Itsmyluckyday and Palace Malice, major players on last year’s Triple
Crown trail, will meet for the first time since the Kentucky Derby (G1)
when they kick off their 4-year-old seasons in the one-mile $250,000
Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2) on Saturday.
Palace Malice was 12th in the Derby before going on to win the
Belmont Stakes (G1) and Jim Dandy (G2), capping his season by running
sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) in November. Runner-up in the
Florida Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1), Itsmyluckyday finished 15th in
the Derby before having his promising 3-year-old campaign ended
prematurely by injury last summer.
Another veteran of the Triple Crown grind is Falling Sky, last of 19
in the Derby who comes into the race off a front-running victory in the
Gulfstream Park Sprint (G3) on Feb. 8 for trainer George
Eddie Plesa, who trains Itsmyluckyday for Trilogy Stable and his
wife, Laurie, has been both patient and meticulous in his preparation
for the Gulfstream Park Handicap, which will be the Lawyer Ron colt’s
first start since suffering what was later diagnosed as a pelvic
fracture in the Pegasus (G3) at Monmouth Park on June 16.
“I’m sure it’s been important for him,” Plesa said of the time off.
“It’s been important for me because I wanted us all to be on the same
comfort level as far as when he does run, I don’t want to look back and
say, ‘Maybe this or maybe that.’ That’s why I really didn’t have a race
in mind. This race coming up was not a goal of mine to reach; it just
falls in the time frame that works as far as his road
During last year’s Champions Meet, Itsmyluckyday won the Gulfstream
Park Derby and Holy Bull (G3) before finishing second as the favorite to
eventual Derby winner Orb in the Florida Derby. A distaste for the
sloppy, sealed track at Churchill Downs led to Itsmyluckyday’s distant
Derby finish, but he rebounded to be second behind Oxbow in the
Preakness in his last start before the Pegasus.
Itsmyluckyday has breezed seven times since returning to the work tab
on Dec. 31 at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream’s satellite training facility in
Palm Beach County. Each of his last two have been bullets, going five
furlongs in 1:01.45 on Feb. 27 and 59.75 seconds on Feb. 20.
“He’s training like he did when he was on the road to the Triple
Crown,” Plesa said. “He’s training exactly the same. The only thing is
he’s had eight-plus months off, so maybe in the long run we’ll be
looking back and saying it ended up being a blessing in
Jockey Paco Lopez will be back aboard Itsmyluckyday for the first
time since their win in the Gulfstream Park Derby. Though the company is
more difficult, Plesa is hoping for a comeback similar to that of
Normandy Invasion, the fourth-place Derby finisher who returned from a 9
½-month layoff to capture a one-mile entry-level allowance at
Gulfstream on Feb. 22.
“I wish I could have found a little bit easier spot,” Plesa said,
“but when you’re a horse like him who’s won as many races as he has,
it’s not like Normandy Invasion who had an a-other-than condition to him
that he was able to take advantage of. I don’t have that luxury, but it
is what it is. He’s a good horse, and he’ll run well. I’m anxious, I’m
happy, [but] I’m not nervous because he’ll go out there and give a good
Third in the Risen Star (G2) and second in the
Blue Grass (G1), Palace Malice had only a maiden victory to his credit
before his 3 ¼-length romp in the Belmont. He followed up with a
professional win in the Jim Dandy and was fourth, beaten less than a
length after stumbling out of the gate, in the Travers (G1).
In his only previous start at Gulfstream, Palace Malice was second in
a seven-furlong entry-level allowance last January to kick off his
3-year-old campaign. He was second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) in
his first try against older horses prior to the BC Classic. Hall of Fame
jockey John Velazquez will ride.
“He’s been training really well and everything has gone smoothly so
far. I felt like this is a good place to get him started again,” said
Todd Pletcher, who trains Palace Malice for Dogwood Stable. “He’s always
been a horse that trains very well, and doesn’t seem to have lost any
enthusiasm. I think the freshening should have done him well, and we
hope to have a big year.”
Falling Sky won the Sam F. Davis (G3) and finished second in the
Tampa Derby (G2) heading into the Derby for previous trainer John
Terranova. He was given time off and moved to Weaver, ending the year
off the board in November’s City of Laurel Stakes at Laurel
Since coming back, Falling Sky has had two outstanding races at
Gulfstream. He led from the gate to deep stretch before finishing second
by a half-length to Grade 1 winner Revolutionary in a one-mile
allowance on Jan. 11 prior to his victory in the Gulfstream Park Sprint.
Jockey Elvis Trujillo replaces Luis Saez in the irons.
“He ran a very strong race at a mile leading into that race but if I
could write my own condition book, as well as he ran at seven-eighths, I
wish I could come back at seven furlongs,” Weaver said. “The horse is
in good form and he has been for a while. He came out of his last race
in great shape. He seems to like it down here and he likes Gulfstream,
so that’s why we’re looking forward to running him.”
Golden Ticket has won twice in 11 starts since dead-heating for first
with Alpha in the 2012 Travers (G1) at Saratoga Race Course for trainer
Ken McPeek. The 5-year-old son of champion sprinter Speightstown
captured an 8 ½-furlong optional claiming allowance at Gulfstream last
January as well as the Prairie Meadows Handicap in July. Owned by Magic
City Thoroughbred Partners, Golden Ticket was second to Goldencents in
the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Santa Anita on Nov. 1.
Third in the Dirt Mile, Brujo de Olleros will make his second start
at the Champions meet in the Gulfstream Park Handicap. The 6-year-old
son of Wild Event rallied to be third, beaten six lengths by Falling Sky
and just a half-length behind runner-up Narvaez in the Gulfstream Park
Trained by Agustin Bezara for Stipa Racing Stable, Narvaez won a 7
½-furlong allowance at Gulfstream last March, three weeks before
pressing the pace and fading to fourth in the Florida Derby. This will
be the third race off a layoff for the 4-year-old Holy Bull gelding, who
kicked off his campaign finishing fourth in a 6 ½-furlong optional
claiming allowance at Gulfstream on Jan. 11.
Canada’s champion 2-year-old colt and Horse of the Year in 2012,
Uncaptured was off the board in both the Hal’s Hope (G3) and Donn
Handicap (G1) this winter at Gulfstream for trainer Mark Casse. His lone
win in eight starts last year came in the Prince of Wales Stakes, the 1
3/16-mile second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown and the only one run
Rounding out the field is Sr. Quisqueyano, winner of the 8 ½-furlong
Quality Road Stakes at Gulfstream in October. Most recently, the
Exclusive Quality colt was sixth in the Fred Hooper (G3) at Calder on
Dec. 7 and last of eight in the Harlan’s Holiday at Gulfstream on Dec.