hello, Narvaez.

Today, I saw a horse who raced in my favourite horse race ever.

No, I didn’t see the winner of the 2014 Gulfstream Park Handicap (GII).  After all, this weekend I am making my first foray to Fair Grounds — not Three Chimneys Farm.

But, I did get to see Narvaez in person.  He finished fifth behind Palace Malice in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (GII) almost three years ago…perhaps an ambitious placing on the stretch to a mile, but he was coming right off a surprise second-place finish as a 139/1 outsider in the Gulfstream Park Sprint (GIII).  Strike while the iron is hot, right?


Though the seven-year-old gelding now runs in the claiming ranks and not graded stakes, the son of Holy Bull is still a gorgeous grey.

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on Palace Malice and expectations

I am a pessimist.

I was not always that way.  When I was young, optimism seeped out of my pores.  Everything was awesome, everything was going to be alright, and there was no point walking anywhere but on the sunny side of the street.

Once I gathered the least bit of self-awareness, somewhere in my pre-teen years, I realised that the combination of my natural enthusiasm and my optimism made me terribly obnoxious.  Bad things would happen to me and the people I cared about.  Nobody needed another Pollyanna, Tony Robbins, or Oprah Winfrey to deal with.

So, I crossed the street.  The shade suited me better, anyway.  I could assume from the outset that things were going to turn out poorly.  If they didn’t, it was a pleasant surprise.  The good things were going to mean more if I didn’t expect them to happen, and the bad things couldn’t take the wind out of my sails.  After all, there were no longer any sails.

Then, horse racing happened.

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take two.

Last week, Palace Malice was supposed to return in the Westchester (GIII).  He scratched, though he returned to the worktab on Tuesday.  That boded well, suggesting that his foot bruise that kept him out of the race last weekend was not something serious.

Tomorrow, he gets a prep over the Belmont dirt, the Diablo Stakes.

Instead of being a mile, it is six furlongs.  He broke his maiden going six and a half.  Palace Malice has never gone six flat, and has gone shorter just once: a baby race at Saratoga, his debut.  Six furlongs seems short for him.

He also faces some serious horses.  Palace, a serious sprinter, comes in second off the lay.  Clearly Now may not be the most consistent horse, but when he does find his mojo, he can be sharp.  Unlike Palace Malice, he is a proven sprinter.

Part of me wants to hope.  I went through this last year, after all.  First off the lay at age four, in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, he cut back to a mile and ran the best race of his life.  I want to think he will find that same drive and that same form tomorrow in the Diablo.  But, this situation is far different.  He was not pointing to this race nor was he pointing to this distance.  It screams that they just needed a race under him before even considering sending him to the Met Mile, since he has not raced in the better part of the year and the Met Mile looks like it will turn up tough.

If Palace Malice is competitive tomorrow and gets something out of the race, I will have seen what I hope to see.  If he wins, you will hear a guttural scream from the general direction of Chicago.


A bit lost in the shuffle of Derby Madness was the Westchester Stakes (GIII) at Belmont.

Ever since Dogwood Stable announced Palace Malice’s comeback schedule, the Westchester had been planned as his comeback race.  He had won it as easily as a 1/20 shot should have last year, reasserting his class and his affinity for Big Sandy.  This year’s field turned up a bit tougher, particularly due to the presence of Tonalist.

Palace Malice scratched Thursday.

The word was that he bruised his right front foot just in time to have to miss a few days of training before the race.  I believe that.  Though Cot Campbell had said earlier in the week that he had been looking “for the easiest spot”, and the Westchester did not turn up that way with Tonalist in the field, Palace Malice has had foot issues in the past.  He had a foot bruise earlier this year that delayed his return from Aiken to trainer Todd Pletcher’s string in Florida.

Fortunately, things look like they are getting back on track for Palace Malice.  He returned to the worktab today, breezing four furlongs in 49.22 at Belmont.  The plan remains the Met Mile (GI) next month.

I am simultaneously excited and petrified.  I cannot wait to see Palace Malice back on the track, and hope that he can come back into himself at five.  After as sharp as he was for his first four races last year, it seemed like he had so much more he could have done on the track.  However…a return against any kind of company after ten months off the track will be tough to ask.  A return against the likes of Tonalist, Bayern, Honor Code, Tamarkuz, Private Zone, possibly even Lea?

As much as I want to see him prevail, Palace Malice will have to be a superhorse to win that.

Palace Malice returns!

Last year, the Westchester Stakes (GIII) drew a field of four.  Palace Malice came into it off of two sharp victories in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (GII) and the New Orleans Handicap (GIII), and it would be his final tune-up before the Met Mile.  He had a legitimate claim to the title of best in the Handicap division, and he looked to be in his prime.  Only Declan’s Warrior, I’m Steppin It Up, and Red Rifle lined up to face Palace Malice, and he won it as easily as a horse could.

