Dogwood Stable's Palace Malice punched his ticket to be a part of the field for the 139th edition of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 4, with a stirring performance last Saturday in the 1⅛-mile, $750,000, Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

It was the 3-year-old colt's racing debut over a synthetic surface, and he made it a memorable one, with a second place effort, beaten by a neck by the eventual winner Java's War.

“The race was wonderful,” said W. Cothran Campbell, president of Dogwood Stable. “Initially, I was disappointed and then quickly became thrilled that he had validated himself. He put his belly on the ground, and went to work and nailed that horse (Rydilluc), which was no easy task.”

But there were a couple of variables that factored into the equation that may have played a part in Palace Malice just missing in the Blue Grass Stakes, Campbell said.

“Oddly enough, he spied the tractor tracks from the starting gate close to the wire and shifted to his left lead inadvertently, then Garrett (Gomez, Palace Malice's jockey) made him switch back to his right, both of those things probably cost him a few feet, in any case, he got beat, he ran well and was second.”

The 1-mile, $2 million, Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on May 4, will be Palace Malice's third start in five weeks, making for a busy itinerary for the bay colt, after making starts on March 30 in the Louisiana Derby and last Saturday in the Blue Grass Stakes. A change in equipment for the Run for the Roses is also a distinct possibility.

“He's on a heavy schedule, and we're asking him for a lot,” said Campbell. “He's at Churchill and would have jogged this morning, his first day back on the racetrack. He will gallop tomorrow. We may gallop him in blinkers because he does have a tendency to look around a little bit, and he demonstrated that when he looked at the tire tracks. We'll see how he likes the blinkers.”

Palace Malice will also have a new jockey. Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith will have the call for the first time on the horse trained by five-time Eclipse Award winning trainer Todd Pletcher.

“I talked with Mike Smith today (Tuesday), who is going to ride him, and he has 5,000 winners, and has won the Derby, Preakness and Belmont,” said Campbell. “He said, he's excited about him. He's (Smith) going to work him on the 28th, his one and only work prior to the Derby.”

This will be Dogwood Stable's first Kentucky Derby starter since Limehouse in 2004; however, Palace Malice will be the Aiken-based stable's eighth Derby starter, and the excitement associated with the race is still palpable, Campbell said.

“I think to have run eight horses in the Kentucky Derby is noteworthy, and I don't imagine that there are many owners who've done that,” said Campbell. “It's a great thrill. I want to absorb it all.”

However, it's a team effort, and Campbell acknowledges the role many of those behind the scenes have played in getting Palace Malice to this stage.

“I credit Brad Stauffer and Ron Stevens, who I've been with for many years,” said Campbell. “There's not more conscientious and skilled horsemen anywhere. The Aiken Training Track is the greatest training ground for Thoroughbred horses there is. There's no place better. I have great respect for the veterinarians and the riders, and the grooms especially. We have the greatest core of grooms over there that exist anywhere, in our barn.”

Dogwood Stable runners have finished second, Summer Squall, 1990; third, Impeachment, 2000 and fourth, Limehouse, 2004, in the Kentucky Derby.

“We're due for a fifth or first, and I'll take the latter,” said Campbell.