It was a bit of a surprise.


That was the reaction from W. Cothran Campbell, president of Dogwood Stable, regarding the fast fractions set by Palace Malice during the first half-mile of Saturday's 139th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.


The bay colt was equipped with blinkers, which seemed to sharpen his performance, but Campbell was taken a bit off-guard when jockey Mike Smith took Palace Malice to the front during the early stages of the race, setting what he referred to as a suicidal pace for three-quarters-of-a-mile.


Palace Malice spent six weeks in Aiken training under the watchful eye of Legacy Stable's trainer Brad Stauffer before being sent to five-time Eclipse Award winning trainer Todd Pletcher.


The Kentucky Derby was Palace Malice's third race in five weeks. The colt will receive a respite from racing and will not be pointed toward the Preakness Stakes, the middle jewel of Thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown.


Dogwood Stable is no stranger to the Kentucky Derby, with the 139th edition being the seventh time the Aiken-based operation has participated in the Run for the Roses, and Palace Malice was their eighth starter.


However, it was its first Kentucky Derby starter, Summer Squall, that Dogwood Stable may be most closely associated with, as the son of Storm Bird ran a brilliant second in the 1990 edition of the race.


But the opportunity to be in Louisville during Derby Week is something one never gets tired of, said Campbell.


“We had a lot of well-wishers, and there were a lot of people pulling for us,” said Campbell. “It was a wonderful experience to see so many old pals in the morning at the racetrack. It's one of the most dramatic events in sports. As the afternoon goes on, the tension increases.”


It was also a chance for Campbell to spend time in an environment he loves, with the most precious people in his life, his family.


“I had the opportunity to be with my children and grandchildren during the walkover with the horse,” said Campbell. “I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.”