Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

Posts Tagged ‘Belmont Stakes’

Palace Malice: Thrills & Chills

Posted by Brian Appleton on September 5, 2014

Post Parade - 2014 Whitney Stakes

Post Parade – 2014 Whitney Stakes

Horse racing fans know there’s nothing worse than opening up your email or web browser and reading a headline announcing the injury and subsequent retirement of a favorite horse. For me the last two years have been a blast, I’ve had the privilege along with thousands of other passionate racing fans, to watch, attend and share in the joy of a special colt named Palace Malice. Today that racetrack journey has sadly come to an end and I’m once again having a hard time saying goodbye to a horse that has grown to become one of my most beloved racing stars. For me Palace Malice became the kind of horse that transformed a feature race into so much more than just a competition, he became the sole reason I wanted to watch that race. It didn’t matter who the competition was or what the “experts” were saying, I was always convinced he could emerge victorious.

I’m not sure how many people can brag that they saw him win his maiden win. I did and it endeared him to me even more. Catching a future star winning their maiden is like winning the lottery of horse racing bragging rights for fans. It makes each race all the more gripping and each high and low so much more influential. I think I was destined to love Palace Malice from the beginning, seeing as I was such a huge fan of Curlin and already carried a sense of expectancy and hope that he would produce offspring that carried his heart and talent onto the track. Palace Malice’s sophomore season seemed plagued by horrible trips and not-quite-there performances that always had him coming up short of a win, but still garnering plenty of attention for his grit and determination in the face of adversity. His 7th place finish in the Louisiana Derby (Gr.2) after getting slammed, blocked and bounced around more than a ball in a Ping-Pong tournament was one of the best off-the-board finishes I have seen in my life. When he came back two weeks later to finish second by a nose in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (Gr.1) it was obvious to everyone that he had some serious racing chops and was going to have a strong presence in the three-year-old division.

The 2013 Belmont Stakes will always be one of my favorites. The 12th place performance of Palace Malice in the derby after setting insane fractions on the front-end all the way in the far turn at Churchill Downs seemed to have convinced most people that he couldn’t handle the pressure of racing in the Classics. Not only did he handle the pressure, Palace Malice rolled to a 3 ¼ length win with jockey Mike Smith at odds of almost 14-1. I remember sitting in my apartment watching the race unfold on television and slowly realizing that Palace Malice was looking stronger than any of the other runners in the race as the field navigated the far turn. “Curlin’s son is going to win the Belmont”, I said it under my breath at first, afraid to say it too loud. I said it again and again until finally I was shouting at the top of my lungs, my roommate covering his ears as I pounded the couch to a pulp and screamed it for all I was worth, “CURLIN’S SON IS GOING TO WIN THE BELMONT!”. Those are the kinds of moments that made Palace Malice so special. I could make a complete fool of myself, screaming my head off, pumping my fists and stomping my feet, but the euphoria and ecstasy of the moment would not abate. My horse was going to win. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wd-5c4l-iKs

After the Belmont Palace Malice thrilled with a victory in the Jim Dandy before running a game 4th in the Travers Stakes, but proving once again that he would run his heart out not matter the hand dealt to him. After that he was a clear but distant second behind a monster performance from Ron the Greek in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (Gr.1). In the Breeders’ Cup it appeared the effort of his long campaign had finally caught up with him. He finished 6th after a perfect stalking trip while Mucho Macho Man ran his heart out to defeat Will Take Charge by a nose. That performance most likely cost him the three-year-old championship to Will Take Charge but, I was still convinced he was the best.

