NEW YORK — Palace Malice rewarded his owners never-wavering faith by scoring an impressive victory Saturday in the Belmont Stakes, the third jewel in horse racings Triple Crown.
He finally lived up to my belief, Cot Campbell, president of Aiken-based Dogwood Stable, said after Palace Malice pulled away in the stretch to win by 3¼ lengths in the 1½-mile test at Belmont Park. Im absolutely thrilled and very thankful.
Palace Malices sire, Curlin, won the Preakness, finished second in the Belmont and third in the Kentucky Derby, and Campbell could see the same potential in Palace Malice. But, Campbell said, He has not been a lucky horse.
After bucked shins curtailed his 2-year-old season in 2012, the colts ill-fortune included getting blocked in the Louisiana Derby and finishing seventh in a race he easily could have won, Campbell said. He raced again two weeks later, placing second in the Blue Grass Stakes in another winnable outing.
Given the colts loss of concentration in the Blue Grass, Campbell and trainer Todd Pletcher put on blinkers for the Kentucky Derby. But instead of the desired result and his usual stalking race, Palace Malice rushed to the lead, set a sizzling pace for three-quarters of a mile and fell back to 12th after tiring.
Off came the blinkers for the Belmont, and Palace Malice easily bested Preakness winner Oxbow and Derby winner Orb, the 2-1 favorite, with a winning time of 2:30.70. At 15-1 odds, he paid $29.60 to win and earned $600,000 from the $1 million purse.
Palace Malice trained strongly after the Derby, and Pletcher said his next-to-last work for the Belmont was one of the best of any horse he has trained. Earlier in the week, top assistant Michael McCarthy said, This horse has a big one in him.
Palace Malice received a perfect, stalking trip under hall of fame jockey Mike Smith. What we had hoped for in the Derby, but the horse just took off, Campbell said.
He was fourth, four paths wide, turning up the backstretch, on the outside, while Frac Daddy and Oxbow zipped through a 46.66-second opening half-mile, the second-fastest in the history of the race. Only the pace set by Secretariat in his otherworldly 1973 performance was faster.
As the field advanced toward and went around the far turn, Frac Daddy dropped away, leaving Oxbow to try and fend off Palace Malice. Smith said that Gary Stevens, aboard Oxbow, realized his horse could not keep up and said, You go on with it.
Palace Malice gradually increased his advantage to two lengths passing the eighth pole and to 3 1/4 at the wire.
Smith, who won the 2010 Belmont on Drosselmeyer and finished second in all three Triple Crown races last year, said he wondered if Campbell and Pletcher would change riders after the Derby. No way, Campbell said.
No thought of that, Campbell said. Never! Hes one of the great jockeys of all-time. The Derby certainly was not his fault, and he gave the colt a relaxed and perfect ride today.
Purchased as a 2-year-old in training for $200,000 at Keenelands 2012 April sale, Palace Malice has won $871,135 in his career. His victory Saturday gives Campbell and Dogwood two Triple Crown triumphs; Summer Squall won the 1990 Preakness.
This is one of the great moments in my years in racing, said the 85-year-old Campbell, who introduced syndicated ownership to the sport. Todd talked about being quietly confident, but I thought more in terms of hoping and praying for the absence of bad luck.
We got that, no bad luck, and beating the horse that won the Preakness (second-place Oxbow) and the one that won the Derby (third-place Orb) make it better. Were in pretty salty company.
State writer Bob Spear contributed to this report