It was announced weeks ago that Palace Malice was headed to the Westchester Stakes (GIII) as a prep for the Met Mile. The Westchester is this coming Sunday at Belmont. The draw was yesterday, and it seems there were not a lot of horses who were excited at facing the prospect of taking on the mighty Palace Malice.
The draw was yesterday, and Palace Malice drew the third gate in a field of just four horses. Declan’s Warrior, last year’s Bay Shore Stakes (GIII) winner, drew the rail; he comes into the Westchester for his second start off of a seven-month lay. I’m Steppin’ It Up, most recently the winner of an allowance at this distance at Calder, takes the 2 gate. Red Rifle, most recently ninth in the nine-furlong Ben Ali (GIII) over the Keeneland synthetic, is on the outside; in his previous race, he won the nine-furlong Maxxam Gold Cup over Frac Daddy over the Sam Houston dirt.
The small field was a bit of a surprise. However, the morning line was a new one for me. I’ve seen some low ones, like the 2-5 assigned to Mucho Macho Man in the Sunshine Millions Classic this year, but nothing like this. Palace Malice is 1-9 in the morning line. I’ve seen plenty of horses bet down to 1-9 before, but it’s certainly uncommon that an oddsmaker would assume that a horse would be bet down so low. However, with this short field, I can’t imagine it’s too far off.
I’m Steppin’ It Up (20-1 ML) looks a bit in over his head here, having not been able to get it done in stakes company for over a year and a half. However, Declan’s Warrior (10-1 ML) could be threatening if he is back to his old self second off the lay; he’s four years olds this year, and won some quality races at seven furlongs last year. If he can stretch out that extra furlong, he could be the one in the best position to give Palace Malice a run for his money. Red Rifle (8-1 ML), another four-year-old, is cutting back in distance here. He tends to prefer a little bit longer distance…but that’s the same thing I said about Palace Malice.
Am I saying any of the horses in the Westchester will likely beat Palace Malice? No. Palace Malice is one of the best horses in training right now, and if he comes here ready to race, these horses will have a very difficult time beating him. However accurate the 1-9 morning line may be, however, it feels in a strange sense like tempting fate.