With only 7 ½ weeks standing between now and the Kentucky Derby, it’s time for any late blooming three-year-old out there to kick things into high gear. That is if their connections have any hopes of seeing them in roses. Don’t look now, but one such colt flying rather stealthily, so not as to show up on the average radar screen, is surprisingly enough in one of the more acclaimed barns in the nation. The trainer is Bill Mott, and the horse is Mr Palmer.
If you’ve never heard of him, don’t feel bad, most outside of the Northeast have yet to be made aware of the son of Pulpit. Or, maybe you were one of the ones who saw Saturday’s $150,000 Private Terms Stakes at Laurel Park. If you did, you probably feel like I do, in wanting to see more from the Michael Lauffer & Gregory McDonald homebred.
I first noticed Mr Palmer three races ago in a maiden race at Aqueduct. Admittedly, I was watching the race to see a few others in there, including the race winner, Long River, but it was hard not to like what I saw from the 7-1 shot. After hesitating at the start, Mr Palmer came running down the Aqueduct stretch to get within three-quarters of a length of the winner. When the pair finished a full nine lengths in front of the third horse, I did some research into the runner-up, and found a very interesting trend.
Clearly a horse who hadn’t found himself as a juvenile, Mr Palmer had already run four times before the race I watched. Although he had not really been a factor in any of the four, the bay colt was working on a bizarre streak. 6th in his debut, Mr Palmer proceeded to run 5th, 4th, and 3rd in his next three starts. Quirky yes, but did it have any real meaning? After his 2nd place result to Long River, in what I considered to be a strong performance, I was willing to keep watching.
Mr Palmer came back two months later on February 17, and this time he was bet. Obviously liking his last race, as I did, bettors pounded him home to 1-2 in the Aqueduct maiden race. It was another, shall we say, ‘interesting’ performance. With Junior Alvarado in the saddle for the second straight race, Mr Palmer made a decisive move on the outside to take control of the race on the backstretch. It looked like he might be the easiest kind of winner, that is until a horse named Incognito made a strong run, making Mr Palmer work to hit the wire a neck in front. In six races, he had now finished 6-5-4-3-2-1. I honestly cannot remember ever seeing that before. Oh, and by the way, Incognito is bred to the hilt, and is another one you better keep an eye on.
Off the maiden win, and two solid races under new rider, Junior Alvarado, Bill Mott sent Mr Palmer into stakes company three weeks later, and things continued to get better for the late bloomer.
5-1 on the morning line, savvy money came in on the New York shipper, and Mr Palmer went off at 9-5 at Laurel. After hopping at the start, Mr Palmer was pinched back to last. After settling at the back of the pack into the clubhouse turn, Junior Alvarado began to ask his mount to advance. One-by one, Mr Palmer began to pick off horses, and by the time the pair hit the far turn, they were within striking distance. The problem was, with the slow early fractions, so were most of the field. No matter, Mr Palmer was now rolling, so Alvarado kept steering farther out to find clear sailing. As the Private Terms field came careening out of the turn, it was Mr Palmer who found himself at least eight paths away from the rail. One straightened out, it was little contest, as Mr Palmer roared by them and galloped away. At the wire, he was an easy 3 ½ lengths in front, while running 1:51.35 for the nine furlongs.
His co-owner and breeder was happy to be back in Maryland after the race.
“Maryland racing has been awful good to us,” said Lauffer, who co-owned 2012 Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford. “You gotta get excited about these three-year-old colts this time of year. We’re going to try to put this horse on the Derby and Preakness trail if he’s good enough. He’s a horse that’s getting better every race. He finally woke up. Now he’s won two in a row. He loves the distance. He’s just a horse with a lot of heart that gives you everything he’s got.”
It would seem the owner summed Mr Palmer up pretty well. Those are the same reasons why I consider him a horse to watch on the Kentucky Derby trail.
Photo courtesy of Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club