BELMONT STAKES (Grade 1)
Belmont Park, Dirt, 2400m
8 June 2013
Cot Campbell pioneered the idea of racing partnerships in the late 1960s, but, in November 2011, announced that he was pulling back after 40-plus years in the business. Following the 13-1 upset of Palace Malice (Curlin) in Saturday’s GI Belmont Stakes, he may consider jumping back in. At 85 years of age and 23 years removed from Summer Squall’s victory in the GI Preakness Stakes and runner-up effort in the GI Kentucky Derby, the ebullient South Carolinian was full of emotion in the winner’s circle. “It’s the mother of all great moments, I’ll tell you that,” he told Bob Costas. “I’m proud for Dogwood and for my great partners… and I’m proud for Aiken… they’ll be dancing in the streets, so proud. And for the horse! The horse, the horse, I’m SO proud of him!”
A $25,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase in 2011, Palace Malice was a different sort when he reappeared in Lexington for the 2012 Keeneland April Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training. Hip 36 was knocked down to Campbell, who has made it something of a habit to sign for horses early in the sales. “He was always a nice horse and we were thrilled to get him and honestly we were kind of surprised to get him for that [$25,000] price [as a yearling],” stated Niall Brennan, whose brother Colin signed for Palace Malice as a yearling. “He had a chip in his hind ankle, and maybe that turned some people away, but we never took it out. He was only a May foal, but he was well grown.” Brennan explained the rationale for pointing the colt towards the Keeneland sale. “He was young in his mind and I decided in December that he wasn’t a horse that I wanted to push on to an early sale. We wanted to give him a break for a few weeks and point for the Keeneland sale and that helped greatly. He always showed a lot of athletic talent. I thought that since he was by Curlin out of a Royal Anthem mare, the synthetic track should be to his liking, and he trained well over the track.” Brennan also paid tribute to the Dogwood maestro. “I am so thrilled for Mr. Campbell,” Brennan offered. “He is one of the great inspirations in our sport today. How can you not be happy for a guy like that? It’s been a privilege for us to be involved.”
It wasn’t but three months after the sale that Javier Castellano donned Dogwood gold-and-green for his July 5 debut over five furlongs of the Belmont main track. Always held in high regard by the Todd Pletcher stable, Palace Malice was bet down to 2-1 and came running late to be second before graduating as a heavy favorite next time out at Saratoga August 4. He emerged from that effort with bucked shins, so instead of pressing on to the late-season stakes, he was put away for the year and made his 3-year-old bow in a seven-furlong Gulfstream allowance contested over a sloppy strip January 19. However, he had the misfortune of running into a race-fit Majestic Hussar (Majestic Warrior) and settled for the runner-up spot. That effort earned Palace Malice a chance to prove his mettle along the Triple Crown trail, and it was the GII Risen Star Stakes in New Orleans that would mark his stakes and two-turn debuts. With Rosie Napravnik at the controls, the athletic bay threatened in the final furlong before finishing a close third with the likes of subsequent Classic place-getters Oxbow (Awesome Again), Golden Soul (Perfect Soul) and Mylute (Midnight Lute) behind him. The GII Louisiana Derby beckoned as a logical next step, but what unfolded was a nightmare, as he made a solid middle move, but was blocked when the real running started and he could do no better than seventh to favored Revolutionary (War Pass) as the 7-2 second choice. With a Derby berth hanging in the balance, Palace Malice was sent to the GI Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on just two weeks’ rest April 13, and he looked on his way to victory, only to be nailed on the wire. According to Campbell, the colt jumped off leads when he saw tire tracks nearing the wire that day. Therefore, the decision was made to equip him with a set of blinkers for the Derby. The results were disastrous, however, as Palace Malice essentially ran off on the lead with Mike Smith, set a suicidal pace and drifted back through the field to finish 12th.
With those three races in the span of 36 days and with no compelling reason to go on to the Preakness, Palace Malice was programmed for the Belmont and turned in three exceptional works leading up to the race. Freedom Child (Malibu Moon), the GII Peter Pan Stakes winner, won the break, and, as trainer Ken McPeek advertised, Frac Daddy (Scat Daddy) was ridden for speed from the inside stall to fuel a fast early pace which saw the opening quarter go in :23.11. Oxbow was close in tow, and Palace Malice was able to get down several paths from his high draw, but might have clipped heels with the Preakness winner and was four wide into the first turn. GI Kentucky Derby winner Orb (Malibu Moon) and that race’s runner-up Golden Soul whipped them in as they braced themselves for the long Belmont backstretch. Frac Daddy had run his race by the halfway mark, and the Preakness winner pressed past to lead narrowly from Freedom Child after a half in a testing :46.66, as Mike Smith, who won the 2010 Belmont aboard Drosselmeyer (Distorted Humor) monitored things from third. Revolutionary, the Derby third, was the first to make any real noise from behind, advancing into about fifth as they approached the far turn, at which point Smith said go with Palace Malice, and the duo challenged for the lead leaving the half-mile pole. Further behind, a mud-covered Joel Rosario had steered Orb out of the kickback and into the clear, and that team made ominous progress as he looped horses on the turn. Back at the head of affairs, Palace Malice and Oxbow matched strides entering the 11th of the 12 furlongs with Orb looking dangerous from third, but the Pletcher trainee put away a game Oxbow, and, though leg-weary through the final 110 yards, proved clearly best.
“I kept saying I know there’s a big race there; I felt like Palace Malice had a big one in him,” said Pletcher, who sent out Rags to Riches (A.P. Indy) to his first Classic win over Palace Malice’s sire in 2007. “I kept waiting for it to materialize in the afternoon. He got close a couple of times but didn’t quite get it done. It was an emotional win for me because of the Dogwood connection,” said Pletcher, who also finished fifth with Revolutionary, sixth with the filly Unlimited Budget, seventh with Overanalyze and 12th with Midnight Taboo. “They supported me from the very beginning and to win a big race for them is really gratifying.” Other top Dogwood horses trained by Pletcher include Trippi, dual Classic-placed Impeachment, Grade I winner Cotton Blossom and multiple graded winner Smok’n Frolic.
Extracts from Thoroughbred Daily News