Palace Malice proved his class in the $1.25 million Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park, winning the second Grade 1 of his career for Dogwood Stables a year after taking the 2013 Belmont Stakes.
Fourth with three furlongs left to go, the 6-5 favorite in a 12-horse field shifted off the rail and split rivals to run down tiring pacesetter Broadway Empire, then put away 2013 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Goldencents while driving clear by a length, Romansh came in a half-length back in third.
"It's pretty extraordinary to have a horse win the Belmont a year ago and come back and win the Met Mile from the No. 1 post carrying 124 pounds and beating last year's Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner," trainer Todd Pletcher remarked. "In the process, it's an unbelievable accomplishment."
Broadway Empire struck out for the early lead in the Met Mile and was tracked with about a one-length advantage by Goldencents, making his first start of the year. A quarter went in :23.01 seconds and a half in :45.76 seconds while 124-pound highweight Palace Malice, getting the rail trip from post 1 under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, moved up from seventh race third, then fourth as Romansh made his outside move in pursuit of Goldencents and the leader.
Rounding the turn Palace Malice shifted gears and found running room between horses, easily clearing the tiring Broadway Empire on his inside before digging deep to pass Goldencents to his outside within the furlong grounds. The 4-year-old son of Curlin ran the mile in 1:33.56.
"When I finally got him through, he started running," Velazquez said. "He was [hesitant to go through]. The room was there, but I kind of have to keep him busy, keep him busy. The spot was there, but he went to jump from one side to the other one and I almost lost my spot. I got after him again, and he finally got through. Once he got through, he started running. [Out of the gate], the first jump was OK and the second jump he kind of grabbed himself a little. He didn't really bobble, he just stumbled a little bit, just a jump. After that I had to make sure I got him in the race."
Goldencents' connections said they were also pleased with their runner, who had not raced since finishing seventh in the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct Racetrack last November.
"We needed a little tuneup," said Leandro Mora, assistant to trainer Doug O'Neill. "This was his first race since he finished seventh in the Cigar. Too bad we couldn't have a race in between. We did all we could. We're extremely happy. We ran a great second, so we're fine. We're going for the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita."
Palace Malice returned $4.70, $3.70, and $2.90 while Goldencents paid $5.80 and $4.80. Romansh brought $7.90, while Shakin It Up, Clearly Now, Broadway Empire, Scarly Charly, Declan's Warrior, Vyjack, Normandy Invasion, Capo Bastone, and Moreno completed the order of finish.
Bred in Kentucky by W.S. Farish out of the Royal Anthem mare Palace Rumor, Palace Malice is undefeated in four starts in 2014, all of them graded stakes. He earned an automatic berth to the Nov. 1 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita Park in the Met Mile, a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" event.
Dr. Larry Bramlage, a member of the AAEP On Call program, said Shakin It Up displayed "no instabilities or external swelling" after being pulled up by jockey Rosie Napravnik and vanned off after the wire, but that he was lame in the left front and would be X-rayed and examined back at the barn for trainer Bob Baffert.
"He pulled up past the wire," Bramlage said. "The jockey felt him to be uneven and he was lame in the left front. Dr. Verderosa [New York Racing Association chief examining veterinarian] examined him. They didn't splint him or anything. He has no instability or external swelling. They just gave him a ride home in the ambulance to further examine him to be sure there wasn't anything wrong. He wasn't perfect when he pulled up."