07/31/2014 1:49PM

Crist: Rare rivalry featured in Whitney


So many things in racing don’t quite work out the way we would like. Horses’ careers are cut short by injury; they fail to hold their form from year to year; potentially compelling rivalries fizzle just as they’ve begun. It’s the nature of the game. It also makes it all the more heartening, and worthy of celebration, when things work out as well as could be hoped for, which is what will happen when Palace Malice and Will Take Charge step onto the Saratoga track Saturday afternoon to face off in the $1.5 million Whitney Stakes.

In some ways, this is exactly how the career of racehorses should unfold – two durable and talented colts, trained by masters of the game, running in the sport’s premier races and inevitably crossing path in pursuit of championships.

Both of these colts raced at Saratoga as 2-year-olds. A year later, they carved up Saratoga’s 3-year-old prizes, with Palace Malice beating Will Take Charge by a length in the Jim Dandy, then Will Take Charge beating Palace Malice by three-quarters of a length in the Travers. Now they are back for a Round 3 at Saratoga, facing each other in New York’s richest race for older horses.

Since the Travers, they have taken turns leading their division over the last 12 months. Will Take Charge won the 3-year-old title with subsequent victories in the Pennsylvania Derby and Clark and a fine second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. This year, Will Take Charge has struggled a bit, winning just 1 of 5 starts, but has been second in three Grade 1 races from coast to coast – the Donn at Gulfstream, the Big Cap at Santa Anita, and the Stephen Foster at Churchill.

Palace Malice, meanwhile, lost his final three starts as a 3-year-old after winning the Belmont Stakes and the Jim Dandy, but has returned an improved and thus far unbeatable 4-year-old, winning all four of his starts – the Gulfstream, New Orleans, Westchester, and Metropolitan handicaps under increasingly high weight, the last three with sparkling Beyer Speed Figures of 114, 113, and 111. He is widely considered the top racehorse in the country; last Monday, he received 32 of the 38 first-place votes in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s weekly Top Thoroughbred Poll. (Wise Dan, the reigning two-time Horse of the Year, was second with 5 votes, California Chrome third with one.)

The stars lined up just right for these two still to be racing at the highest level. Both colts have owners well past retirement age who think they have the best horse in the country and want to race them rather than hustle them off to stud. They have world-class trainers who are not afraid to run them: Palace Malice (Todd Pletcher) has made 16 career starts, while the Whitney will be Will Take Charge’s 21st trip to the post for D. Wayne Lukas.

Palace Malice also offers a pleasing connection to the last time that an older male dirt horse was considered the nation’s top runner at year’s end – his sire, Curlin, who by coincidence will be inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame next Friday, in his first year of eligibility to the sport’s shrine. Curlin was the Horse of the Year in 2007, when he won the Preakness, Jockey Club Gold Cup, and Breeders’ Cup Classic and in 2008, when he took the Dubai World Cup, Foster, Woodward, and Jockey Club Gold Cup. Since then, every U.S. Horse of the Year has been a filly (Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, Havre de Grace) or a grass horse (Wise Dan.) Palace Malice, from the first crop of foals sired by Curlin, could return a traditional older dirt male to that perch.

The Whitney, doubled in value from $750,000 to $1.5 million this year, is part of a stellar, stakes-rich Saratoga card Saturday that is the third attempt this year at consolidating stakes races in New York to create big festival days. (The first two were Belmont Stakes Day, June 7, and the inaugural Stars and Stripes Day, July 5.) The Whitney is one of three Grade 1 races on the program, along with the Vanderbilt and the Test, which also includes the ungraded De La Rose and Lure.

It should be an excellent afternoon of racing, headed by a showdown between the top racehorse in the country this year and the champion 3-year-old of last year, each spending his third summer at Saratoga. It’s racing as it was meant to be.


