07/29/2013 6:31PM

DRF Breeding Weekend Wrap: Palace Malice, Verrazano solidify positions at top of the 3-year-old division

Barbara D. Livingston
Jim Dandy winner Palace Malice gave two-time Horse of the Year Curlin a classic winner from his first crop.

The 3-year-old male division existed in a state of uncertainty during the nearly two-month span between Palace Malice’s upset win in the Belmont Stakes and last weekend’s top-level stakes at Saratoga Race Course and Monmouth Park. Results from the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes at the Spa and the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth were eagerly anticipated for those eager to solidify the divisional leaderboard, as Palace Malice was set to make his first start since the Belmont in the Jim Dandy on Saturday and both Preakness winner Oxbow and highly-rated Verrazano were entered in Sunday’s Haskell.

Kentucky Derby winner Orb’s planned return later this summer in the Travers remains a wild card, but as of now there is no doubt about Palace Malice’s legitimacy and Verrazano’s talent. Palace Malice, the textbook definition of a late bloomer, backed up his Belmont breakthrough with a facile score in the Jim Dandy, settling nicely in the backstretch under Mike Smith before spurting clear in the lane and cruising to a one-length victory over Will Take Charge, who also put together a nice effort after subpar races in the Preakness and Belmont.

Palace Malice covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.37 – the second fastest in 42 runnings of the Jim Dandy – and the Curlin colt earned a 107 Beyer Speed Figure (Will Take Charge earned a 105). Trainer Todd Pletcher told the Daily Racing Form’s Dave Grening that Palace Malice would point to the Aug. 24 Travers.

Palace Malice’s pedigree was discussed in detail following his Belmont win. From two-time Horse of the Year Curlin’s first crop, the colt is out of the stakes-winning Royal Anthem mare Palace Rumor. Based both on pedigree and his form – his Belmont win fully validated – the Travers’ 1 1/4 miles should be right in the colt’s wheelhouse.

In the Haskell, Verrazano shot past early pacesetter Oxbow on the far turn and rolled to an overpowering 9 3/4-length win over Power Broker. The More Than Ready colt, whose only loss from six career starts prior to Sunday came in the Kentucky Derby, finished 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.68 and earned a 116 Beyer. He set a stakes record for margin of victory in the Haskell, eclipsing Bluegrass Cat’s seven-length win in 2006.

Pletcher said following the Haskell that Verrazano would point to the Travers as well, where he could face Kentucky Derby winner Orb in addition to his stablemate Palace Malice. Verrazano’s pedigree, with Grade 1 winners Chic Shirine and Queena in his female family circle, is certainly high-quality but also suggests that 1 1/4 miles might be at the far reaches of his ability. Moreover, the colt’s only poor effort did come in the Derby when he tired to 14th after chasing a hot pace set by… a blinkered Palace Malice. At any rate, based on the previous weekend’s results, this year’s Midsummer Derby is shaping up to be one of the most exciting and competitive in years and could very well settle the 3-year-old championship unless a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner emerges from the crop.

Weekend notes: Points Offthebench picked up a Grade 1 win in his first stakes start on Sunday at Del Mar, outfinishing game 3-year-old Goldencents in the final strides of the six furlong Pat O’Brien. The 4-year-old Benchmark gelding finished in a final time of 1:09.04, good for a 98 Beyer. He has won five of seven career starts and earned $364,940 for owners Donnie Crevier and Charles V. Martin.

Points Offthebench is out of the unraced Free House mare Mo Chiusle, is a full brother to Grade 3 winner Bench Points. Stallion Benchmark, who stands at Ballena Vista Farm, will be profiled this week as DRF Breeding’s Hot Sire.

Laughing picked up her first Grade 1 win in another hard-fought race, taking the Diana at Saratoga on Saturday over fellow Irish-bred racemare Dream Peace. Both are daughters of prominent Juddmonte sire Dansili, who stands at Banstead Manor Stud in England.

A winner of two Grade 3 races at Monmouth prior to her top-level breakthrough at the Spa, Laughing has now won six of 13 starts and earned $668,855. She defeated rallying Dream Peace by a head and covered the 1 1/8 miles on turf in 1:47.24 for a 95 Beyer.

Laughing is out of the winning Be My Chief mare Comic. She is a half-sister to Viva Pataca, who won nearly $11 million during his racing career and was Hong Kong’s Horse of the Year in 2009. Multiple Grade 2 winner and sire Brave Act is another notable family member.