New Orleans Handicap shaping up strong

Mar 20th, 2014 | By TrackSide View | Category: Race Preview

Palace_Malice275webGraham Ross
Fair Grounds

NEW ORLEANS, La. – Dogwood Stable’s Palace Malice, hero of last spring’s Belmont Stakes in the final jewel of racing’s Triple Crown, is expected to be one of several notable graded stakes winners to invade the Crescent City for the upcoming 90th anniversary edition of the Grade II New Orleans Handicap March 29 on Louisiana Derby Day at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.

The $400,000 New Orleans Handicap, contested at 1 1/8 miles, is Fair Grounds’ showcase race of the season for older horses on the main track and is one of four Grade 2 stakes slated for Louisiana Derby Day.

Palace Malice, an entire son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, finished third in last season’s Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes here and seventh in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby after suffering severe traffic problems, but didn’t begin to exhibit much mental maturity until later in the spring when he was runner-up by a neck in Keeneland’s Grade I Blue Grass Stakes.  A disappointing 12th place finish in the Kentucky Derby showed he still had some developing to accomplish.

However, that mental maturity was completed with his Belmont Stakes score, a second straight win in Saratoga’s Grade 2 Jim Dandy, a fourth-place run in that oval’s Grade I Travers when beaten less than a length for the win, and a runner-up finish in Belmont’s Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Palace Malice’s sophomore season ended with a sixth-place finish in Santa Anita’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic following another less-than-stellar break from the gate.

In his only start this season, Palace Malice returned to competition brilliantly with a head tally in South Florida’s Grade II Gulfstream Park Handicap.

Fox Hill Farms’ Normandy Invasion, who was compromised by a slow break when sent to the post as the choice in last season’s Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes here, is also due for a return to the Crescent City to try to make amends for that defeat in the upcoming New Orleans Handicap.

Trained by Chad Brown, Normandy Invasion bypassed last year’s $1 million Louisiana Derby in favor of a start in Aqueduct’s Grade I Wood Memorial in early April where he finished second by three-quarters of a length after being bumped just after the start.  A subsequent start in the Kentucky Derby, where he was once again forced to steady, resulted in a fourth-place finish when beaten less than four lengths at the wire.

After being taken out of training following the Run for the Roses, Normandy Invasion returned to competition at Gulfstream Park Feb. 22 and galloped home 7 ¾-lengths in front of his nearest rival.  The New Orleans Handicap will be his second start of the season.

Joseph Sutton’s Bradester,  winner of Fair Grounds Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap Feb. 22 as the final designed prep for the New Orleans Handicap, is expected to return for the March 29 main event, as is Jim Tafel’s Fordubai, third in the Mineshaft but winner of the $100,000 Louisiana Handicap here Jan. 18.

Others expected at this time for the New Orleans Handicap include Gallant Stable’s Majestic Harbor, most recently fourth in Santa Anita’s Grade 2 San Antonio Feb. 8; Charles Fipke’s Golden Soul, runner-up in last spring’s Kentucky Derby but making his first start as a 4-year-old; and Lothenbach Stables’ Mister Marti Gras, ninth in the Mineshaft as his first start of the year but runner-up in last fall’s Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup.

Finally, it should be noted that WinStar Farm’s Revolutionary, hero of last spring’s Louisiana Derby, remains at this time as a possibility for this year’s New Orleans Handicap.  After his 2013 Louisiana Derby score, Revolutionary went on to run third in the Kentucky Derby and fifth in the Belmont Stakes in his final start of the year.

Returning to competition in an allowance and $100,000 optional claiming race at Gulfstream Jan. 11, Revolutionary won by a half-length but then ran seventh in Gulfstream’s Grade I Donn Handicap in his last start Feb. 9.

However, it is wise to remember that Revolutionary is conditioned by Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, known in New Orleans for winning the Louisiana Derby and New Orleans Handicap in back-to-back Fair Grounds seasons with Twin Creeks Racing Stables’ Mission Impazible in 2010-2011 and Michael and Doreen Tabor’s Circular Quay in 2007-2008.

When texted Wednesday with the question “Is Revolutionary coming for the New Orleans Handicap?” the five-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer replied with a one-word answer:  “Maybe.”

NYRA file photo
Palace Malice

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