SARATOGA SPRINGS I can’t remember Captain Stubing ever meddling in any of the amorous behavior on the “Love Boat.”
Isaac, your bartender? Sure.
Julie McCoy, your cruise director? Yep.
Gopher, your yeoman purser? Of course.
But the captain ran the ship and let his crew deal with Charo.
So any comparisons between the Pacific Princess and L’Affaire Princess at trainer Todd Pletcher’s barn sink to the ocean floor.
In that case, Captain Pletcher went out of his way to separate the male and female protagonists of a silly story that made the rounds after Palace Malice indifferently clunked his way through the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga Race Course on Aug. 2.
The two biggest stars in his barn, Princess of Sylmar and Palace Malice, were, respectively, “distracted” in her last race and “not paying attention” in his last.
Considering that they had been stalled next to each other and a photo of them touching noses was posted on Facebook, the easy conclusion was that Palace Malice didn’t have his mind on his job when he finished a mystifying sixth in the Whitney after having established himself as the best older dirt horse in the country.
Jockey John Velazquez went so far as to say that Palace Malice “never showed any interest in running.”
The 4-year-old Princess of Sylmar, meanwhile, has been moved one stall away from 4-year-old Palace Malice, who now has colts, Eastwood and Carpe Diem, as next-door neighbors.
She has also been wearing blinkers for the first time in her career during workouts, and will wear them on Friday when she tries to break a two-race losing streak in the Personal Ensign.
The equipment change, unusual for an experienced horse with established patterns and preferences, is meant to help her keep her focus during workouts and races. Pletcher said she was uncharacteristically distracted while losing to Belle Gallantey in the Delaware Handicap on July 12.
As for the theory that Palace Malice’s Whitney was compromised by his daily proximity to the pretty chestnut filly, Pletcher isn’t buying it.
“I figured I’d end any speculation just by separating them,” he said. “But I don’t put any stock in it.”
“Yeah, and that was a cute story,” said Dogwood Stable’s Cot Campbell, who owns Palace Malice. “But other than being cute, there wasn’t much to it. But I think Todd moved her just so he wouldn’t have to hear a hell of a lot about it.
“There’s not much that goes unconsidered by Todd Pletcher. And the horse is generally not studdish.”
Pletcher, of course, has much bigger concerns than quelling idle gossip about his horses.
There is uncertainty surrounding both as they head into important races at Saratoga. Palace Malice is scheduled to run in the Woodward on closing weekend.
Princess of Sylmar, owned by Schenectady native Ed Stanco, has been pointing toward the end of the year, so this is a watershed moment for her.
Pletcher said the blinkers were an experiment in training that worked; now that effect needs to transfer to the Personal Ensign.
“Generally, it’s not something we do often with a seasoned, older horse,” he said. “But it’s something that’s been in the back of my mind for awhile, so off her last race, which I thought was below her normal standards, we wanted to experiment with them in her training. I liked what I saw.”
The jury is still out on both horses.
As Campbell said, even when Palace Malice has found trouble or created his own in races, at least he has finished them off, for better or worse.
That didn’t happen in the Whitney.
“It is perplexing and troubling, sure,” he said. “It certainly is perplexing coming off four straight stakes, to not be paying attention. Uncharacteristic. But they’re strange animals.
“God, it would be wonderful to win the Woodward. It really would. And it makes it worrisome coming off that other race. You’re dying to see him back to the real horse again, and I think we will. But I’ll be damn glad when it happens.”