If Palace Malice was good in 2013 he was absolutely brilliant in 2014. Right off the bat he won the Gulfstream Park Handicap (Gr.2), defeating a stubborn Golden Ticket by a head after a determined stretch-duel that had me once again screaming for him to succeed. Having your favorite horse return from a layoff to ace their first race back is an incredible feeling and makes the future look so bright. I remember boldly declaring he would go on to be Horse of the Year to anyone who would listen. After Gulfstream Palace Malice shipped to Louisiana and snatched a runaway victory in the New Orleans Handicap (Gr.2), defeating Normandy Invasion by more than 4 lengths. From New Orleans Palace Malice headed to Belmont and romped by 9 ¾ lengths in the Westchester Stakes (Gr.3) over a small field. It was little more than a paid workout that received criticism from many for its lack of competitive depth, but I was just thrilled to see him still winning and doing it easily. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hA2GA2ibdbo

The Metropolitan Mile might have been Palace Malice’s finest moment. It is a race that makes a colt a stallion many say and it most definitely increases a stallion prospects value tremendously. A strong field of 12 was entered for the Met Mile but Palace Malice stood out, even with the presence of Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (Gr.1) winner Goldencents in the field. Breaking from post number one Palace Malice ran just behind the lead set by Broadway Empire and Goldencents, inside of Clearly Now and Moreno. As the field came off the turn it was apparent that Goldencents had gotten the jump on Palace Malice as Broadway Empire began to fade, cutting off the path Palace Malice was traveling. John Velazquez masterfully guided Palace Malice to the outside of Broadway Empire and then drove through the opening between the rail and an accelerating Goldencents. Once he had clear running room Palace Malice charged ahead with a vengeance and seized the lead, winning by one length over Goldencents with Romansh just back in third. I’m pretty sure I reached an unseemly decibel with my shouts and screams of encouragement and excitement once Palace Malice got into high gear, one or two of the neighborhood dogs might even be hard of hearing now, but my euphoria couldn’t be contained after that brilliant performance. Now that some time has passed the Met Mile field has proven to be an even stronger in retrospect. Moreno went on to win the Whitney and finish a close second in the Woodward, both Grade 1 events, while Goldencents romped to victory in the Pat O’Brien Stakes (Gr.2) at Del Mar, setting a track record in the process and Clearly Now won the Belmont Sprint Championship Stakes (Gr.3) over Palace by more than 6 lengths. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YoL-0tfRLic

Sadly Palace Malice finished a fading 6th in his final race, the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga Racecourse. Moreno went gate-to-wire over Itsmyluckyday and Will Take Charge to capture the Grade 1 event and while it was immensely disappointing to see such a lackluster performance from Palace Malice, it seems obvious now that he was not quite himself. Owner Cot Campbell said they performed a scintigraphy and discovered a bone bruise in his left hind cannon bone after the Whitney. Unfortunately it could endanger Palace Malice by running again so they made the courageous and appropriate decision to retire him. The Bloodhorse reported that Cambell said, “His career has been a wonderful thing at this stage of my career; I’ve enjoyed it to the utmost. I’d like it to continue, but he doesn’t owe us a thing.”
I echo the sentiments of Mr. Cambell in saying that I’d like the Palace Malice trip to keep on going and never end, but all good things must come to an end. Now he enters phase two of his career with a stellar list of accomplishments and legions of adoring fans that will never forget the thrills and chills he gave us. Maybe one day I’ll be able to visit him at stud and fawn over him in person.

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Posted in Curlin, Palace Malice | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

144th Travers a Star-Studded Event

Posted by Brian Appleton on August 22, 2013

2013 Travers Stakes The 144th Travers Stakes presents a unique case for the die-hard racing fan this year: it is impossibly easy to promote. For those of us that spend the better part of our 365 days a year checking the Blood Horse, Daily Racing Form, and social media sites on a daily basis for news on our beloved hooved heroes, only to struggle when it comes time to explain just how amazing a race like the Travers Stakes, Alabama, Haskell or Jim Dandy Stakes are to the “fair weather fans” who have just a vague recollection of the Kentucky Derby winner, sometimes the Preakness winner and almost never the Belmont winner, the 2013 Travers Stakes is a dream come true.

