Whitney Invitational (gr. I) winner Moreno could next run in the $600,000 Woodward Stakes (gr. I) Aug. 30 at Saratoga Race Course, or he could be given a breather until the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), trainer Eric Guillot said.
Moreno was in a sprightly mood the morning of Aug. 3 following his wire-to-wire triumph in the 1 1/8-mile Whitney at odds of 10-1 the previous evening.
What's next for Moreno is undecided, but Guillot, still savoring the biggest victory of his training career, pondered a few different options outside his barn Sunday.
"We'll look at the Woodward, or maybe give him a break and point to the Jockey Club Gold Cup," he said. "It's a million-dollar race at 1 1/4 miles; he ran huge in the Suburban (when second prior to the Whitney). From the 11 hole those fractions were very fast. I think 1 1/4 miles is his best distance."
The Jockey Club Gold Cup is Sept. 27 at Belmont Park.
Moreno's landmark victory was a long time in the making. It took the Ghostzapper gelding 10 starts to break his maiden, which he did over a muddy track on June 8, 2013, at Belmont Park. He then followed up the performance with a seven-length win in the Dwyer (gr. II) at Belmont, but had lost in eight starts thereafter.
Despite that, Guillot, who trains Moreno for Mike Moreno under the Southern Equine Stable banner, was not surprised by the breakthrough 1 1/4-length victory.
"We finally got the fractions we needed," said Guillot. "I don't think this was a new peak for him. He was already at his peak."
Guillot is hopeful that his charge is on a Horse of the Year trajectory, but admits that he'll have to do more to earn the honor.
"Palace Malice already has four graded stakes victories and a win in the Met Mile," said Guillot. "I think we need to win the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I)."
Moreno has sewn up an expenses-paid starting berth in the BC Classic as part of the "Win & You're In" challenge series that includes the Whitney.
Meanwhile, Palace Malice remains on course for the Woodward, trainer Todd Pletcher said the morning after the Whitney.
Pletcher admitted he is still mystified following the multiple grade I winner's disappointing sixth-place effort as the 3-5 favorite.
Unbeaten in four 2014 starts to become a clear leader of the older horse division for Dogwood Stable, the 4-year-old son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin was in position while racing third but faded through the stretch, beaten 10 3/4 lengths by Moreno.
"It is a head-scratcher," said Pletcher. "Everything we've seen so far indicates that he came out of it well. He cooled out sound, he scoped clean, he ate up last night, his temperature is normal, and he's sound this morning.
"We'll pull some bloodwork on him later in the week and see if that reveals anything. If that doesn't, I don't know what to do other than regroup and start training again."
Three of Palace Malice's four races this year had come at one mile, and he also won the New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) at 1 1/8 miles March 29.
"We thought we would come away in a stalking-type position and we got to that point," said Pletcher, "but at the same time, as I was watching the race unfold I never felt like he was taking Johnny anywhere. At the top of the stretch when they snuck away, it was pretty obvious at that point (he wasn't going to win). I still felt like in the middle of the turn he started to make a little bit of an impact."
The Whitney marked the biggest margin of defeat for Palace Malice since he was 12th, beaten 13 1/2 lengths, in the 2013 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). He came back five weeks later to capture the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) at 12 furlongs.
"Sometimes they throw in a dud, and right now it looks like that's what he did," said Pletcher. "We'll have to continue to check him over and see, but right now we'll just try again."