John Stevelberg More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed your article - good writing.
mark oleary More than 1 year ago
It is refreshing to see these horses still running and not already covering 125 mares apiece. When you do the math on that the returnn is staggering no matter what the stud fee is. And barring a freak accident in the shed, it's a lot safer than running at the track. So, kudos to both owners of these magificent animals, and this is what racing needs to give the populace some heroes like back in the day you could always count on Kelso to be running on Saturday afternoons. or further back, iron horses like Citation, who went to post over 20 times in his 3 year old season, even winning a race between one of the Triple Crown races. Yes , that's what racing needs, horses that stick around for season after season. It's easier for the geldings because there is nothing else, but be it stakes caliber entire males or females, the economics and practicality governs that they be taken away from us way too soon. Something to think about for all owners of horses of that ilk, because you have to give something back or you have no sport left and you'll be killing the golden goose.
Rick Baldwin More than 1 year ago
Here's my line for today: 1.I'll pull for"Billy The Bull"&"Hooked Forever"together. 2."Alexis Inspires"fires today & Matz has"Skidmore ready for more. 3."Firespike"has a lot to like but Shug could cut the rug with"Face The Music". 4.Don't"Miss Lamour"she's easy to love tho I'm sold on"Lady Of Gold". 5.Let's"Fire Away"& say"Royal Son"Burns-dines". 6.Don't get bitten by"Granny's McKitten"Ribaudo has a"Knacque"for this track 7.You can fetch a nice price with Pletch to put Brown down. 8.I'm not takin'"Bakken"maybe "Palace"can catch the pace again today. 9.I favor"Miss Behaviour"but"Sweet Whiskey"is tricky &"Tea Time"also fine. 10."Palace Malice"should get the chalice,tho"It'smyluckyday"may have a say &"Departing"leave them smarting. 11."Legendary"can exceed & excel,but due tell,I'm smitten by"Big Blue Kitten & can even see"Villandry"to make three.
Hail No More than 1 year ago
Interesting contest. PM even money? WTC 8 or 9-5? Give me 12-1 or better on LG, though not too crazy about the 9 post..
Neal Baker More than 1 year ago
Keep on overlooking Itsmyluckyday. His Salvator Mile race was a monster, and the runner-up and third place horse ran 1-2 on Haskell Day in the Monmouth Cup. I won't claim that he'll beat Palace, but I believe he'll hit the board at double-digit odds. Who's with me ?
Hail No More than 1 year ago
Can't see double digits on IMLD, he might be 3rd choice, 7 or 8-1? Good luck, hope you do get some double digit odds..
Neal Baker More than 1 year ago
If PM goes off at even money and WTC and Departing are the 2nd and 3rd choice then there's no reason why my pick won't go off between 10-12/1.
Rick Baldwin More than 1 year ago
I'm in....
Neal Baker More than 1 year ago
Let's hope we have something positive to chat about after the race !
mike More than 1 year ago
Neil,I've stated for days he will prevail,he's seriously being ignored.
prlyr4lyf More than 1 year ago
Golden ticket with the big upset
John Cook More than 1 year ago
Gotta wonder how long PM, or any horse, can keep a streak like this going. 8 straight 100+ Beyers and 3 straight 110+? I gotta think PM is due for a drop-off in the next couple races. WTC had 8 straight 100+ Beyers before it happened. GOD ran 6 between Classics last year. At some point it's gonna happen and I'd rather jump off too early than too late at even odds. IMO, only 4 horses have the speed to win here: PM, WTC, Romansh, and possibly Moreno. Romansh hasn't been able to put up a top effort in G1 company and Moreno looked better last year. So, I'm looking at the 4-1 on WTC as a potential gift.
Rick Baldwin More than 1 year ago
mike More than 1 year ago
He's not Cigar.
Rick Baldwin More than 1 year ago
That's then,this is now-send it in: 1."Jacob's Here"will be near if"The Mooche"is a chooche again. 2.Cox is no lock,"Bella Beauty"is a cutie just like Perillo. 3.I'm a little leery of"Dragonberry"let's drop a dime on"Luna Time". 4."St Moose"might get loose & not be"All Tied Up". 5."Get Busted"can be trusted tho it would be folly to leave out"Solly's Mischief". 6."How"can 'Rad miss in this...Jose &"Once A Week"might pull a sneak on his brudder. 7."Greeley Pack"can come back if"Lunar Tales"fails. 8."Smokey Brown"may come around if"Arch Avenger"is not an"Old Upstart". 9.Nutmeg Stable is able to make"Free As A Bird"drop a turd. 10."Dividend"may not bend & if"All My Trails"fails put"Seal Team Six"in the mix.
Nick Sisti More than 1 year ago
Moreno and will take charge have a bit of a rivalry too -- battery anyone?
Rick Baldwin More than 1 year ago
John Cook More than 1 year ago
Just Google "Saez battery Travers"
Rick Baldwin More than 1 year ago
Oh,now I remember....
Amy Hurley More than 1 year ago
You make it sound like "a traditional older dirt male" returning "to that perch" would restore horse racing to its former glory. All would be right in the world of horse racing if only "traditional older dirt males" ruled once again. I don't think Zenyatta, Rachel, Havre de Grace and Wise Dan have been such terrible representatives of the pinnacle of the sport.
James More than 1 year ago
I don't get that at all. Crist is just contrasting poor trends in American racing against something very positive.
Rick Baldwin More than 1 year ago
I didn't think Wise Dan deserved it last year,maybe Crist feels the same way,but is too much of a gentleman to write it.
B More than 1 year ago
I agree. WD is excellent at what his connections allow him to do, but oddly, he also owes at least 4 Eclipse Awards to Game on Dude's strange inability to win the BC at Santa Anita of all places. Had he won the last two Classics, Dude would have been named HOY and best older male both years reducing WD's awards to two. Woulda, shoulda, coulda, it didn't happen, but my how the last two year's of racing history would have turned out oh so differently simply due to two races. Still think either Dude or MMM deserved the older male award last year over Dan. As for the Whitney, my guess is that PM will win it, but I will be rooting for WTC or an upset by the speedy Moreno.
RandomNameMeToo More than 1 year ago
MMM, a good but not outstanding horse, deserved Older Male last year? No way. Wise Dan earned it, plain and simple. He's a lot better horse than MMM ever was. And he'll easily be in the Hall of Fame, while MMM won't even come close.
Ann More than 1 year ago
The turf award is for turf achievements, the older horse award is for main track achievements. It isn't called that because when they started thinking of voting for champions or naming champions in this country, turf racing barely existed. They added the turf championships when turf racing became bigger. So what major main track race did Dan win in 2013?
B More than 1 year ago
I was just trying to be nice to MMM's fans. I don't think he deserved it either, but I do think Dude did.
mike More than 1 year ago
Wise Dan deserved it.
B More than 1 year ago
No, he didn't.
mike More than 1 year ago
Well,obviously the voters didn't agree with you. lol