Saturday Palace Malice returned to the track, three weeks after his tough Gulfstream Park Handicap win. This time, it was a shot at the Grade II New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds, at 1 1/8 miles. It had only been three weeks since his last race, but two other factors seemed to weigh in his favour pre-race: it was his second off the winter lay, and this race was a furlong longer than the Gulfstream Park Handicap.
The start didn’t bode perfectly. Palace Malice was a bit fractious in the gate, and wide early as a result of breaking from the outside gate in the field of six. Mike Smith rode him beautifully, though: he got Palace Malice in a nice stalking place a few lengths off Bradester’s pace come the backstretch, and pulled ahead in a wide move through the far turn, about three furlongs from the finish. It was close as the field turned for home, but not for long. Palace Malice hit his stride and began to pull away; no one else made any serious run at him down the stretch. Normandy Invasion got up for second, and was far clear of Sunbean, but could not match Palace Malice’s speed down the stretch.
The stretch run is my favourite part of this race. It seemed like he really hit his stride there. It adds more evidence to support my thought that he’s a distance horse — and makes the fact that he could fight milers and win even more impressive. It sounds like his summer goal is the Whitney, and I’m hoping he points toward longer races like the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Breeders’ Cup Classic later in the season.
It seems extremely premature, the people on Twitter who are declaring Palace Malice the Breeders’ Cup Champion, Champion Older Horse, all that jazz. Still, I can’t help but get excited to see how the rest of the season goes. So far, Palace Malice has done everything asked of him with aplomb, and his prospects for the rest of his four-year-old year get more and more exciting.