Palace Malice won the 2014 Gulfstream Park Handicap. <br><a target="blank" href="!i=3112265326&k=NhwzNDM">Order This Photo</a>

Palace Malice won the 2014 Gulfstream Park Handicap.
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Westchester: Palace Malice Preps for Met Mile

Just three opponents to face 2013 Belmont Stakes winner in one-mile test May 11.

Just three opponents have signed on to face Palace Malice  in the $150,000 Westchester Stakes (gr. III) May 11, when the 2013 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner returns to Belmont Park.

Unbeaten in two graded stakes starts this year, Palace Malice is the 3-5 morning-line favorite in the one-mile Westchester, the first of three graded stakes on the Mother's Day program at Belmont.

Fox Sports 1 will show the Westchester, which was carded as race 3 with a scheduled post time of 2:24 p.m. EDT, on tape delay during a broadcast that also will include live presentations of the $400,000 Man o' War (gr. IT) and $250,000 Ruffian (gr. II).

Owned by Dogwood Stable, Palace Malice won his first graded stakes when he posted a 3 1/4-length triumph in the Belmont Stakes at 13-1 in June. He followed that score with a one-length victory in the Jim Dandy (gr. II) in July at Saratoga Race Course.

In his final three starts as a 3-year-old, Palace Malice missed by three-quarters of a length in the Travers (gr. i) in August, was 6 3/4 lengths in arrears when second to Ron the Greek in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) in September at Belmont, and was sixth, beaten seven lengths, in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) in November at Santa Anita Park.

In his 4-year-old debut March 8, Palace Malice successfully cut back to one turn when he pressed the pace, led briefly with three-sixteenths to travel, and came back on the inside after being passed to win the one-mile Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) by a head. Three weeks later, the son of Curlin  easily defeated Normandy Invasion  when he romped by 4 3/4 lengths around two turns in the 1 1/8-mile New Orleans Handicap (gr. II).

Trainer Todd Pletcher said he and Cot Campbell of Dogwood Stable selected the Westchester for Palace Malice's next race because it would set up the colt for a start in the $1.25 million Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) June 7, Belmont Stakes Day.

"We felt like it made sense to run him between the New Orleans Handicap and the Met, and we felt like the Westchester made a lot of sense," said Pletcher. "If he performs well in the Westchester it would add confidence that the Met is the right race for him. If he were to not run wellwhich I don't anticipate will be the casethen maybe we could go in another direction, like the Brooklyn (gr. II)."

The $200,000 Brooklyn Invitational, also June 7, will be contested at 1 1/2 miles.

"It's rare you have so many options with one horse, but he's already proven he can win anywhere from 6 1/2 furlongs to a mile and a half. He's already won at a mile this year, and we want us to put ourselves in a good position for the Met. Hopefully, the Whitney (gr. I) would be a big goal after that."

Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez, aboard Palace Malice in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, will be reunited with the bay colt Sunday. Palace Malice drew post 3 and will tote 123 pounds.

Pletcher also entered WinStar Farm and Twin Creeks Racing's Red Rifle, who won the Maxxam Gold Cup by 2 3/4 lengths in March. Most recently, he was ninth over Polytrack at Keeneland in the Ben Ali (gr. III) April 12.

Declan's Warrior , victorious in the 2013 Bay Shore (gr. III), seeks his first win since taking the Gygistar overnight stakes one year ago. He was subsequently fifth in the Amsterdam (gr. II) and was eased in the King's Bishop (gr. I) to conclude his 3-year-old season. In his 2014 debut, he led in the stretch and yielded late when second by three-quarters of a length in a starter allowance March 20 at Gulfstream.

"We've been looking at the Westchester since he ran in Florida," said Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito, who saddles Declan's Warrior for his wife Kim's Lucky Shamrock Stable. "We decided to stick with the plan even after Palace Malice was pointed to the race. (Declan's Warrior) made a good run first time off the layoff, and we hope to have a good year with him. We want to see if he can stretch out, and a one-mile race is a way to go."

Declan's Warrior, 8-1, drew post 1 and will also pack 123 pounds. Joe Bravo has the call.

I'm Steppin' It Up, who prevailed by 3 1/4 lengths in an allowance/optional claiming race March 23 at Calder Casino & Race Course, completes the field.

$150,000 Westchester Stakes (gr. III, Race 3, 2:22 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 Mile
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Declan's Warrior (KY), J Bravo, 123,    N P Zito, 8/1
2. I'm Steppin' It Up (FL), J C Caraballo, 117, A Pecoraro, 20/1
3. Palace Malice (KY), J R Velazquez, 123, T A Pletcher, 3/5
4. Red Rifle (KY), J Castellano, 121, T A Pletcher, 10/1