Although Coolmore was out of luck in Saturday's Grade 2 Swale at Gulfstream, with the scratch of Havana and the upset of No Nay Never, the ownership team of Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Susan Magnier received some consolation when Gala Award prevailed soon afterward in the Grade 3, $150,000 Palm Beach. Making his stakes debut off a maiden win over the local turf, the Todd Pletcher sophomore held on by a half-length from the closing Mr Speaker.
A $1.55 million Keeneland September yearling, Gala Award was adding to the legacy of his breeder William Currin, who just passed away on February 11. The Bernardini colt became the third graded stakes winner produced by his dam, the Carson City mare Wilshewed, following Grade 1 hero Stormello and Grade 2 scorer My Best Brother.
"I'm very proud of this horse," Pletcher said. "It seems like he's been improving leaps and bounds over the winter. We felt like his maiden race was strong enough from a figure standpoint to take a shot and the mile and an eighth would suit him, and it worked out really well."
Gala Award, sent off at 8-1, tracked the pace set by 5-2 favorite Storming Inti through splits of :23 4/5, :48 1/5 and 1:11 2/5 on the firm turf. Fellow stalker My Storm Trooper raced virtually in tandem with Gala Award before retreating from contention. Right about the same time, Pleuven, Storming Inti's stablemate from the Chad Brown barn, advanced into contention and appeared poised to join the top two.
But as Pleuven's bid stalled in the stretch, Gala Award issued a stern challenge to Storming Inti at the mile mark in 1:34 2/5. He subdued the gritty pacesetter, who was seeking his fifth straight win, inside the final furlong. Then Mr Speaker, the 3-1 second choice, surged from further back. Although Mr Speaker had all of the momentum in the final yards, Gala Award did enough to secure the verdict. Under Hall of Famer John Velazquez, he finished nine furlongs in 1:46 and returned $18.
"Finally I get to win a stakes," enthused Velazquez, who was winning his first stakes since his January 25 comeback from surgery following his spill in the November 2 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
"It was a perfect trip," Velazquez continued. "He did everything that Todd (Pletcher) said he would do. He said he'd place himself pretty forwardly and that I had to make sure to get after him a little bit early, because the horse that Javier (Castellano) was riding (Stormin Inti) was a fighter. When he gets there, he likes to hang a little bit, but he put in a good fight today."
"The race unfolded almost exactly like we thought it would," Pletcher said. "We thought we'd be close, and we wanted to keep some pressure on Storming Inti. The turf horse has been playing kind to horses that have been playing close and we wanted to be involved."
Mr Speaker had a neck to spare over third-placer Storming Inti, who was in turn a half-length up on Pleuven. Next came Can'thelpbelieving; My Storm Trooper; Cabo Cat; Morning Calm; So Lonesome; Patent; Smart Cover, who stumbled at the start of his comeback; and Two Jacks Wild. The main-track-only Ring Weekend stayed in the barn.
Gala Award has bankrolled $123,180 from his 3-2-1-0 line. Racing exclusively on the Gulfstream turf, the bay was second in his December 7 unveiling. He then picked up the services of Hall of Famer Gary Stevens, who was in town for the Eclipse Awards, and broke through with a workmanlike maiden score on January 20.
"It is a big jump," Pletcher said of going from a maiden into the Palm Beach, "and I think it says a lot about his quality. He's been improving. His dirt works have improved a lot. I'm not going to rule out something like the dirt or the Blue Grass (on Keeneland's Polytrack April 12). I think with today's effort he put everything in play and we'll see where we go from here."
The Kentucky-bred will seek to emulate his half-brothers at a higher grade. Stormello captured the 2006 Hollywood Futurity and Norfolk and placed in four stakes -- the Best Pal and Del Mar Futurity during that juvenile season as well as the Fountain of Youth and Woody Stephens at three. My Best Brother earned his signature wins on turf in the 2012 Del Mar Derby and Oceanside. As his name implies, My Best Brother is a full sibling to Stormello, both by Stormy Atlantic.
Gala Award descends from a family that continues to churn out black-type performers. His relatives include multiple Grade 3 victor The Pamplemousse; multiple Grade 1 star and $2.4 million-earner Marlin; and Grade 1-winning mother-daughter duo of Madcap Escapade and Dubai Escapade.