There are several good horses lining up for the Kentucky Derby this year. Orb, Verrazano, Goldencents are all big-name favorites, and deservedly so, after winning their last races convincingly. However, they are not the only ones in with a shot. I hear many people talking up Normandy Invasion as a horse to beat, and while he has shown promise, I think Palace Malice is the horse to watch.
If you think about it, the two are very similar. Neither has won a race beyond a maiden. Both have only one off-the-board finish, which was only thanks to horrible trips, and both exited their first grade one a narrowly beaten second. So, why, if the two have so much in common, am I so pro Palace Malice?
Reason one - breeding. Normandy Invasion has all the looks of a horse who wants more distance, but his sire has only ever sired one three-year-old who has won a grade one at the classic distance, and that was the speedy Careless Jewel. Tapit may be the hot sire right now; however, the facts are in front of us in bold face, clearly stating that his best offspring perform best at distances of a mile to 1 1/16 miles. Palace Malice on the other hand has a sire that is a multiple grade one winner at 10 furlongs, and while one cannot accurately judge Curlin as a sire at the current moment, there is no arguing his prowess at the classic distance..
Secondly, Palace Malice is coming into the Derby as fit, if not fitter than most horses. Some may argue that four preps is too many, however, it could be just what horses need now a days. Practice like you play is a great piece of advice for any athlete, and that is just what this colt has been doing. In his races, he has been gaining valuable experience and fitness that can only be received through racing. His most recent was over Polytrack, a type of synthetic that is known for putting some bottom into horses.
This brings me to my next point, due to running in the Blue Grass, Palace Malice has a good deal of good history on his side. The race may not have been so great at producing winners in the Kentucky Derby, but it certainly hasn’t been unheard of in the big race, as most recently Dullahan stormed up late to capture the bronze. Before him, Paddy O’Prado was third in the run for the roses, and Street Sense took home the gold.
Another thing I prefer, in regards to Palace Malice vs. Normandy Invasion, is running style. Normandy Invasion’s late running style often leaves him too much to do when the field turns for home, and while he does have an impressive kick it seems that he tends to hang when he does finally catch his competition. See the Remsen and Wood Memorial for examples. Palace Malice sits just behind the leaders, in the second wave of horses, stalking and waiting to pounce. He proved that with a good trip that style can be very dangerous when nearly taking the Blue Grass, after wrestling the lead from a talented Rydilluc.
Normandy Invasion does have his positive attributes, don’t get me wrong, but when compared to Palace Malice who has the advantage of breeding, fitness, and running style I just don’t see him being able to beat Palace Malice to the finish line in Kentucky Derby 139.
Laura, we agree on the fact that there are “several good horses” heading to the Derby in 2013 that have a legitimate shot at winning. Certainly more than in the past thanks to the Derby Point system which help eliminate sprinters and the 2-year-old “wonders”. However, Palace Malice appears to be destined to become the 2013 “wise-guy” Derby horse that fails to receive the blanket of roses. On the other hand, Normandy Invasion is the horse primed for a top performance on the first Saturday in May..
The two are indeed very similar, for the reasons you’ve eloquently stated, but I’m ready to defend Normandy Invasion as the colt who has a better shot than Palace Malice to earn the title, Kentucky Derby Winner.
On paper, Palace Malice’s breeding (son of Curlin) jumps out at you, but the race isn’t run on paper. Curlin was a late-bloomer, and the same may be true for his 3-year-old son. Plus, on the bottom (dam), Palace Rumor was a turf sprinter, never winning on beyond one mile, so his dam influence may hinder classic distance ability. Normandy Invasion’s dam was no prize on the track, but at least Brisnet give both an equal chance (110 number) at covering the classic distance.
Fit?! Look up the word in Webster’s Dictionary, and you might find a photo of Normandy Invasion. At the end of his 2-year-old campaign, trainer Chad Brown mapped out a simple plan… two prep races prior to the Derby and has stuck to it. So far, so good. After a troubled trip (no points earned) against a heavy speed bias in the G2 Risen Star, he proved himself a worthy Derby contender with a strong runner-up finish to probable Derby favorite Verrazano, in the G1 Wood Memorial. It’s perfect progression leading to the famous “3rd race off a layoff” angle.
When it comes to Derby prep history, the Wood Memorial is the grand-daddy of them all. Eleven of its winners have gone onto capture the first leg of the Triple Crown. Secretariat ran third in the Wood! This year from top to bottom, it may have been the toughest of all the major (100 points to the winner) preps. Meanwhile, industry “talking heads” believe the weakest series of preps were contested at Fairgrounds (LeComte, Risen Star & LA Derby), where Palace Malice placed 3rd and a troubled 7th in the latter two.
As far as running style, too much emphasis (or concern) is placed on closers having to negotiate through traffic. Six (6) of the past thirteen (13) Derby winners have rallied from 10th or further back in the final 4 furlongs - Myth Busted! What’s of more importance is having a pilot who is familiar with his 3-years-olds tendencies. Javier Castellano raised some eyebrows when he elected to stick with Normandy Invasion instead of Revolutionary, who he rode to victory in the G2 Louisiana Derby. Palace Malice, on the other hand, will have Hall of Famer Mike Smith in the irons. Smith will be the 5th different jockey on Palace Malice in as many 2013 starts.
When their racing careers are over, Palace Malice could prove to be the better of the two, but since we are discussing who would be the better bet in Kentucky Derby 139, Normandy Invasion should prove to be the wiser short-term investment option.