The 2015 Westchester Stakes will happen on Saturday at Belmont Park.  It drew today, and not everything mirrors last year.

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#1: twelve days of Curlin babies

Welcome back to the twelve days of Curlin babies: a look back on twelve races during 2014 that stand out among races by Curlin’s progeny over the course of the year. They are races I keep returning to in my head, and ones that I am always excited to discuss. They will all have a story, a clear reason why they stand out among the hundreds of races in which I saw Curlin babies race this year.

#12: Federal Agent breaks his maiden
#11: Miss Frost wins the Tenski Stakes
#10: Curly Queen breaks her maiden
#9: Stopshoppingdebbie wins the Washington State Legislators Handicap
#8: J to the Croft, the longest shot on the board, breaks his maiden
#7: Moulin de Mougin wins the John C. Mabee Stakes
#6: She’s Curly, and the ad hoc match race
#5: Please Explain wins the Suncoast Stakes
#4: Golden Actor breaks his maiden
#3: Keen Ice breaks his maiden
#2: Whisper to Curlin wins the Iowa Breeders’ Derby

#1: Palace Malice wins the Gulfstream Park Handicap

One race this year had everything: my favourite racehorse, the odds stacked against him before the race, and a point during the race in which he looked in over his head.

After finishing sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year, Palace Malice went on his winter vacation.  He returned to Aiken to start training, and his connections had announced as early as November that the New Orleans Handicap (GII) would be his first race in 2014.  However, Cot Campbell announced in early February that the Gulfstream Park Handicap, not the New Orleans, would be his first race of the year.  The race would be a flat mile: something that seemed so short for a Belmont Stakes winner, and the shortest that Palace Malice would have attempted in stakes company up to that point.  It seemed like a tune-up race, so I tempered my hopes as much as I possibly could.

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welcome back, champ.

I finally have an answer again to the question of who my favourite horse in training is.  Fortunately, this did not have to be a result of soul-searching and hair-splitting and new exercises in playing favourites among dozens of horses who makes me squeal with glee.  No, it’s nothing like that.

Palace Malice is coming back.

He had his scans on Thursday, and the veterinarians have pronounced him to be recovered from his bone bruise, and sound to race.  Dogwood is on board, Three Chimneys is on board, and Palace Malice is heading from Kentucky to Aiken, SC today.

Not even two months ago, I was resigned to never seeing him race again, and having to wait for the Palace Malice babies in a few years.  Now?  He is pointing toward a five-year-old year, and hopefully another crack at the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

This is another racing career for Palace Malice: an unexpected gift, and something I tried to hard to convince myself would not actually happen.  But, it’s happening.  The horse who has done so much to take me from a casual fan of horse racing to a dedicated one…if all goes well, he is going to see the starter again, and going to make me fall in love with racing all over again.

I couldn’t be happier.  Last time he raced off a winter lay he put forth what may be his best effort to date (and was definitely my favourite race of his so far!) in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (GII).

What will he do after this lay?  No one knows.  However, I have full confidence that he would not be brought back if his connections did not think he could train back into the excellent form he showed at three and four.  I cannot wait to see what he does next, and I could not be more grateful that I will get to see him again.

Also?  I need to see if it is feasible to make a pilgrimage to Aiken this winter.

a glimmer of hope?

On September 5, Dogwood Stable announced that Palace Malice was being retired due to a bone bruise.  It was an injury that would require him being turned out for a while to heal: so even though the veterinary prognosis suggested he could recover well enough to race at full strength at age five, he would miss the rest of this year.

Today, there is a tiny glimmer of hope that Palace Malice may race at five after all.

Today it was announced via press release that Dogwood had sold a half-interest in Palace Malice to Three Chimneys.  Under the terms of the sale, if a panel of veterinarians examines him on November 15 and finds him to be racing sound to the satisfaction of both Dogwood and Three Chimneys, he will ship to Aiken and start preparing for a five-year-old campaign.  If he runs, he will stay in the Dogwood silks, and run in the names of both Dogwood and Three Chimneys until he retires.  If they do not find him sound enough to enter training as of November 15, he will go directly to stud for next year.  Either way, after he finishes racing, he will by fully owned by Three Chimneys and stand stud there alongside horses like Will Take charge, Exchange Rate, Yes It’s True, Sky Mesa, and Big Brown.

I am trying to contain my excitement about the prospect of him racing again, but it’s a difficult task.  Although I tried to put it into words as best as I could, even weeks after the original announcement it still did not seem real that Palace Malice was not going to be racing again.  With this hope that he might?  I want to believe it.  I want to believe that he will be fit as a fiddle come mid-November, and hear the wonderful news that he is going back into training.  I want to see him run again, and enjoy new races in which he is fast, tough, and game.