The 2013 Travers features Palace Malice, Orb and Verrazano all in the same race. Now that they’re all entered in the same race, the trouble is trying to decide on a favorite, or better yet, separating the favorites and choosing just one to win. I for one am solidly behind Palace Malice yet again. Since winning the Belmont Stakes on June 8th this son of Curlin has done everything right, even going on to capture the Jim Dandy Stakes last month in the 2nd fastest running since the race was shortened to its current 1 1/8 mile distance in 1972. Trainer Todd Pletcher can’t seem to find enough praise for the bay colt these days and has been very pleased with the way he has trained since the Jim Dandy. The fact that Palace Malice comes off two straight graded stakes wins in two of the biggest 3-year-old races in the nation, is 2-for-2 at Saratoga and seems to still be improving makes him the horse to beat in my eyes. Plus the Jim Dandy has proven to be the most effective prep race for the Travers Stakes, especially in recent years.

It’s no secret that Todd Pletcher’s stable is loaded with incredible talent this year and the fact that he has both Palace Malice and Verrazano in the same year in the same race is incredible. Verrazano has only one defeat to his name, a 14th place finish in the 1 ¼ mile Kentucky Derby when he received a gash above his knee leaving the gate and then failed to mount any sort of challenge. Since beginning his career in January at Gulfstream Park, he has won his 6 races by a combined 46 ¾ lengths while racking up two Grade 1 wins, as well as a Grade 2 and a Grade 3 victory. A lot of people have expressed concern about his ability to get the distance because of his pedigree, but I firmly believe a good horse can overcome their pedigree, and Verrazano is a good horse. I just don’t think he’s as good as Palace Malice right now.

Orb has been away from the races ever since finishing third behind Palace Malice and Oxbow in the Belmont Stakes, resting up at Fair Hill before returning to the work tab in early July. After rattling off 5 straight wins earlier in the year, culminating in a Kentucky Derby romp before finishing a disappointing 4th in the Preakness Stakes we were practically ready to hand him the 3-year-old Male Championship. That has all changed now, the Kentucky Derby winner is now the underdog. That alone says a lot for how loaded the field is in the Travers. Of all the contestants lining up to take a run at Saratoga’s premier race for sophomore colts, Orb has posted the best workouts hands down. Three straight bullet works, each as impressive as the last makes me think Orb and trainer Shug McGaughey are out to prove something. If I’m being honest I’d have to say that Orb scares me more than Verrazano right now and I think he’s going to present the biggest challenge to Palace Malice.

The “Big Three” might be the ones stealing all the headlines and probably make up for about 90% of bettors selections in the Travers, but one of them winning is by no means a done deal. Will Take Charge, Moreno, War Dancer, Ramansh, Transparent and Golden Soul make up the remainder of the field and at least four of them seem capable of springing an upset. Will Take Charge seems most likely to benefit from the added distance of the 1 ¼ mile Travers while Moreno seems like the one that could most be negatively affected by the added distance. Will Take Charge ran a great race to earn second in the Jim Dandy, rallying from far back to miss catching Palace Malice by one length. He had a terrible run in the Triple Crown, but seems to have turned things around after his promising run in the Jim Dandy.

Moreno won the Dwyer Stakes impressively before finishing a tiring third as the initial pacesetting in the Jim Dandy and despite trainer Eric Guillot’s comments regarding the colts ability to win the Travers I doubt he can carry his speed over the 1 ¼ mile distance. If he couldn’t keep up at 1 1/8 miles I don’t think he’s going to stop Palace Malice, Orb, Verrazano or even Will Take Charge at 1 ¼ miles.

War Dancer seems to be the most logical longshot pick after Will Take Charge, but I think Palace Malice, Orb and Verrazano are still at the head of this class. There’s nothing we racing fans love more than a showdown of our top athletes and with three of the nation’s very best in the same starting gate on Saturday it promises to be just that. The 2013 Travers Stakes is going to be an amazing race and I’m going with Palace Malice all the way. It’s not Saturday yet, but with only three days left before the 144th running of the “Midsummers Derby” at beautiful old Saratoga, this dream lineup of champion-caliber colts is about as close to happening as you can get.

