The $1 million Belmont Stakes (G1), the final jewel in the Triple Crown, was billed as a showdown between the Kentucky Derby winner, Orb and the Preakness Stakes winner, Oxbow. However, it was Palace Malice who would upset the pair and take victory in the Belmont Stakes before a crowd of 47,562.
The win was the second Belmont victory for trainer Todd Pletcher, who won his first Belmont in 2007 when the filly Rags to Riches won a hard-fought battle with two-time Horse of the Year, Curlin. As the sire of Palace Malice, Saturday’s win may have been redemption for Curlin’s near-miss six years ago. Palace Malice’s victory gave Curlin his first Classic winner as a sire.
For jockey Mike Smith, who’s ridden in over a dozen Belmonts and won his first Belmont in 2010 with Drosselmeyer, the win with Palace Malice, the seventh choice among the bettors, was a collaboration of experience and luck.
“I was just blessed, again, to be part of it and to have ridden so many years in the Belmont,” said Smith. “I think Gary Stevens put it best when he said, ‘it's like the ocean.’ You can get lost, if you don't know it, and these are my waters. I know where the fish are at.”
As expected, Frac Daddy and Freedom Child set sharp fractions of :23 for the first quarter mile and :46.66 for the first half mile, battling for the lead. Frac Daddy won out and held the lead until Oxbow challenged him on the backstretch with Freedom Child trying to hold onto his second-place position. Patiently sitting in fourth was Palace Malice, who unleashed a powerful run in the long stretch, taking the lead with a few hundred yards to go. Once passed, Oxbow was unable to catch Palace Malice and finished 3 ¼ lengths behind. Orb, going off as the 2-1 favorite, was as far back as 13th at the start, rallied around the far turn and closed sharply in the stretch, but could not reach Oxbow and finished 1 ¾ lengths back in third. Incognito closed late to finish fourth.
In his last start, Palace Malice, wearing blinkers for the first time, set a fast pace in the Kentucky Derby only to finish 12th. The blinkers came off for the Belmont and a more mature colt emerged.
“The horse had trained really impressively, and we just felt if we could get him into that rhythm, get him relaxed, it wouldn't necessarily matter if he was on the lead, fourth, fifth,” said Pletcher. “Wherever he was, it wouldn't matter as long as Mike [Smith] had him in that big gallop he had.”
Although this year’s Triple Crown series was won by three different horses, trainers, jockeys, and owners, the Belmont win continued to hold the spotlight on the sport’s old-school stables with Cot Campbell and his Dogwood Stables aglow Saturday. Campbell was the first to introduce the idea of a syndicate or limited partnership in the ownership of a racehorse and started Dogwood Stable in 1973. The Belmont win gave the farm its second Classic victory, having won the Preakness in 1990 with Summer Squall.
In a 2011 podcast Campbell recorded after witnessing Ruler On Ice’s Belmont victory, the horseman described the joy and elation expressed by the winning connections, owners George and Lori Hall and trainer Kelly Breen, “All the heartaches in racing are made up for when you experience that one exquisite, sapphire of a moment…in any race. But think how it would be in the Belmont Stakes when your horse has hit the front, and you know he is going to get there. Like all superlatives in life, those fabulous flashes are few and far between.”
Saturday was Campbell’s sapphire moment.
“I don't know what would beat it,” said the eighty-five-year old Campbell Saturday after winning the Belmont. “It comes at, you know, what is certainly the twilight of my career, to put it euphemistically. It's a race that means a lot to me. I like the tradition of it, and I've come to the Belmont many years and, yeah, it's hot stuff.”
Palace Malice returned $29.60, $11.20, and $6.70. Oxbow paid $9.90 and $6.10 and completed the $2 exacta for $323.50. Orb paid $3.90 and completed the $2 trifecta for $931. Incognito completed the $2 superfecta for $20,602. The final time for the 1 ½ mile race over the fast dirt was 2:30.70.
Photo: NYRA.com/ Courtney Heeney