A patient Palace Malice collared Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Oxbow coming out of the final turn and dominated the stretch run to post a convincing 3 1/4-length upset win in the $1 million Belmont Stakes (gr. I) June 8 at Belmont Park (VIDEO).
It was the first victory over winners for Palace Malice. The son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin raced without blinkers in the 1 1/2-mile event after setting a wicked pace in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) May 4 when he wore the hood for the first time and faded to 12th.
The result means that a different horse won each jewel of the 2013 Triple Crown. Oxbow was second in the Belmont, with Kentucky Derby winner Orb producing a mild rally from far back in the field of 14 3-year-olds to finish third as the 2-1 favorite. The final time was a slow 2:30.70 on a track upgraded to fast earlier in the afternoon after heavy overnight rains in New York.
Jockey Mike Smith, who finished second in all three Triple Crown races last year, picked up the victory at odds of nearly 14-1 for trainer Todd Pletcher and the venerable Cot Campbell's ownership group, Dogwood Stable.
"The key to the win was blinkers off," said Smith, who previously won the Belmont in 2010 aboard Drosselmeyer. "The Derby was a sneaky good race if you go back and look at it. This race, he was enjoying the whole trip. He was breathing it all in and he was so relaxed."
Pletcher entered a record five horses in this year's Belmont and was clearly pleased by the result.
"It's huge," said Pletcher, who won the 2007 Belmont with the filly Rags to Riches. "We always felt he had a big win in him. He just needed to put it all together."
W.S. Farish's Lane's End Farm bred Palace Malice in Kentucky. The bay colt out of the Royal Anthem mare Palace Rumor sold for $200,000 when consigned by Niall Brennan Stables at Keeneland as a 2-year-old in training in April 2012. Lane's End has now sold seven winners of the Belmont Stakes: Bet Twice, A.P. Indy, Lemon Drop Kid , Jazil, Thunder Gulch, Rags to Riches, and Palace Malice.
The winner paid $29.60, $11.20, and $6.70 while topping a $323.50 exacta. Oxbow returned $9.90 and $6.10, while Orb paid $3.90 to show.
"It's the mother of all great moments, I'll tell you that," Campbell exclaimed at the post-race news conference. "I'm proud for Dogwood and for my great partners, and I'm proud for Aiken, S.C. They'll be dancing in the streets. And I'm proud of Todd, one of the greatest trainers of all time, and Mike Smith, one of the great riders. And for the horse. I'm so proud of him."
Palace Malice broke his maiden last August at Saratoga Race Course going 6 1/2 furlongs in his second start, but had lost five straight since then. Prior to the Derby, he came closest to breaking through when he ran second in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) on the Polytrack at Keeneland. He finished a neck behind Java's War that day in spite of shifting out and unexpectedly changing leads approaching the wire.
In his next start in the Kentucky Derby, Palace Malice broke on the fly but was quickly done after opening a 3 1/2-length advantage and clipping off fractions of :22.57 and :45.33 on a sloppy, sealed track.
His effort in the Belmont was much more the type of race Palace Malice ran in the Blue Grass. Breaking from post 12, he was forwardly placed on the outside while stalking in fourth. He advanced into third rounding the far turn and soon challenged Oxbow, who had taken the lead from the weakening Frac Daddy and Freedom Child.
After getting the lead, Palace Malice was in control through the lane under some left-handed urging from Smith. He won as much the best in spite of a final quarter-mile that was clocked in a glacial 27.58 seconds.
Oxbow, who raced on the quick early pace on the outside of Frac Daddy and Freedom Child, held gamely for second for Gary Stevens by 1 3/4 lengths over Orb and Joel Rosario.
"I'm so proud of this colt," Stevens said of the runner-up. "I thought I was dead midway down the backside. They were suicidal fractions and he never got any break."
He credited Smith with riding a superb race, putting pressure on Oxbow from the outside.
"Midway around the turn, I said, 'Well, maybe.' But I have ridden long enough to know that he was going to walk home the last quarter of a mile," Stevens said. "Going into the far turn, I didn't think (Oxbow) would have hit the board. To finish second, I am really surprised. He galloped out after the race like you wouldn't believe."
As Palace Malice was passing Oxbow, Smith said he heard Stevens holler to him, "Go on with it, big boy. You're going better than me."
The quarter-mile fractions for the opening mile were :23.11, :46.66, 1:10.95, and 1:36.47.
"It's just incredible. I feel like I'm floating, man," Smith said. "I'm just in awe right now. The game plan was mapped out, and it really went to the game plan. We were laying third on the outside of Oxbow, like we wanted."
Palace Malice is from the first crop of his sire Curlin, who was champion 3-year-old and Horse of the Year in 2007 and repeated as Horse of the Year in 2008. Palace Malice's dam, Palace Rumor, was a stakes winner on turf and a half sister to multiple stakes-winning sprinters Maya's Storm and Jumpifyoudare.
Palace Malice is the second Dogwood standard-bearer to start in the Belmont. Impeachment, a stretch runner who got up for third in the both the 2000 Derby and Preakness Stakes (gr. I), finished unplaced in the Belmont.
"It was an emotional win for me because of the Dogwood connection," Pletcher said. "They supported me from the very beginning, and to win a big race for them is really gratifying. I kept saying I know there's a big (race) there; I felt like he had a big one in him. I kept waiting for it to materialize in the afternoon.
"He got close a couple of times but didn't quite get it done. (The Belmont) pretty much went in the early part the way we anticipated it would in terms of where we were positioned. (Smith) was able to get him in a nice comfortable rhythm and travel along, pretty quickly, considering the distance, but he looked like he was in a good comfortable rhythm and that was the main focus."
Pletcher's other starters in the 2013 Belmont were Revolutionary (fifth), Unlimited Budget (sixth), Overanalyze (seventh), and Midnight Taboo (12th). Three of them–Unlimited Budget, Overanalyze, and Midnight Taboo–raced in the colors of owner Mike Repole.
Unlimited Budget was looking to become the fourth filly to win the Belmont and was ridden by female jockey Rosie Napravnik.
Palace Malice was also third in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) this season followed by a seventh in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II). He improved his career mark to 2-3-1 from eight races with earnings of $871,135.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, the four-time Belmont winner who saddled Oxbow and Will Take Charge (10th), offered congratulations to the winners.
"I was really happy with his performance today," the Hall of Fame conditioner said of Oxbow. "Anytime you could hook into a field with that much parity and that many good horses...he performed as well as we could have expected. I was happy for Todd, as he is obviously well-connected with us, and I'm happy for Cot Campbell as well."
McGaughey offered no excuses for Orb, who was 13th after a half mile but began to pick up horses on the outside rounding the final bend. He finished willingly while no threat to the first two.
"He just ran OK," Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said of Orb, who was coming off a fourth-place finish in the Preakness following his Derby victory. "He made a good run around the turn, but we had given up so much. The speed horses held all up front and we just couldn't catch them."
"It has been fun," McGaughey said of the experience. "I've got no problems with anything. Everything's fine with me. I just wish we had showed a little better performances in the Preakness and the Belmont."
Incognito, the only horse in the Belmont racing without the anti-bleeding medication Lasix, finished fourth. The official order of finish after that consisted of Revolutionary, Unlimited Budget, Overanalyze, Vyjack, Golden Soul, Will Take Charge, Giant Finish, Midnight Taboo, Freedom Child, and Frac Daddy.