Posted in Belmont Stakes, Curlin, Kentucky Derby, Moreno, Orb, Palace Malice, Preakness Stakes, Saratoga Racetrack, Travers Stakes, Triple Crown, Verrazano, Will Take Charge | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Summer Campaigns Begin

Posted by Brian Appleton on June 24, 2013

verrazano Summer is here and so is the next phase of the racing season. The sophomore class of 2013 has made their Triple Crown bids and are now targeting the country’s most prestigious stakes races for their summer campaigns. As the season stands now Oxbow and Orb should be considered the leaders of the division due to their Classic wins and consistent performances throughout the year. Contrary to what many seem to think, I believe this crop is actually pretty good and has proven to be very durable. Orb and Oxbow both ran four times in 2013 before the Derby and then competed in all three legs of the Triple Crown. Even Palace Malice, who skipped the Preakness Stakes, ran four times before the Derby including just 2 weeks between his disastrous Louisiana Derby run and his strong Toyota Blue Grass Stakes runner-up effort. Running four times before the Derby isn’t a spectacular feat, but coming through the first half of the year and the Triple Crown season without any serious injuries and always performing well is admirable.

Verrazano began the summer season for this crop with a scintillating 9 ¼ length win in the Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes that was sadly marred by the injury of Itsmyluckyday. The More Than Ready colt ran the 1 1/16 mile distance in a very solid time of 1:41.72. Visually it was a very flashy win, but with Itsmyluckyday being taken out of contention with the injury it was basically a paid workout for Verrazano, so there wasn’t really a challenge to measure his worth coming off his 14th place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Still, there is the good running time to take into consideration and it was just a prep race for the Haskell Invitational Stakes on July 28th so his real test will come at the end of next month. He is a dynamic runner with a large fan base so it would be nice to see him come back with a big win in the Haskell, plus it would make the battle for leadership of the division even more intriguing.

Three of the runners from the Belmont Stakes have returned to the worktab in the past week, including Belmont victor Palace Malice who breezed an easy :49.45 half mile for trainer Todd Pletcher on Sunday at Belmont Park. Pletcher remarked that he felt that the son of Curlin was “just telling me to give [him] a breeze,” so just two weeks after his victory in the Belmont Stakes Palace Malice has begun his preparation for the Jim Dandy Stakes (Gr.2) on July 27th. This colt makes me like him more and more; he has Curlin for a sire, runs his heart out every time he hits the track and is apparently full of energy and raring to go just two weeks after the biggest race of his life. I can’t wait for the Jim Dandy Stakes to see what he’s capable of after garnering his first big win.

Dreaming of Julia failed to live up to her reputation once again on Saturday and this time there was no excuse for her distant second place finish behind the brilliant Close Hatches in the Mother Goose Stakes. The result was a huge surprise to me. Not that I doubted the talent or ability of Close Hatches, (I even remarked to a friend that if there was an upset Close Hatches was the only one I’d pick) it was just that the talent Dreaming of Julia flashed in the Gulfstream Park Oaks was so huge that my opinion of her ability was bloated beyond proportion. She ran a decent second, but Close Hatches stole the show with her powerful 7 ¼ length win. The First Defence filly proved that the undefeated record she lost in the wake of her 7th place finish in the Kentucky Oaks, was no fluke. Her final time of 1:41.36 for the 1 1/16 mile distance was very solid and the top three fillies finished 1-2-3 so I think her win is a legitimate one based on her own ability and not a factor of Dreaming of Julia’s falling short. The 3-year-old filly division is just as dynamic and confusing as the 3-year-old male division now and is shaping up for a very exciting summer season.

Posted in Belmont Park, Belmont Stakes, Close Hatches, Curlin, Dreaming of Julia, Gulfstream Park Oaks, Haskell Invitational Stakes, Itsmyluckyday, Jim Dandy, Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks, Mother Goose Stakes, Orb, Oxbow, Palace Malice, Pegasus Stakes, Preakness Stakes, Triple Crown, Verrazano | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Miraculous Return of Paynter

Posted by Brian Appleton on June 12, 2013

In horse racing as with every other sport, events come and go quickly and once some of the bigger events have passed the fans are always looking forward to the next best thing. With the 2013 Triple Crown season now behind us and three new classic winners added to the ranks, American race fans have their sights set forward to the summer campaigns of our biggest stars. A 7-Furlong Allowance race for non-winners of three races at Betfair Hollywood Park wouldn’t warrant a second glance on most days to the casual fan, but this Friday marks the miraculous return of Paynter. Last year after I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister stole most of the spotlight on the Triple Crown trail, Union Rags had to duke it out with a brilliant and lightly raced colt named Paynter in the Belmont Stakes to finally claim his classic glory.