Still, if it turns out that he isn’t ready to run again?  It will be worse the second time.  Even though there will be the next two months to brace myself for the news, there will be that grating cycle of “what if” and letdown.

In short?  I want to be excited about the return of Palace Malice, but my heart and my head are in massive disagreement.  My heart is like Palace Malice with the blinkers, speeding away with excitement…whereas my head is trying to stick with a more patient, blinkers-off response.

to Palace Malice…

Given how much I write and tweet about the Curlin babies, it’s a common misconception that Curlin is my favourite horse of all time.  However, he isn’t.

That distinction goes to one of his babies, Palace Malice.  Palace Malice is the whole reason I follow Curlin’s progeny in the first place.  Palace Malice is the whole reason I called this little corner of the Internet Blinkers Off.  He was my intriguing longer shot in the Derby last year, but ran off to set insane fractions while racing with blinkers for the first time.  They came off, and he looked great winning the Belmont.

He took the handicap division by storm this year, winning four straight graded stakes.  The biggest of them was the Met Mile (GI), though my favourite of them was the Gulfsream Park Handicap (GII).  That is still my favourite race of all time to watch: he was running at a distance I thought was too short for him, he was coming in first off a lay, and he re-rallies to put away horses more accustomed to the distance.  I loved him at three, and at four he I loved him even more.  He fought, he was game, and he was just getting better with age: everything I love to see in a horse.

Today, Dogwood Stable announced that Palace Malice has been retired.

I’m glad they found what was wrong with Palace Malice.  The Whitney was baffling, and the subpar work that led to him being scratched from the Woodward was worrisome.  I’m glad the problem was something that can heal in time, a bone bruise, and not something life-threatening.  I’m glad we know, and that all signs point to him being able to live a sound and healthy life at stud.

But, it still seems surreal that he is retired.  Off the track.  Never racing again.

I cannot fathom that there will ever be a horse I love as much as Palace Malice.  When I watched him run in the Derby, I was only a relatively casual racing fan.  I was getting a bit more into the sport, spending a bit more time reading about it, but was by no means a regular track denizen or a person who followed it day in and day out.  I ducked out of the closing plenary at a conference to watch the Belmont, the first time I can recall that I set some definition of “real life” aside to focus on something related to racing.  Palace Malice put away Oxbow, Orb, and everyone.  I was hooked.

I hoped I would see him race in person someday, but that is not to be.  However, I am glad that he should be healthy and sound at stud for years to come.  Wherever he stands, I will be there with a pocketful of peppermints and a hug for my favourite horse.

Thank you for all the great times, Palace Malice.  I love you.

And, in a couple of years?  Don’t be surprised when Blinkers Off is covering two sires.

this week in Curlin babies: 8.28.14

Welcome to another installment of this week in Curlin babies: all the news that’s fit to print about Blinkers Off’s favourite sire.  This week, Stopshoppingdebbie extended her record to a perfect nine-for-nine, and plans have emerged for her to test her mettle outside Emerald Downs for the first time.  Two Curlin babies, Sookie and Une Cherise, broke their maidens in absolutely dazzling fashion.  Coming up this week, Curalina becomes the first of Curlin’s third crop to attempt a Grade I, as the once-raced maiden takes a swing at the Spinaway Stakes (GI): the race which will be Tom Durkin’s final call as the regular announcer at the Spa.  Miss Frost gets a rematch against Granny Mc’s Kitten in the Riskaverse Stakes at Saratoga, and both Woelf Den and Shiva Curlin plan to run in the Monarchos Stakes at Gulfstream.

Without further ado, let’s see what Curlin’s runners have been doing on the track lately! Read More »

this week in Curlin babies: 8.9.14

Welcome to another installment of this week in Curlin babies: all the news that’s fit to print about Blinkers Off’s favourite sire.  This week, there were several fun highlights in the world of Curlin babies.  Whisper to Curlin earned his first stakes win in his first stakes start, taking the Iowa Breeders’ Derby.  Two-year-old filly La Grange acquitted herself well in her first graded stakes attempt, finishing second in the Sorrento Stakes (GII).  Also, Franklyididitmyway broke his maiden in his eighth career start.  Coming up this week, Moulin de Mougin tries graded stakes company again in the John C. Mabee Stakes (GII) at Del Mar, this time at her preferred distance of nine furlongs.  Miss Frost also tries stakes company for the first time this year, taking a shot in the Tenski Stakes at Saratoga.

Without further ado, let’s see what Curlin’s runners have been doing on the track lately! Read More »

seeking solace in a race replay

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.

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