Palace Malice returns against top sprinters

May 11, 2015 02:32am

It looks like the wait for the much anticipated return of Palace Malice is finally almost over. The Dogwood Stable star, who became the first horse to win both the Belmont Stakes and Met Mile in more than thirty years, was supposed to make his five-year-old debut in last Saturday's Westchester. But alas, that one was taken by another Belmont winner in Tonalist, as Palace Malice remained in his stall because of a bruised foot. Apparently the bruise was not bad. Only eight days removed from the missed appointment with Tonalist, Palace Malice is now scheduled to make his first start in better than nine months in Sunday's $100,000 Diablo Stakes at Belmont Park. Despite being respected as the 7-5 morning line favorite, the six furlong sprint is anything but an easy spot for the winner of more than $2.6 million.

In Sunday’s feature, which acts as little more than a prep for defense of his title in the $1.25 million Met Mile on Belmont Stakes Day, Palace Malice has found a pair of top notch sprinters in which to tangle in Palace and Clearly Now. Off the long layoff, and taking on a pair of salty sprinters, both making their second start of 2015, is bound to be a tricky assignment for the son of Curlin, but one, that on his best, he is good enough to handle. Don’t be too upset if he comes up short, though, as the next one is the one his connections really want to win.

"He's been good, we just had the one little hiccup where he unfortunately had a little foot issue when we were in the Westchester," said Palace Malice’s trainer, Todd Pletcher. "Fortunately, it was a temporary setback. We're in a race that's probably a little short of an ideal distance for him, but we're hoping to get a race in and move forward for the Met [Mile]."

When last seen competing in the afternoon, Palace Malice had an impressive four graded stakes winning streak snapped when he threw in an uncharacteristic clunker in the Grade 1 Whitney last August at Saratoga. Soon after, he was diagnosed with an injury and thought to be retired, but a racing first-breeding next deal was struck between Dogwood’s Cot Campbell and Three Chimneys Farm, and a five-year-old racing season was planned for the popular bay. It all begins on Sunday with Johnny V in the saddle.

Have I mentioned the prospect of taking on Clearly Now and Palace at their sprinting game, while coming off a long layoff and an injury, is a daunting task? Both Clearly Now, for trainer Brian Lynch, and Palace, trained by Linda Rice, finished out of the money in the Grade 1 Carter in their respective returns, but the former had a tough trip, and the latter just weakened a bit late. Solid improvement by both classy sprinters is fully expected on Sunday in their second starts of the year.

We all know they are both serious sprinters, as evidenced by Clearly Now’s Belmont Park track record at seven furlongs, going 1:19.96 in the Grade 3 Belmont Sprint Championship last summer, as well as Palace’s back-to-back Grade 1 victories in the Vanderbilt and Forego last summer at Saratoga.

While the top three deserve the lion’s share of the attention, the Diablo will include five others, including a three-pack from the barn of trainer David Jacobson, in Classic Salsa, Stallwalkin' Dude, and Tenango. Piquant and Doubledown Again round out the field. So will Palace Malice return a winner on Sunday? In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter much, and in fact, despite being one of Palace Malice’s biggest supporters, I recognize this race as one ripe for the upset. What does matter for Palace Malice, is that he gets a lot out of the Diablo in preparation of his first big assignment of the year, the Grade 1 Met Mile on June 6. And we all remember what he did in last year’s Met …


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Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

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A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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