The Maloof brothers got into horse racing to relax and have fun. Known as the gregarious owners of the Sacramento Kings and the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, the family named its first Thoroughbred appropriately King Palm.
Now the 5-year-old colt has built a following of racing fans as the ultimate bridesmaid, finishing second in nine consecutive races without a win.
According to the Thoroughbred Racing Associations' "Directory and Record Book," Full Quid (running in New York) had 10 straight second-place finishes in 1980.
Trainer Vladimir Cerin said he has never seen anything like it in his 27 years of conditioning.
"It's actually easier to win nine in a row – if you have a really good horse – than finish second nine times like that," he added. "You have to beat everybody else except one horse each race. We're trying to win every time, but something always seems to happen."
The Maloof brothers – George Jr., Joe, Gavin, and Phil – see the irony that King Palm has the same bridesmaid tendencies as their NBA franchise. The Kings are perennial playoff contenders without a crown.
"It's hilarious," Gavin Maloof said. "It's the only time I've ever been happy about finishing second in my life. Everybody into racing knows our horse."
According to the Maloofs, Ripley's Believe It or Not and the Guinness World Records are both interested in King Palm's story. After starting his career in 2004 with a sixth and third, King Palm has earned almost $100,000, mostly off runner-up paychecks.
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out of a Slew o'Gold mare, the Florida-bred was bought privately by the Maloofs in 2003 as a 2-year-old in training. All of his races have come against top-class maidens at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, and Del Mar. Minor injuries sidelined him most of 2005. But despite long breaks in his record, he remains amazingly consistent.
"He's going to find a way to run second," Cerin said. "He always comes from off the pace. He really wants to win, but ..."
Twice, he's led in deep stretch only to blow the victory. In his last start Aug. 16 at Del Mar, he rallied from last to finish second for the sixth time in 2006. He may run again before the Del Mar meet ends Sept. 6, Cerin said. Otherwise, he'll wait for the Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita.
Cerin and the Maloofs remain convinced King Palm has talent and refuse to drop him down in competition or geld him. They hope that some day he will be a productive sire.
But first he has to get over his phenomenal seconditis.
"If he was in against 10 Secretariats, he would come in second," Phil Maloof said. "If they were 10 donkeys, he would still come in second."
King Palm has had six different jockeys. Cerin has tried a variety of distances and equipment changes. Unfortunately, the colt has had a continual shortage of luck.
"He tries very hard every time," Cerin said. "It's always something. Sometimes, it's his mistake or he hooks a horse that jumps up and runs the race of his life. But we keep approaching it the same way."
Now over their initial frustration, the brothers are along for the ride. "It's an incredible story," Joe Maloof said. "He's beating 99 percent of his competition."
Thoroughbred consultant Dave Smith, who advised the Maloofs on their purchase, still believes in King Palm. "He's a monster horse," Smith said. "Once he figures it out, he could go on a long winning streak. He could pile up wins just like his current streak."
Regardless, the Maloofs are having fun. "I kind of hope the streak continues," Gavin Maloof said. "It's amazing."