Trainer Todd Pletcher didn’t have much to say on Saturday.
He didn’t have much more to say on Sunday, either.
Jockey John Velazquez said Palace Malice “went through the whole race not paying any attention” after Dogwood Stable’s star 4-year-old clunked his way through a sixth-place finish in the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga Race Course.
Dudsville, USA, was barn 62.
Palace Malice was looking like the king of the handicap division, but after Saturday’s dull performance, that’s all out the window for now.
More significantly for Pletcher and Dogwood, absent any excuses, they’ll be forging ahead to the next one, the Woodward on closing weekend, hoping that the Whitney was an aberration. That’s all they can do.
Most of Palace Malice’s losses in big races can be attributed to something tangible, usually a stumble at the break, but Pletcher faces a much more nebulous challenge this time.
“It is a head-scratcher,” he said on Sunday morning.
Palace Malice came into the Whitney in terrific form, both racing and training.
He and Velazquez faced a tricky scenario in the race because Moreno had the potential to be the lone speed, but Velazquez was able to get Palace Malice in what he called perfect position on the backstretch, less than two lengths behind Moreno with clear sailing a few paths off the rail.
He started to make a move on the turn, but it didn’t significantly cut into Moreno’s lead, and as Palace Malice came off the turn, he unnecessarily wasted ground by angling four wide before straightening in the stretch.
“As I was watching the race unfold, I never felt like he was taking Johnny anywhere,” Pletcher said. “Then he sort of fanned the far turn a little bit coming off the bend . . . but, I don’t know.”
Pletcher rattled off the usual list of post-race indicators in a practiced cadence: “He cooled out sound, he scoped out clean, he ate up last night, his temperature’s normal and he’s sound this morning.”
All that did was put the question mark in bold type.
“We’ll pull some bloodwork on him later in the week, and see if that reveals anything. If that doesn’t, then I don’t know what to do other than regroup and start training again,” Pletcher said.
Barn 72 was even quieter, if you can believe that. But the morning was soon to perk up.
A lovely smell came out of a smoker, even though it was empty, as were the picnic tables, then trainer Eric Guillot got back from a radio interview and held court with just three reporters at the other end of the barn, near Moreno’s stall.
The voodoo string still hung from the tree, and Marylou Whitney’s framed smile was still on the trunk.
All systems are go for Moreno to head to the Woodward and/or Jockey Club Gold Cup, Guillot said, as a bridge to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
He’s actually looking forward to running Moreno longer than nine furlongs.
“He was the first one to congratulate me,” Guillot said of Pletcher. “Classy guy. For all he does, and as big as he is, he’s the only one I really care for. He’s a good guy.”
Guillot also got texted congratulations from his west coast rival, Bob Baffert, although “He left the window open just a little bit. ‘Pretty impressive’ instead of saying ‘very’ or something,” Guillot said. “He’s not going to give me 100 percent, but that’s Baffert.”
Guillot showed us the text string, with his “Thanks, my boy. All good at Del Mar?” reply, and Baffert’s “Del Mar same. Everyone still hates everyone.”
The blanket of pink Whitney roses is resting in the stall of Sir William Bruce, Guillot’s colt who dropped dead earlier in the card on Saturday.
It’s not a memorial, just a cool, dark spot to leave the roses before they’re sent to a specialist in flower preservation so that owner Mike Moreno can hang it on a wall “in one of his big mansions,” Guillot said.
“It did feel a little chokey-up, a little weird when I put them in there,” he admitted, but also, “I told my partner if I can’t get the flowers preserved, I’m going to wear them like a WWF wrestler on the viewing stand over there and make a video. Like Rick Flair . . . WOOOO!!”
That’s more like it.