Yesterday Palace Malice ran in the Whitney (GI). He finished sixth, beaten eleven lengths.
While watching the race, no clear reason or excuse emerged for why he finished so far up the track. He broke just fine from the 5 gate, and was near the front early. He went wide through the clubhouse turn, but settled in striking distance. He settled about two lengths off Moreno, with Golden Ticket in between. Coming through the far turn, John Velazquez asked him for more run: this was supposed to be the moment when he started to close up that ground, when he either got past Moreno or at least made it a battle on the front end. Instead, nothing happened. He chased along, but seemed completely indifferent to the fact that it was time to run. He didn’t stop, or slow, or look lame or off balance. He just kept loping along as Itsmyluckyday, Will Take Charge, Prayer For Relief, and even Last Gunfighter passed him by, all trying in vain to catch Moreno.
It was so strange to see him not fire. He had been dazzling in his four races this year: he fought in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (GII) with all guts and all heart, he waltzed home much the best in both the New Orleans Handicap (GII) and the Westchester (GIII), and then dispatched with true miler Goldencents in the Met Mile (GI). I wondered if something was physically wrong with him, and compulsively checked Twitter to see what kind of information and quotes were coming out. Results on blood tests are pending, but so far all the information points to there being no glaring physical issues: nothing found after the race, scoped clean, ate up all his food. The most explanatory quote came from John Velazquez, who said that Palace Malice wasn’t showing interest or paying attention.
I had been focused so much on trying to draw answers from this year that I didn’t think any further back in time until much later. The thought finally hit me tonight: Palace Malice had not come home like that since last year’s Breeder’s Cup Classic.
I fired up the race replay. There were differences, of course. The race was ten furlongs, not nine. Palace Malice started a little awkwardly, putting him farther back early in the Classic than he was yesterday in the Whitney. However, the stretch run was eerily similar: Bejarano asked him for everything he had, and Palace Malice didn’t have anything left. There was nothing obviously wrong, but he loped along toward the finish line without putting up a serious challenge.
What happened after the Breeders’ Cup Classic? He regrouped, returned, and ran the gamest race of his life in the Gulfstream Park Handicap.
Who knows where his energy went in the Woodward? Palace Malice was looking a little excitable in the paddock when they showed him before the race; maybe that is where it went. It’s hard to tell from just TV clips as opposed to actually being down in the paddock in person. Maybe he woke up on the wrong side of the hay. Maybe he was far more in the mood to make cute faces with Princess of Sylmar than he was to race.
Wherever his energy went, I hope it was just an off day. I hope his return is explosive. I hope he comes back ready to race in the Woodward, and runs the field off their feet.
And, whether that happens or not, I am still so proud of Palace Malice. More than anything, I want him safe and happy. He is still my favourite, and no off day can change that. I love you, big guy.