It may have been raining earlier, but when Dogwood Stable's Palace Malice hit the wire to win the 145th running of the 1˝-mile, $1,000,000 Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, there was plenty of blue sky.
Palace Malice is the first horse to have trained over the Aiken Training Track to win the third jewel of Thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown since Danzig Connection won the Belmont Stakes in 1986. An equipment change may have factored into the bay colt's performance, as Palace Malice raced without blinkers on Saturday.
The son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin rated kindly, and raced just off the early pace, providing him with tactical options, said W. Cothran Campbell, Dogwood Stable president, in a phone interview on Saturday evening.
Jockey Mike Smith was very emotional, and after Palace Malice set an extremely fast pace in the Kentucky Derby, there was speculation by some that the Hall of Fame rider wouldn't get the return call on the Dogwood Stable campaigned colt. But there was never any consideration of removing the two-time Eclipse Award winner, said Campbell.
“I thought they were going pretty fast after the first half mile,” said Campbell, about the pace that was being set in the 1 ˝-mile race.
“As they were turning for home, Oxbow's jockey Gary Stevens looked over, and said to Mike, 'Go on little brother, you're moving better than me. Save me some of your wind.'”
Campbell paid tribute to the city that has stood behind the horse, since breaking his maiden last August at Saratoga, in front of the global viewing audience on NBC, by saying, “They're dancing in the streets of Aiken” after Palace Malice's impressive Belmont Stakes victory.
The colt was one of a record five starters saddled by five-time Eclipse Award winning trainer Todd Pletcher. Palace Malice's Belmont Stakes win was the colt's first stakes victory.
Dogwood Stable had previously won a Classic race, winning the 1990 Preakness Stakes with Summer Squall, the middle jewel of Thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown. Summer Squall was bred by W.S. Farish III and W.S. Kilroy. Palace Malice was bred by W.S. Farish.
Palace Malice's Belmont Stakes victory is extremely satisfying for a man whose impact on the sport of Thoroughbred racing continues to resonate loudly. As the pioneer of Thoroughbred race horse partnerships and winner of the Eclipse Award of Merit, Campbell has enjoyed incredible success during his 44 years as president of Dogwood Stable.
“This is one of the greatest days in my life,” said Campbell. “It's one of the great moments in my career.”
Palace Malice's next start may come in the 1⅛-mile Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga Race Course and then possibly the Grade 1 Travers, said Campbell.
Brad Stauffer, who trained Palace Malice in Aiken over the Aiken Training Track, was shaking after the colt's win in the Belmont Stakes.
“I kept watching to see if another horse was going to come at him, but no one ever did,” said Stauffer. “It's the dream of everyone who's been involved in Thoroughbred racing to be associated with something like this. And even though we played a small part in it, he was only at the barn for a little over a month, it's quite rewarding. I'm happy for the riders and the grooms who played a part in it.”
When the horses were going down the backside, Stauffer had a pretty good feeling about the colt's chances, as he watched the race with his family.
“Mike Smith was quite high, and was giving Palace Malice a little breather, he seemed relaxed, and I said, 'He's got a shot,'” said Stauffer. “It's a tribute to Mike and Todd (Pletcher). He set up well and trained well coming into the race.”
It was a friend of Campbell's who said, 'The horse was very unlucky, but there has to be some blue sky out there.”
“We had some blue sky today,” said Campbell. “I'd like to see more.”