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Palace Lands Rail in Vanderbilt

Palace, winner of the 2014 True North Stakes at Belmont Park
Two races before Palace Malice competes in the Grade 1 Whitney as the morning-line favorite, Palace will return to his best distance in the 30th edition of the Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap, a six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds and up that was carded as the eighth race on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.


While he doesn't have the acclaim of Palace Malice, Palace has established himself as one of New York's top sprinters since picking up his first stakes victory last year at Saratoga in the Chowder's First against New York-breds. He followed that score by defeating state-breds again in the Hudson Handicap in October at Belmont Park and completed the hat trick against open company in the Grade 3 Fall Highweight Handicap in November at Aqueduct Racetrack.


Palace was runner-up in a pair of races over the inner track at Aqueduct - the Gravesend Handicap in December and the Gold and Roses for New York-breds in January - before he finishing fourth when stretched out to seven furlongs in the Grade 3 General George Handicap in February at Laurel Park. Returning to six furlongs for the Grade 2 True North Handicap on June 6 at Belmont, Palace came from just off the pace and wore down Bakken to prevail by three-quarters of a length.


Palace tried seven furlongs again in his most recent start, finishing second, beaten 6 ¼ lengths by Clearly Now, in the Grade 3 Belmont Sprint Championship on July 5. While Palace failed to match strides with Clearly Now, he pleased his trainer, Linda Rice, by digging in to take second by a neck in a three-way photo.


"He's coming off a first in a Grade 2 and a second in a Grade 3, and he ran a gutsy race last time in a race that wasn't at his best distance," said Rice.


Palace is 5-4-1 in 10 races at six furlongs, a fact not lost upon Rice.


"We're happy about shortening him up," said Rice.


Rice and owner Antonino Miuccio claimed Palace for $20,000 out of a maiden win in October 2012 at Belmont Park. Palace, now 5, is by City Zip, who won six graded stakes, including the 2000 Grade 1 Hopeful, for Rice.



"It's exciting to have this chance to run Palace in the Vanderbilt," said Rice. "It's coming up on two years since we claimed him, and now to be running in a Grade 1 at Saratoga with him is special."


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Cornelio Velasquez will ride Palace, the 7-2 third choice on the morning line, from post position 1.


The Vanderbilt will serve as a rematch of the True North as it also attracted Mr. and Mrs. William K. Warren's Bakken, who will be making his second start of 2014 on Saturday.


Last fall, Bakken impressively won his first two starts - a maiden special weight at Belmont and an entry-level allowance at Aqueduct - before finishing fifth, beaten 5 ¼ lengths in the Grade 1 Malibu in December at Santa Anita. In the True North, his first start in more than five months, the 4-year-old contested the early pace and battled on bravely after being passed by Palace.


"It was a good performance for his first start off the layoff, and it should have him a lot tighter for this one," said trainer Chad Brown.


Bakken, favored at 5-2 on the morning line, drew post position 8.


Sagamore Farm and Mel Paikoff's Happy My Way will attempt to continue his upward ascension in the Vanderbilt, having won three straight, including the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Handicap on May 17 at Pimlico on Preakness Day.


Happy My Way had two wins in his first 10 starts before emerging as a formidable sprinter in December with a 3 ½-length optional claiming victory at Gulfstream Park. He opened his 2014 campaign with three more starts at Gulfstream, finishing second in the Sunshine Millions Sprint for Florida-breds and taking an optional claimer by three-quarters of a length in February and the Sir Shackleton by 5 ¾ lengths in March.


"He's a very fast horse, but because of his breeding we tried to do something different with him," said trainer Joe Orseno. "We tried him going longer and we tried him on the grass, but he wants to be fast, and you can see what happened when we started running him in sprints."


Orseno said he initially had concerns Happy My Way was a Gulfstream specialist because he had also won an optional claimer at that venue in March 2013, but the front-running gelding proved he was not a one-track wonder when he romped by 5 ¾ lengths in the Maryland Sprint Handicap.


"He seems to like Gulfstream Park so much, and he ran a big race there last year," Orseno said. "I was a little worried about him not running big when we ran him in Maryland, but he showed up that day, and now here we are."


Happy My Way, 3-1, will leave from post 5 with Joe Bravo aboard.


Falling Sky seeks his second consecutive stakes win, having held on to take the Donald LeVine Memorial Handicap by a half-length on June 21. Earlier this year, he was a 5 ½-length winner of the Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Sprint before finishing seventh in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap and 10th in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs.


Hall of Famer Edgar Prado was named to ride Falling Sky, who drew post 2 and was tabbed at 5-1 on the morning line. Falling Sky, who is trained by George Weaver for Newtown Anner Stud and Joseph Bulger, is cross-entered in the $200,000 West Virginia Governor's Stakes on Saturday at Mountaineer Racetrack.


The field also includes graded stakes winners Lemon Drop Dream, Bahamian Squall, Capo Bastone, and Vyjack.




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