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Spa Stars: Palace Malice back where it started

A year ago Palace Malice was a colt his connections paid $200,000 for at a 2-year-olds in training sale, were subsequently high on after he exposed his talents in the mornings at Saratoga and a veteran of exactly one race.

A year later Palace Malice is back at Saratoga as one of three winners from the 2013 Triple Crown series and one of the marquee horses expected to compete during the 40-day meeting that opens Friday and runs through Labor Day.

And oh yes, he’s still good in the mornings.

Call him impressive if you will.

His connections won’t argue.

“He’s doing super,” trainer Todd Pletcher said Tuesday. “If anything he’s getting better and better and actually moved forward since the Belmont. We’re excited about running him in the Jim Dandy.”

The decision to run Palace Malice in the July 27 Jim Dandy by Pletcher and Cot Campbell of Dogwood Stable keeps the two star 3-year-olds trained by Saratoga’s nine-time leading conditioner apart with Verrazano headed to Monmouth Park for the Haskell Invitational the next day.

Good performances in those late July races will clear the way to start looking at the late August Travers Stakes for those two colts.

The Travers would be Verrazano’s first start at Saratoga, but not Palace Malice’s.

Palace Malice was an impressive odds-on winner toward the early part of last season’s Spa meet. He bucked shins after that win and didn’t race again until mid-January at Gulfstream Park, finishing second to the mud-loving Majestic Hussar on a sloppy and sealed surface. The race was good enough to keep him on the road to the classics and he earned a spot in the Kentucky Derby field with good-but-not-great efforts in the Risen Star and Blue Grass sandwiched around a somewhat troubled seventh in the Louisiana Derby.

Palace Malice ran off with the addition of blinkers in the Derby, clocking splits of :22.57, :45.33 and 1:09.80 before retreating and finishing 12th.

The Curlin colt bounced back in the Belmont, sitting off the early pace before winning a slugfest with Preakness winner Oxbow in the stretch. He won the 12-furlong test by 3 1/4 lengths from Oxbow, with Kentucky Derby winner Orb another 1 3/4 lengths back. The three classic winners are on target for the Travers, an easy seller for the New York Racing Association.

Pletcher knows the race is out there but isn’t looking too far ahead just yet.

Right now he’s worried about the continued progress of Palace Malice, whose three workouts here are shades of old for the colt who showed much promise last spring and summer and now comes into the biggest meet of the year as one of the marquee stars.

“He’s doing great,” Pletcher said Wednesday, trekking back and forth between Saratoga’s main track and his barn on a hot and steamy morning. “Hopefully he continues doing what he’s doing.”

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