Saturday, June 8, 2013

Palace Malice: A Heartwarming Belmont Victory

Racing enthusiasts spend months awaiting the Triple Crown, scouting talented young Thoroughbreds as they embark upon the search for the horse that can finally quench our thirst for a Triple Crown winner. And within a matter of five weeks – weeks that seem to pass within the blink of an eye – it is over.

Yet another year has passed without the capture of the coveted Triple Crown. For the sixth time in the past ten years, three different horses won each leg of the prestigious series, not only eliminating the dream of a Triple Crown triumph being achieved for the first time in thirty-five years, but discombobulating the three-year-old scene.

But one theme was recurrent throughout the 2013 Triple Crown: old-school. Beginning with Orb’s victory in the Kentucky Derby (GI) for the classic connections of Shug McGaughey and the Phipps and Janney families, the throwback feeling continued when Oxbow– ridden by Gary Stevens, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, and owned by Calumet Farm – upset the Preakness Stakes (GI).

The final leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes (GI), was promoted as a rematch between the Derby and Preakness victors, but twelve additional Thoroughbreds aligned to contest against that pair to form the largest Belmont field since 1996. Among those fourteen starters, only three – Orb, Oxbow, and Will Take Charge – had contested in each jewel, but only four horses in the field had not contested in a single Triple Crown race. In fact, half of the field was directly exiting the Kentucky Derby.

Amid those horses was Palace Malice, the eccentric pacesetter of the Kentucky Derby. Equipped with blinkers for the first time in the Run for the Roses, the bay son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin had essentially taken off with Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith, and after setting a blistering pace, he weakened to finish twelfth.

Palace Malice
Photo by Brittlan Wall
It was immediately decided that the blinkers would be taken off the Blue Grass Stakes (GI) runner-up. The colt departed the Derby in good order, working very well as he prepared for the Belmont Stakes, posting a trifecta of noteworthy breezes at Belmont Park as trainer Todd Pletcher looked on.

Palace Malice entered the Belmont under morning line odds of 15-1. Of Pletcher’s record five Belmont starters, the colt was the second-longest shot on the morning line. To the roar of more than 47,000 people gathered at the New York track, Palace Malice loaded into the twelfth stall alongside his rivals over a track that had dried enough to be labeled fast – a day after it had been an oval of slop.

Palace Malice broke well and Mike Smith immediately guided him to the vanguard, angling his mount closer to the inside as Preakness winner Oxbow also galloped to the front. Meanwhile, along the inside, Frac Daddy and Freedom Child also charged to the lead.

Racing wide around the wide clubhouse turn, Palace Malice was only a small matter of lengths behind the early leader, Frac Daddy. As a brisk initial quarter-mile of 23.11 was set, Palace Malice remained comfortable in a stalking position, edging closer to the front midway through the first curve. As Frac Daddy, Freedom Child, and Oxbow formed a cluster at the front of the pack, Palace Malice sat just behind them, inching closer as a half-mile clocking of 46.66 – the fastest since Secretariat’s record-breaking victory in 1973 – was recorded.

As Frac Daddy began to drop back, Oxbow seized the lead over Freedom Child, allowing Palace Malice to advance to the third position. Less than two lengths separated Palace Malice and Oxbow as the backstretch began to transform into the far turn. Threatening the Preakness victor on the outside, Palace Malice began to rally beneath a stationary Mike Smith, drawing even with Oxbow in the early stages of the final curve.

Palace Malice established a narrow advantage over Oxbow near the end of the far turn as the pair abandoned their remaining rivals by more than three lengths. Leading his thirteen opponents into the long, grueling stretch of Big Sandy, Palace Malice began to kick clear, opening up on Oxbow and the closers that were gradually gaining ground on the frontrunners.