Right off the bat Paynter showed the racing world that he was a serious athlete by breaking his maiden at Santa Anita in mid-February by more than 4 lengths. In his very next start he finished about four lengths behind I’ll Have Another in fourth in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby and then returned 21 days later to finish a good second in the Grade 3 Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial Stakes. Returned to the track one month later, Paynter smoked an allowance field at Pimlico by almost six lengths and it was on to the Belmont Stakes.

The Belmont is where Paynter’s talent truly began to shine through. He seized control of the pace the second the gates sprang open and maintained a tenacious lead into the first turn and down the backstretch. When Unstoppable U attempted to move onto even terms approaching the final turn Paynter very decisively pulled a half-length ahead. Leading the field into the final turn Paynter and jockey Mike Smith looked to be in serious danger of losing the lead to My Adonis rallying on the outside and Union Rags scraping the rails on the inside. As the contenders came roaring into the homestretch the rally of my Adonis moved him onto even terms with Paynter. But Paynter refused to yield and courageously pulled ahead by a full length. It wasn’t until Union Rags snuck up on the inside and just managed to win by a head on the wire that Paynter relinquished the lead. In all but the final few strides of the 1 ½ mile event, Paynter held off every challenge and proved how courageous and determined he was. We hadn’t seen the half of it.

In late July Paynter returned win the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational Stakes in a romp. He was now a legitimate and highly respected colt with a bright and promising future. But the best laid plans went seriously awry. After winning the Haskell, Paynter spiked a fever that knocked him out of consideration for the Travers Stakes. He was sent to a clinic to determine the cause and was diagnosed with a serious case of Colitis. On September 4th, 2012 the terrible news was released the Paynter had been diagnosed with a quickly advancing case of Laminitis, a deadly disease among horses and one that claimed the life of famed Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. The news took the racing world by shock and Paynter became the center of a well-spring of prayers and get well wishes. Owner Ahmed Zayat announced that three of Paynter’s four legs had been infected with Laminitis, making his “worst nightmares” come true. The next 24 hours were critical in the treatment of the disease and Paynter was monitored very closely. In addition to the Laminitis, Paynter was still battling his Colitis and as a result was suffering from clotting in his veins due to low protein. Several days passed with cautiously optimistic evaluations regarding Paynter’s condition, but nothing definitive was released.

On September 21, 2012 Ahmed Zayat released the heartwarming news that Paynter had beaten his Laminitis. His battle to live now appeared far more hopeful and while he was still weak and being treated for his Colitis, the fact that Paynter showed the resilience and will to live to beat Laminitis in less than a month speaks volumes for his stature and the skill and loving care he received during his recovery. Sadly Paynter’s woes did not end there. Just a few weeks later Paynter underwent surgery to remove a 15-inch growth discovered on his intestines. Once again he pulled through in good condition and remained stable throughout the healing process. By the end of the year Paynter had fully recovered from his Colitis and it was announced that he would return to training and attempt a racing comeback.

On December 26, 2012 Paynter was announced as the winner of the 2012 Secretariat Vox Populi Award after some serious campaigning by the fans to have his name added to the list of nominees. The same day he arrived at the barns of trainer Bob Baffert in California to begin the slow process of regaining his form. On January 17, 2013 Paynter’s recovery from Laminitis and Colitis was voted the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s “Moment of the Year” by the fans.

Paynter’s return to the track is nothing less than miraculous and is something that strikes a chord in every horse lovers heart. This colt has the heart and spirit of a true champion to go through all the pain and suffering that he endured to arrive full circle back on the track. His resilience and determination is a precious gift to the racing world that cannot be underestimated. Whether his finishes first or last on Friday, Paynter is a winner in my book.

Posted in Horse Racing, Paynter, Thoroughbred Horse Racing | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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