03/01/2014 6:48PM

Gulfstream Park: Gala Award goes from maiden win to Palm Beach victory

Barbara D. Livingston
Gala Award, ridden by John Velazquez, wins the Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes on Saturday.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Two hours before boarding a plane bound for California to attend the Barretts sales, trainer Todd Pletcher was standing in the Gulfstream Park winner’s circle with his latest graded stakes winner, Gala Award, who rallied to a half-length victory over the late-running Mr Speaker in Saturday’s $150,000 Palm Beach Stakes. Storming Inti, the 5-2 favorite, set the pace and gradually weakened to finish third.

Gala Award, a maiden winner in his previous start, enjoyed a perfect trip in the Grade 3, 1 1/8-mile Palm Beach. With jockey John Velazquez aboard for the first time, Gala Award raced within easy striking distance of Storming Inti, who showed the way through moderate fractions of 23.90, 48.25 and 1:11.25 over a firm turf course. Gala Award rallied three wide to engage the winner into the stretch, gained the advantage leaving the eighth pole, then held off Mr Speaker’s belated bid.

Mr Speaker trailed early, made a quick move to contention down the backstretch, had to steady briefly awaiting clearance on the second turn, then finished best of all once finally switched back to his right lead near midstretch. Storming Inti succumbed grudgingly to finish another neck behind Mr Speaker.

The victory was the second in three starts for Gala Award, a son of Bernardini who is owned by Coolmore. He paid $18.

“I’m very proud of this horse, he ran a big race,” said Pletcher. “It seems like he’s been improving leaps and bounds. I felt like his maiden race was strong enough from a figure standpoint, and that a mile and an eighth would suit him. And it worked out really well. It’s a big jump going right from a maiden race to become a graded stakes winner, which says a lot about his quality.”

Pletcher said the Palm Beach unfolded almost exactly as he thought it would.

“We wanted to put some pressure on Storming Inti, and the turf course has been playing kind to horses laying close, and we wanted to be involved,” said Pletcher. “So the race went pretty much just like we’d hoped.”

Pletcher said Gala Award has several options for his next start.

“His dirt works have been improving, and winning today put just about everything in play, including possibly the Blue Grass,” said Pletcher.