As well as Palace Malice ran winning the Belmont Stakes, his connections felt his performance in Saturday’s Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga may have been better.
And, jockey Mike Smith says, “There’s room to grow.”
Palace Malice backed up his Belmont Stakes victory with a solid one-length victory over Will Take Charge in the Jim Dandy, setting up a showdown with Kentucky Derby winner Orb — and perhaps Preakness winner Oxbow — in next month’s $1 million Travers Stakes here.
Palace Malice, a son of Curlin owned by Cot Campbell’s Dogwood Stable, gave trainer Todd Pletcher his sixth Jim Dandy win since 2000. Palace Malice will seek to become the 11th Jim Dandy winner to also win the Travers. Two of those horses — Flower Alley (2005) and Stay Thirsty (2011) — were trained by Pletcher.
“The horse keeps getting better and better, and today was arguably his best performance yet,” Pletcher said. “Now, hopefully, on to the Travers.”
After stalking the pace established by Moreno, Palace Malice took over in midstretch and had more than enough to hold off a late bid from Will Take Charge. It was 2 1/4 lengths farther back to Moreno in third, who finished five lengths ahead of fourth-place Bashaar. Code West, Looking Cool, Perfect Title, Mylute and Freedom Child completed the order of finish. Vyjack scratched to run in Sunday’s $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.
Palace Malice ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.37, making this the second-fastest of 42 Jim Dandys ran at that distance. Only Louis Quatorze (1:47.26) ran faster. He paid $4.70 to win as the favorite.
“He was better than last time,” Smith said of Palace Malice. “Those are kind of big words to say after winning the Belmont, but he truly was and with room to grow. The last sixteenth of a mile he was well within himself and searching for more ground if I needed it.”
He will need it in the Travers, which is run at 1 1/4 miles.
Palace Malice raced in second, about one length off Moreno, who set fractions of 24.06 seconds for the quarter, 47.48 for the half-mile, and 1:11.13 for six furlongs.
Palace Malice engaged Moreno around the far turn and tussled with him until just outside the sixteenth pole, when he began to edge clear.
“Horse broke really well, went to the first turn very relaxed," Pletcher said. "We had a beautiful trip. He got into a good, comfortable rhythm down the backside, relaxed nicely, finished up pretty well. That’s a very, very good time.”
Will Take Charge, who raced in fifth early, was the only horse to make up any ground, closing the margin in deep stretch but never really threatening.
“He got first run on us,” D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of Will Take Charge, said of Palace Malice. “When you’re a closer like we are and they cut that corner and get that first kick, it’s hard to run them down. But the next one’s a little longer."
Eric Guillot, trainer of third-place finisher Moreno, said he would come back in the Travers.
“You got to be happy with that," Guillot said. "The rest of the field was back. These are the best 3-year-olds in the country. The Belmont winner beat me, but he dug in and showed a little game effort.”
The biggest disappointment in the race was Mylute, the 5-2 second choice who finished eighth in the nine-horse field, beaten 20 lengths.
“When he makes his run it’s from the half-mile pole home," said Tom Amoss, trainer of Mylute. "At the half-mile pole I knew he wasn’t making a run, I knew we were in trouble."