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Mar 07, 2014

Up the Backstretch: Split-squad Saturday for older horses

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

 Philadelphia, PA ( - In the middle of spring training, where baseball teams often have split-squad games in order to have all the players in camp get game action, Saturday will see top older horses performing in separate stakes on opposite coasts.

While Mucho Macho Man, Will Take Charge and Game On Dude tangle against each other in the 77th running of the Santa Anita Handicap, several other top thoroughbreds will do battle in the Gulfstream Park Handicap.

Two hours before the Big 'Cap at Santa Anita Park goes off with eight in the field, an equal number of horses will go a flat mile at Gulfstream Park. Standing as the probable favorite in the eight-furlong contest is 2013 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice.

Owned by Dogwood Stable and trained by Todd Pletcher, Palace Malice will be making his 2014 debut Saturday as will Itsmyluckyday, Golden Ticket and Sr. Quisqueyano.

"He's been training really well and everything has gone smoothly so far. I felt like this is a good place to get him started again," Pletcher said of Palace Malice. "He's always been a horse that trains very well, and doesn't seem to have lost any enthusiasm. I think the freshening should have done him well, and we hope to have a big year."

Itsmyluckyday, trained by Ed Plesa for his wife Laurie and Trilogy Stable, returns after a nearly nine-month rehab from a pelvic fracture.

"I wish I could have found a little bit easier spot," Plesa said about the runner-up in last year's Florida Derby and Preakness Stakes, "but when you're a horse like him who's won as many races as he has, it's not like Normandy Invasion who had an a-other-than condition to him that he was able to take advantage of. I don't have that luxury, but it is what it is. He's a good horse, and he'll run well. I'm anxious, I'm happy, (but) I'm not nervous because he'll go out there and give a good performance."

Golden Ticket, who dead-heated with Alpha in winning the 2012 Travers Stakes, makes his first start since finishing eighth to Will Take Charge in last November's Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. Trained by Ken McPeek, the 5- year-old was second to Goldencents in the 2013 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita.

"I really think he can be really effective at a mile," McPeek said. "But this race is a good starting-off point for the year. I don't know if I can tell you he's 110 percent fit, but I can tell you he's not far off. He's ready to run."

Sr. Quisqueyano, trained by Luis Olivares, begins his 4-year-old campaign in his ninth start at Gulfstream Park. The colt has won twice at the South Florida track with a second and third.

Another 4-year-old is Canadian classic winner Uncaptured. Trained by Mark Casse, Uncaptured has not won since claiming the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie way back on July 30.

"It was nice. It was funny because we employed a different strategy and came from out of it, and he actually won with considerable ease," Casse said of the Prince of Wales win. "As it turns out, he beat a pretty good horse in River Seven. It's always exciting to win a classic race."

Falling Sky, trained by George Weaver, is coming off a front-running victory four weeks ago in the Gulfstream Park Sprint.

"Those are two obviously proven class horses of the field," Weaver said about Itsmyluckday and Palace Malice. "They're both coming off layoffs.

"I think going a one-turn mile, if both horses are in good form, I might be a little bit more worried about Itsmyluckyday. But, it wouldn't surprise me if either one of those horses won."

Completing the field are the second- and third-place horses in the Gulfstream Sprint, Narvaez and Brujo de Olleros. The two stakes for older horses on the same afternoon is a positive sign for this year's thoroughbred racing season.

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