This moment of drawing away proved crucial for Palace Malice, as he staggered home. However, the rest of the field did the same, allowing the bay colt to maintain his wide lead as he captured the 145th installment of the classic by 3 ¼ lengths. As trainer Todd Pletcher celebrated gleefully in the grandstand, Mike Smith galloped Palace Malice out with a euphoric grin upon his face, gazing up at the heavens as he pumped his fists victoriously. Meanwhile, Cot Campbell – president of Dogwood Stable, which owns Palace Malice – relished the victory, his first Triple Crown race win since Summer Squall carried the Dogwood green and yellow silks to victory in the 1990 Preakness.

The 2013 Triple Crown was over, but not without style. Old-school had reigned again, treating racing fans with a glimpse into the past.

Palace Malice
Photo by Brittlan Wall
While Pletcher may not appear to fit with the theme of old-school, it must not be forgotten that he is a former assistant to D. Wayne Lukas, having worked under “The Coach” for seven years. During this time, Pletcher was associated with the likes of Derby and Belmont winner Thunder Gulch, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) champion Flanders, and champion filly and winner of thirteen grade ones, Serena’s Song.

And although Mike Smith has graced many headlines in recent years – especially during his years of riding the popular Zenyatta– the 47-year-old jockey has made his name be known in racing since the early 1990s. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003, Mike Smith had won one edition of each Triple Crown race prior to this year’s Belmont.

But the true old-school story that Palace Malice carried into the winner’s circle with the garland of carnations was that of Dogwood Stable. Founded in Aiken, South Carolina in 1973, Campbell’s Dogwood Stable has sent a plethora of high-caliber Thoroughbreds to the racetrack, including not only Summer Squall, but the Champion Two-Year-Old Filly of 1996, Storm Song. For 23 years, a Triple Crown race win had eluded the storied stable, but with two of the most recognizable faces in racing in Pletcher and Smith, Campbell was finally able to attain yet another victory in one of the sought-after spring classics.

After the race, 85-year-old Campbell, who had led his horse into the winner’s enclosure with a heartwarming smile upon his face, summed it up best: “This is the mother of all great moments, I’ll tell you that. I’m proud for Dogwood and for my great partners. . . And I’m proud for Aiken, South Carolina; they’ll be dancing in the streets. . . And I’m proud of Todd, one of the great trainers of all-time and Mike Smith, one of the great riders. And, for the horse, the horse, the horse! I’m so proud of him.”

While Palace Malice’s connections carry an old-school story, Palace Malice carries a story of fate. The dam of Palace Malice, Palace Rumor, was trained by small-time trainer Burl McBride, who sent the daughter of Royal Anthem to Hal Wiggins’ barn at Churchill Downs for a start beneath the twin spires in 2005 while the remainder of his small stable remained at Ellis Park. Although he planned to send Palace Rumor – two years old at the time – back to Ellis Park after her race, he decided to keep her overnight at Churchill following a taxing effort.

Early the next morning, a tornado ripped through Ellis Park, killing three of the seven horses McBride had stabled there. Palace Rumor – who, by the intervention of fate, had remained safe at Churchill Downs – was the only horse he had left. She would go on to be a black-type winner, accumulating career earnings of $271,135 before being sold for $140,000 to William S. Farish of Lane’s End Farm at the 2008 Keeneland January Horses of All Ages Sale while in foal to Tiznow.

One year later, Palace Rumor was bred to Curlin. The result was Palace Malice, who McBride attempted to purchase but was never able to, although he has eagerly followed the colt.

And so now, the colt who exists by the intervention of fate has won one of the greatest races in the United States for the trainer who learned the ropes from a Hall of Famer, for the Hall of Fame rider that had searched for redemption, and for the owner who truly loves the game and the animals that make the game what it is: the horses.

Palace Malice
Photo by Brittlan Wall

4 comments:

  1. Wonderful, wonderful. I so loved reading this.

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    1. Thank you! I am glad you enjoyed it.

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  2. Great stuff, Mary! This year's Triple Crown season, while short of a TC winner, will still likely be known as the "season of the old school", with connections of all three winners representing a bygone era very admirably.

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    1. Thank you! Although the drought did not come to an end, it was a very enjoyable Triple Crown season!

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