Though the race is on the grass, the $150,000 Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles March 3 at Gulfstream Park has the potential to serve as a springboard to the Triple Crown trail .
The race, the only graded stakes in the U.S. Sunday, is the 10th on the the Gulfstream card with a 5:35 p.m. EST scheduled post.
Charming Kitten, impressive when winning the Kitten's Joy Stakes at Gulfstream Jan. 20, a race named for his sire, will likely be favored to add the Palm Beach to his growing resume.
Jockey John R. Velazquez will be back aboard Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Kentucky homebred for trainer Todd Pletcher in the field of 11 3-year-olds. Prior to his one-length win in the 1 1/16-mile Kitten's Joy, Charming Kitten finished second after racing wide on the far turn as the favorite in the Dania Beach Stakes over the course Dec. 15.
Charming Kitten has the top weight assignment of 120 pounds, four more than each of his 10 rivals. He starts from post 9.
In three starts last season, Charming Kitten won his debut on turf at Saratoga Race Course, finished third in the With Anticipation Stakes (gr. IIT) at the Spa, and ninth in the Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland in early October on Polytrack, although beaten only 4 1/4 lengths for it all.
Charming Kitten is by the Ramseys' 2004 Eclipse champion turf runner. Kitten's Joy won the Palm Beach early that year when his regular rider was Jerry Bailey.
When asked if a good effort in the Palm Beach could tempt Ramsey to send Charming Kitten into a major Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) preview next, Ramsey replied, "We considered trying to go to the Derby with Kitten's Joy. Jerry Bailey was riding him early that year and he said 'He just doesn't have the same kick on dirt,' and recommended keeping him on turf. It turned out to be good advice.
"The Derby is very much on my bucket list and we'll see how he does in the race Sunday and discuss the possibilities with Todd. We'll do what's right for the horse."
The Ramseys will have another runner in the Palm Beach with their Illinois homebred Amen Kitten, also a son of Kitten's Joy. Trained by Wesley Ward, Amen Kitten broke his maiden last out over the course Jan. 11 in his seventh start for a $75,000 claiming tag.
Making his stakes debut, Team Stallion Racing Stable and partners' Rydilluc is expected to attract plenty of support in the Palm Beach. Edgar Prado, who has been aboard the Medaglia d'Oro colt for victories in his past two starts by a combined 10 1/4 lengths, has the return call for trainer Gary Contessa.
Purchased for $150,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Eastern May 2-year-old sales at Timonium, Rydilluc won his first-level allowance over the course by 5 3/4 lengths Jan. 5. He broke his maiden on turf at Aqueduct Racetrack Nov. 25 after a fifth-place main track debut sprinting at Belmont Park in mid-October.
"The Palm Beach has been the long-range plan for him for about two months," said Contessa, who recently topped the 2,000 career victory plateau in a race in New York. "He has trained fantastic this winter and Edgar is very high on him. In fact he's gotten in his car and driven up to Palm Meadows to be on him every time he's worked.
"He trained so good on dirt before his first start I thought he'd gallop, but he never even got involved. Then we said, 'Maybe he's a turf horse,' and he was very impressive winning his second start. However, we still haven't ruled out anything and he still could be on the Derby Trail. If things go well in the Palm Beach we'll consider the Spiral Stakes 20 days later and I wouldn't rule out the Blue Grass as a back-up."
The $550,000 Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes (gr. III) will be run at Turfway Park going 1 1/8 miles March 23. The $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), also at 1 1/8 miles, is at Keeneland April 13.
Another highly-regarded contender in the field that may use the Palm Beach as a step to a start next in a major Derby preview is Siena Stable's Dewey Square. Leading Gulfstream jockey Javier Castellano is aboard for trainer Dale Romans, who sent out Paddy O'Prado to win the 2010 edition of the Palm Beach on the way to a third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby that spring following a runner-up effort in the Blue Grass.
A Kentucky homebred by Bernardini , Dewey Square came to Gulfstream for the winter as a potential Derby contender. He had a three-race juvenile campaign that concluded with a rallying third in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) going 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs in late November.
Dewey Square made his 3-year-old debut in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) on dirt Jan. 26 and was never a factor. Suggestions after the race were that he resented kickback and may not have handled the track. Romans later reiterated his faith in Dewey Square as a top prospect, but altered his schedule while indicating a good effort in the Palm Beach would likely earn him a start in the Blue Grass.
Romans also sends out Siena Farms' Summit County with Corey Lanerie named to ride. The homebred son of Any Given Saturday finished sixth last out behind Charming Kitten in the Kitten's Joy after a first-level allowance victory over the course Dec. 19. Summit County set the pace for three-quarters in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IT) at Santa Anita Park Nov. 3 before tiring to 12th.
Augustin Stable's Pennsylvania homebred gelding Holiday Star appears to be hitting his best stride coming into the Palm Beach with victories in his past two starts, including an allowance win on the lawn at Gulfstream Jan. 26. Jockey Joe Rocco Jr. will be in the saddle for trainer Graham Motion. The son of Harlan's Holiday broke his his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs in mid-December.
$150,000 Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT, Race 10, 5:35 p.m.), 3YOs, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Saturday Special (KY), L Saez, 116, J Pinchin
2. Squall King (KY), J Lezcano, 116, D L Romans
3. Dad'z Laugh (FL), P Lopez, 116, D Chaparro
4. Dewey Square (KY), J Castellano, 116, D L Romans
5. Rydilluc (KY), E S Prado, 116, G C Contessa
6. Reporting Star (FL), E O Nunez, 116, K O'Connell
7. Quinzieme Monarque (KY), J Rosario, 116, T Albertrani
8. Amen Kitten (IL), E Trujillo, 116, W A Ward
9. Charming Kitten (KY), J R Velazquez, 120, T A Pletcher
10. Holiday Star (PA), J Rocco Jr., 116, H G Motion
11. Summit County (KY), C J Lanerie, 116, D L Romans