Palace Malice returns in the Alydar

Palace Malice ran in the Alydar Stakes today.

I feared a Whitney.  I hoped for a miracle.  I tried to remain stoic.

2015 has been a year of fits and starts for Palace Malice.  He was cleared to resume training last November, and Cot Campbell announced a neat little five-race plan: the Westchester, the Met Mile, the Whitney, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  Simple, right?  Five races, all perfect for Palace Malice at his best.

So few things in horse racing happen so easily.  He entered the Westchester, but he bruised his foot again.  He scratched.  Instead, Palace Malice returned the next week in the six-furlong Diablo Stakes, finishing third.

The Alydar was as difficult to watch as the Diablo was easy.

The entire point of the Diablo was just having Palace Malice back on the track.  He had so many built-in excuses for the Diablo if it did not go perfectly.  It was his first race back from retirement.  It was a last-minute change in plans.  At six furlongs, a true sprint distance, it was well short of Palace Malice’s best.

Though he had been out of the starting gate for the last three months, there was more to suggest that this start had to mean business for Palace Malice.  Unlike his previous race, the nine furlongs of the Alydar fell right in Palace Malice’s wheelhouse.  External pressure also loomed.  It is August, after all.  The Breeders’ Cup is less than three months away.

Palace Malice finished fourth in the Alydar Stakes today.

Palace Malice has never been the best out of the gate, and he did not break smoothly today.  Wide through the first turn, he settled at the middle of a strung-out pack, almost a dozen lengths off lone speed Bay of Plenty.  Going down the backstretch, he lost relative position.

I could not shake the thought that the Alydar would be another Whitney.

As the field entered the far turn, a cause for hope arose.  Palace Malice began to advance in a wide, circling move.  For a brief moment, I wondered whether it would be enough to bring him into serious contention against Bay of Plenty, still winging it on the lead.

Turning for home, that hope proved silly.  Palace Malice looked to stall a bit.  Mylute, finding a gear far better than Palace Malice’s, flew past on the outside.  He came closest to catching Bay of Plenty.  Neck ‘n Neck broke clear from the main pack as well, and crossed the wire a clear third.  Palace Malice, to his credit, found a bit more rally in the final sixteenth.  He got up for fourth in a photo over Noble Moon and Souper Lucky.

In the end, the Alydar resembled neither the Whitney nor a miracle.  Palace Malice did not run his best race ever today, but showed enough flashes of run to keep the candle burning for another day: a day when he is a bit closer to the pace early, a day when he runs another track, a day when he is second or third off the lay.

An hour and a half out from the race, it remains to be seen whether this is another false start, or if today will be something from which he can build.  Today’s effort answered little, and keeps me trying to stay in the same place I have been all year with respect to Palace Malice’s return: a holding pattern.

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