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A Seat in the Bleachers: Guillot's voodoo won't stop Palace Malice

Saturday, August 24, 2013
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It’s possible that an alligator named Kobe picked the wrong weekend to escape within 50 miles of Saratoga Race Course.

There’s a guy from Cajun country with a horse in the Travers who showed up for the draw in camo cargo shorts and wondered if he’d be allowed to use the Travers canoe “to go froggin’ ” if his horse wins.

Trainer Todd Pletcher seems to be deriving as much enjoyment from counterpart Eric Guillot’s sideshow this week as anyone, despite the voodoo dolls and the pins sticking out of the head of the one meant to be Pletcher himself.

A giant black vat of gumbo simmered outside Guillot’s barn 34 on Friday, so the gator perhaps should just turn around and head back to Lebanon Valley from whence he came.

Meanwhile, the temptation to consult Guillot’s great grandmother’s tarot cards is not without its appeal when handicapping the big race.

There are nine horses, and the only automatic tosses for me are Kentucky Derby runner-up Golden Soul, who was over 10 lengths behind Palace Malice in the Belmont and over 29 lengths behind Verrazano in the Haskell, and War Dancer.

Besides the fact that War Dancer is going turf-to-dirt, he just doesn’t look fast enough to beat most of the horses in the field.

I think Transparent is interesting, based on the way he rocketed past the field from the outside in the Curlin, and I won’t hold it against him that he was disqualified.

He and stablemate Romansh, who benefitted from that DQ, will have their varsity silks on today, the royal blue of Godolphin Racing that already adorns one of the Travers canoes.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said early in the meet that they had been “waiting, waiting, waiting” to get Transparent into a race, for the first time since April, and they went the easier route in the Curlin.

He looked like he would have fit in pretty well in the Jim Dandy, won by Palace Malice, until you look at the final Curlin time, which was over two seconds slower run by horse who was all out to win.

So the New York Racing Assoc­iation will not be saving any money on paint this year.

That leaves me with five — Pletcher’s one-two punch of Palace Malice and Verrazano; Kentucky Derby winner Orb; Moreno, named after owner Mike Moreno of Southern Equine; and Will Take Charge.

The first out of the canoe will be Will Take Charge, who was only a length behind Palace Malice in the Jim Dandy.

He gets tossed here on the belief that, although he was close, it wasn’t because he was running by Palace Malice.

Will Take Charge was merely cutting the gap against a horse who hit the wire willingly and with authority.

Mike Smith wasn’t exactly flailing away at Palace Malice to hold off Will Take Charge; an extra furlong isn’t going to make a difference.

I’d be willing to wager that running in all three Triple Crown races is bound to catch up on Will Take Charge sooner than later, too.

Orb did the same, but he hasn’t raced since the Belmont and was sent to Fair Hill to be pampered back into form. He looks like a fresh animal.

I was tempted to pick Orb, but I’m not sure if I fully trust him again yet.

He was my Derby and Preakness pick, and all the signals coming from Shug McGaughey’s barn indicate that he could be primed for a sensational return.

Trouble is, some of the others, particularly Pletcher’s two, have gotten better.

That leaves us with the voodoo-er and the voodoo-ee.

Guillot put together a hilarious little photoshop sequence with a Twilight series action figure representing Pletcher and a horse doll for Palace Malice, with pins sticking out of their heads.

The combination equals a canoe painted in Southern Equine’s white, yellow and blue silks pattern.

This year’s Travers dead heat is between Pletcher and Guillot in who can crack up more over Guillot’s mischief.

It’s easy to take Guillot’s tongue-in-cheek bombast and seemingly bottomless vat of one-liners as cartoon character material, but Mor­eno swears by the 51-year-old who let his owner throw a pre-Travers gumbo cookoff at his barn.

“We’ve been friends and have had this business relationship for 10 years,” Moreno said. “He’s a character. He’s the kind of guy that you have to get to know to appreciate. The exterior is very rough and tough, but when you peel the onion a little bit, it’s not that bad. What’s good about Eric, in spite of us being friends and the reason I continue to support him, is he’s a great horseman. You can’t take that away from him. He’s loyal and honest to a fault.

The good humor also displayed by Pletcher, however, speaks volumes.

For one thing, it tells me how confident he is, and why shouldn’t he be?

Guillot might get the spare canoe to float around in with his frogging trident, but the other one will be painted in the green and yellow of Dogwood Stable.

It’s hard to deny Verrazano’s spectacular Haskell, which is beginning to make his Derby failure look like a piece of mystery meat that you can just ladel around to get to the good stuff.

I’m willing to wager that the mile-and-a-quarter question is still a legitimate one, though, as it is for Moreno, so the pick is Palace Malice.

“It seems like, in the period of time from the Kentucky Derby to the Belmont, that he kind of stepped his game up another notch,” Pletcher said. “For whatever reason, he’s become a little more professional and learned to put himself in a good position and deliver that closing punch. I guess you could say it all came together after the Derby, but his talent’s always been there.”

So, Kobe, if you’re out there, steer cleer of barn 34 tonight, because they will still be throwing a party, win or lose, and there will be a bed of rice waiting for you.

The bed of carnations will be over at barn 62.

 
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