Palace Malice, undefeated in his first four races this year, had a bad afternoon at Saratoga Race Course. The heavily favored Dogwood Stable colt finished a disappointing sixth in the Grade I Whitney Handicap on Saturday in upstate New York.


“There is no explanation; it’s a mystery,” said Dogwood president Cot Campbell during a telephone interview about an hour after the $1.5-million race.


With Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez aboard, Palace Malice stalked the front-running Moreno early and was clear of traffic while racing in the third.


When the field headed into the far turn, Palace Malice appeared to be in an ideal spot on the outside as he made his move to challenge. But then he faded in the stretch and was beaten by more than 10 lengths.


“The race unfolded precisely like we wanted it to until he turned for home, and then he just flattened out,” Campbell said. “Johnny (Velazquez) told me that he drifted out a hair. But that’s something he (Palace Malice) is inclined to do, and it certainly could not have been a factor. It wasn’t like he tried to go to the outside rail or something like that.”


Meanwhile, Moreno hung tough on the lead and captured the Whitney by 1¼ lengths. The 10-1 fourth choice in the betting, he covered 1? miles in 1:48.05 while being ridden by Junior Alvarado.


Campbell reported that Palace Malice was doing well immediately following the Whitney.


“He’s cooling out now, and he’s feeling good,” Campbell said. “He’s not even breathing hard. He’s bright.”


The Whitney was Palace Malice’s first race since June 7. On that day, the bay son of Curlin scored by a length in the grade I Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park.


“He hadn’t run for two months, so maybe that had something to do with it,” said Campbell of the 4-year-old colt’s subpar Whitney effort.


Plans called for Palace Malice’s throat to be examined Saturday evening to look for signs of internal bleeding, something that could be an explanation for his poor Whitney performance.


“At this point, I would have to be very creative to come up with a reason for his loss,” Campbell said. “I hope nothing bad surfaces tomorrow.”


Palace Malice has a career record of seven victories in 17 races. He has earned more than $2.6 million. Last year, he triumphed in the Grade I Belmont Stakes.


Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.