Dogwood Stable’s W. Cothran Campbell has long been associated with excellence in the sport of Thoroughbred racing.

However, those who know him recognize not only his commitment to managing his racehorse partnerships but also the love he has for his family and the place he has made his home since 1986 – our city of Aiken.

It’s that same contagious enthusiasm that has made him a powerful presence, often inspiring a community and bringing a sense of pride to an area that has equestrian sport interwoven into its narrative tapestry.

But it was the stable’s latest star, a 3-year-old colt named Palace Malice, that provided Aiken with an intimacy few communities could ever experience. The Dogwood Stable runner was Aiken’s horse and gave the community the opportunity to participate in the Kentucky Derby in a very special way.

And thanks to Campbell, his warmth and insight, we were able to go along for the vicarious ride, providing us with a palpable experience, one that captured the community’s spirit and imagination.

We found ourselves as a community wearing the green and yellow Dogwood Stable silks, glued to the television as we witnessed Palace Malice’s brilliant performance in the Blue Grass Stakes, where the bay colt qualified for the Kentucky Derby field. We found ourselves in the saddle and irons for his final breeze in preparation for his Run for the Roses; we were in the barn, shedrow, paddock, round pen, walking ring, training track and sales ring through the stories shared by those who knew the horse best and the visceral joy one felt when he was in front for the first three-quarters of a mile of the world’s most prestigious race.

Palace Malice is our horse, and when Campbell, his family and the multiple-graded stakes placed horse’s connections participated in the Derby Walkover from the barn to the saddling paddock, all of Aiken was part of that experience.

The city of Aiken was in the irons with Palace Malice’s jockey Mike Smith in the post parade and when the bay colt was loaded into the starting gate.

It can be argued that there’s no event in all of sports that offers the drama as does the Kentucky Derby, and we were there, not just in spirit, but through a visceral connection that only a community with a passion for horses as indelible as a hoofprint on the Aiken Training Track after a misty fall morning.

Palace Malice may not have won the Kentucky Derby, but his performance has earned him a place in our hearts, one we will treasure forever.