New York-bred Palace , formerly a $20,000 claimer, earned his first grade I victory for owner Antonino Miuccio and trainer Linda Rice in the $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt (gr. I) Aug. 2 at Saratoga Race Course (VIDEO).
Reeling in 8-5 favorite Happy My Way in the final sixteenth of the six-furlong test after that rival set the pace throughout, Palace closed from second on a fast track to finish six furlongs over a fast track in 1:08.56 under jockey Cornelio Velasquez. Palace topped $1 million in career earnings with the victory.
Velasquez gave Palace a ground-saving trip from post 1 behind Happy My Way's quarter in :22.13 and a half in :44.49, then shifted outside to grind down the center of the track with the tiring front-runner in his sights. Five-eighths went in :56.15 as the 5-year-old son of City Zip trailed by two lengths, but Palace surged in deep stretch to carry him past by one length.
Happy My Way held for second, while Falling Sky was third, 2 1/2lengths farther back, with a mild inside bid.
"I was a little concerned about the number 1 post position; it's not ideal," Rice said. "It looked like he broke a step slow, so I was a little concerned at that point. It looked like the No. 5 horse, Happy My Way, was on a loose lead. Obviously, I was somewhat concerned, but this horse is such a competitor. He's got the heart of a lion.
"This horse really has a strong finish, and once he switched to his right lead and he was in reach of (Happy My Way)—he's such a tremendous competitor—I knew that he would get to him."
Palace came off a third-place finish in the July 7 Belmont Sprint Championship Stakes (gr. III) and prior to that won the June 6 True North Stakes (gr. II), both at Belmont Park. He also owns a victory in the 2013 Fall Highweight Handicap (gr. III), earned at Aqueduct Racetrack last November.
Off at odds of 2-1, Palace paid $6.20, $3.20, and $2.50. Happy My Way returned $3.20 and $2.60, and Falling Sky brought $3.90.
Trainer Joe Orseno said the Vanderbilt effort under jockey Joe Bravo was a good one from Happy My Way. The 4-year-old Florida-bred Wilko gelding hadn't raced for Mel Paikoff Stables and Sagamore Farm since notching his first graded victory in the May 17 Maryland Sprint Handicap (gr. III) at Pimlico Race Course.
"Very happy with that," Orseno said. "I said all along, he needed a freshener. We were going to do it now. We gave him 2 1/2 months off (after) that last race. I did not lean on him very hard to get him ready for this because my big picture is (the Breeders' Cup in) November. I told Joe, 'Nurse him along as far as you can, but you've got to have some horse left.'
"Again, the grand scheme of things for me is November. He proves today he belongs. I'm ecstatic. Of course we'd like to win, but all the connections understand what we did and where we're at. I'm very happy with the horse."
"I was concerned about the scratch of Bakken," Rice remarked. "There wasn't as much pace in the race as the True North. There was a lot of speed in the (True North), which caused me to run him with only a few breezes. Today there was a lack of speed in the race, but he's so tactical."
Peter J. Callaghan Revocable Trust bred Palace out of the End Sweep mare Receivership. The bay horse was a $160,000 purchase by Doug Cauthen from the 2011 Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s 2011 March selected sale of 2-year-olds in training when consigned by Crupi's New Castle Farm, agent.
He raced four times for WinStar Farm and Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott before he was claimed by Rice in a maiden heat at Belmont in October 2012.
The Vanderbilt victory improved his record to 10-5-2 from 20 starts for earnings of $1,009,550. Among his other victories are the 2013 Chowder's First Stakes over grade I winner The Lumber Guy, and the restricted Hudson Handicap at Belmont last October.
According to Rice, Palace could be a contender for the Aug. 30 Forego Stakes (gr. I) near the end of the season at Saratoga.
"I was just trying to get to today," she said. "I know the next spot at Saratoga is seven furlongs (in the Forego). If he's training well into it, we still might give it a try, even though I think three-quarters is a better distance for him. We'll see how it turns out."