) at Belmont Park as an early-season goal.
"I was delighted with today," Campbell said. "It's a good feeling to see him come back like this in his first race in four months. He was tested pretty severely. I thought (Golden Ticket) would run by him, but he fought back."
Velazquez said he expected Palace Malice, who started from the outside post in a field of seven, to be wide on the backstretch.
"That's where we wanted to be anyway," he said. "That's where we broke. We had a great position and we wanted to make sure we kept our position. The only thing was that I didn't want to be that close. Once he got to the top of the stretch he kind of idled a little bit and kind of got surprised by the horses on the outside of him, but I got after him and he responded right away.
"He got to the front and thought he was finished, basically. (Uncaptured) came on the outside of him and surprised him, but he got back into the game. I hit him and he responded. He was very gutsy."
Palace Malice cleared $1.5 million in earnings with the victory. The colt now has four wins, four seconds, and one third in 13 starts.