There is only one logical conclusion to the Cot Campbell countdown. Campbell’s Dogwood Stable has finished fourth, third, and second in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), and now that the Sultan of Syndicates is calling it a career at age 84, there is nothing left but to sign off with a great big blastoff.
If he can get Palace Malice through the March 30 Louisiana Derby (gr. II) with enough points to make it into the starting gate at Churchill Downs May 4, we very well may have flowering dogwoods to go along with the roses this year.
If Palace Malice can win the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands maybe Campbell can get members of the 2004 Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers in the winner’s circle to hug and make up following their infamous “Malice at the Palace” brawl at the Palace at Auburn Hills.
The reason Palace Malice, who is a startling overlay at 42-1 in the final Future Wager pool, should be tough to beat at Fair Grounds Saturday and is a live Future Wager longshot is the fact that he was the only horse in the Risen Star making his two-turn debut, he had only three career starts under him, and only one seven-furlong race in almost seven months. He made a strong run through the stretch, battling with horses inside him and outside him, and if there was one horse who had a legitimate reason to come up a bit short it was him. Still, he was beaten only a half-length and out-battled Oxbow for the show spot. He has the pedigree to go long and has been training super, working five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 in company with Shanghai Bobby . Now that’s what you look for in a 42-1 shot.
In the Louisiana Derby, he will have to contend with his own stablemate, Revolutionary, who also needs a first or second-place finish to secure a spot in the Derby field, so it’s mate vs. mate in the race for roses. To add to the pressure is the presence of several other talented horses in the same boat, including Departing, Ground Transport, and another member of the Baffert battalion, Code West, who came back to snatch second away from Palace Malice in the Risen Star.
It was Campbell who in 1971 started the concept of buying horses at auction for the purpose of forming syndicates, so if the Derby gods are paying attention this year, Campbell should be right up there in the running for their Lifetime Achievement Award, in which the grand prize is a visit to the winner’s circle on the first Saturday in May.
Here you have Campbell with a serious Derby horse the same year he announces his syndicate days are over. He has left a legacy that has changed the infrastructure of racing, bringing in thousands of new owners through the numerous syndicates that have followed the path Dogwood Stable started.
But Campbell has been around long enough to accept the highs and lows of the sport and he is well aware that Palace Malice could run huge in the Louisiana Derby and still not get in the Kentucky Derby.
“If he should run a hellacious race and still doesn’t get enough points for the Derby, the (grade I) Blue Grass (two weeks later) remains an option,” Campbell said. “The other alternative would be to wait for the Preakness.”
Campbell believes Thoroughbreds today are capable of running more often than they do and that all the time they are given between races “hurts the game” and has become “more of a fad.”
If Palace Malice is forced to come back in two weeks it wouldn’t be the quick turnaround as much as never having run on a synthetic surface and facing grass horses and horses who have experience on Polytrack.
If the son of Curlin does get the points needed to make the Derby field, he will be shipped to Churchill Downs April 15, Campbell said.
Campbell feels his colt is sitting on a big race following his excellent two-turn debut in the Risen Star and will be “salty” going 1 1/8 miles. If he’s correct, there will be plenty of celebrating Saturday night.
“I’m a New Orleans boy,” he said. “I was born in New Orleans. If we win we’re going to Commander’s Palace.”
In that case, the Malice at the Palace will become the Palace at the Palace.