|2011||KEESEP||425||Y||$250,000||Bluegrass Hall, Eddie Kane, agent||Burleson Farms|
Preakness S. (gr. I)
PREAKNESS S. (gr. I), Pimlico, May 18, 2013, $1,000,000 Guaranteed, value of race $1,000,000, 3 yo, 1 3/16 miles, 1:57.54 Dirt FT.
(Bay Colt ,
Awesome Again Tizamazing , by Cee's Tizzy
BColts Neck Stables LLC , KY ; OCalumet Farm ; TD. Wayne Lukas
(Dark Bay or Brown Colt ,
Lawyer Ron Viva La Slew , by Doneraile Court
BLiberation Farm & Brandywine Farm , KY ; OTrilogy Stable and Plesa, Laurie ; TEdward Plesa, Jr.
(Gray or Roan Colt ,
Midnight Lute Stage Stop , by Valid Expectations
BMike G. Rutherford , KY ; OGoldMark Farm, LLC and Whisper Hill Farm ; TThomas M. Amoss
Preakness S. Recap
Once Bob Baffert realized that his colt, Govenor Charlie, was not going to overcome a slow start and would make no impact on the race, and once he realized the 3-5 favorite, Orb, was coming up empty, his attention quickly turned to the 77-year-old Lukas, his one-time idol and adversary, with whom he has bonded in recent years.
As Oxbow hit the finish line following his wire-to-wire theft of the 138th Preakness, Baffert, after rooting the colt home as if he were his own, said, “How great was that? I’m glad I came.”
It was Lukas who had called Baffert, who had been hedging about whether to run Govenor Charlie in the Preakness, and told him, “You have to come; we’ll have fun. I need some
Together they combined for a memorable weekend, with Lukas also finishing first and third in the grade II Longines Dixie Stakes with 24-1 shot Skyring and Optimizer, respectively, and Baffert winning the previous day’s Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (gr. II) with Fiftyshadesofhay, the Chick Lang Stakes with Zee Bros, and the final race on the Preakness card with Code West.
The two “Derby Dominators” of the mid- to late ’90s combined to win five consecutive Kentucky Derbys (gr. I), six Preaknesses, and five Belmont Stakes (gr. I) from 1994-2001. During that time they were fierce competitors on and off the track, competing for the attention of high-profile owners such as Robert Lewis and The Thoroughbred Corp.
But both Hall of Fame trainers and former Quarter Horse legends have been humbled by a decade-long Triple Crown drought, during which they managed only a single Preakness score (by Baffert with Lookin At Lucky in 2010) since 2002. The passing years have mellowed both trainers, and they now have a close relationship and deep admiration for each other.
Following the Preakness, Baffert sought out Lukas, put his arm around his shoulder and simply said, “That was awesome. Alright, man, congratulations.”
“We’ve shared a lot over the years, starting with our Quarter Horse background,” Baffert said. “I’m very close to Wayne now. We’ve had to deal with a lot of the same stuff. We were both very successful and hated by many. But people forget how much Wayne has done for this sport. I was over at his house, and I thought I had the most awesome trophy collection until I saw his. He roots for me and I root for him. As we get older, we appreciate things more.”
Said Lukas, who is the only trainer in both the Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred Halls of Fame, “For Bob to come over right after the race to congratulate me really meant a lot.”
The 2013 Preakness will be remembered as the downfall of Orb and his quest to win the Triple Crown for the old-school team of trainer Shug McGaughey and co-breeder/owners Stuart Janney III and the Phipps Stable. While Orb’s loss was a bitter blow to the traditionalists who relished their unforgettable trip down memory lane in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, the Preakness provided another great storyline, filled with historical relevance.
Lukas’ victory was his 14th in a classic event, breaking the record he held with the great “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons. And to have a 77-year-old trainer win a classic with a horse ridden by a 50-year-old jockey who had returned to the saddle this year after being retired for seven years, made it one of the most memorable dual comebacks ever. Gary Stevens, who has won classics for both Lukas and Baffert, now has three victories in the Derby, three in the Preakness, and three in the Belmont. The only other jockey with at least three wins in all three races is the legendary Eddie Arcaro.
So, history marches on in the 2013 Triple Crown. Oxbow is owned by Calumet Farm, now leased by Brad Kelley. While it may be removed from the dynasty built by Warren Wright and continued by his widow Lucille Markey, it still bears the name of the now eight-time Preakness-winning owner.
Just when it looked as if Thoroughbred racing was losing its historical significance, here come names such as Phipps, Janney, and Calumet Farm; McGaughey and Lukas; and Gary Stevens in the first two legs of the Triple Crown to remind everyone there are no age limits in the Sport of Kings, where passion and hard work fuel youthful exuberance.
And then we come to Oxbow, who like Orb and Preakness runner-up Itsmyluckyday is a throwback to another era, when horses made of sinews of steel raced hard and raced often, regardless of the track, surface, and distance.
If any horse deserved to be rewarded with a classic victory, it is Oxbow, a son of Awesome Again—Tizamazing, by Cee’s Tizzy. What makes this pedigree so remarkable is that Awesome Again won the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), and Tizamazing’s dam, Cee’s Song, also produced Tiznow, two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic; Budroyale, who raced 52 times, finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic; and Tizso, dam of Paynter, the 2012 Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I) winner who was beaten a neck in last year’s Belmont Stakes and later overcame tremendous odds to survive a series of ordeals that would have killed most other horses.
With his Preakness victory, Oxbow now has raced 11 times—the last 10 in an eight-month period—during which he has competed at seven different tracks in six different states from New York to California and as far south as Louisiana and Arkansas. He’s been ridden by seven different jockeys, and each time, he ran hard, often on or near the pace.
In his six races prior to the Preakness, all two-turn graded stakes, he had to overcome bad posts, wide trips, premature moves, and even being taken back to last in a 10-horse field. Four times in a five-race period he drew either post 10 or 11 and got hung wide every time, then was moved prematurely. In the Kentucky Derby he had to break from the dreaded inside post. Despite making a big move to challenge for the lead along the inside through suicidal fractions of :22.57, :45.33, and 1:09.80 over a sloppy track on which he had never raced, he still managed to finish sixth in the 19-horse field and was the only horse who raced near the hot pace to finish in the top half of the field.
The only time in those six races he drew a good post and had a clean trip, he won the Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) by 111/2 lengths, defeating eventual Kentucky Derby runner-up Golden Soul. In the Preakness he drew perfectly in post 6, while Orb drew the rail, accompanied by a chorus of groans at the post-position draw.
It was a frustrating winter and spring for Lukas, who kept insisting Oxbow was a special horse, despite his defeats. The colt, bred in Kentucky by Richard Santulli’s Colts Neck Stables, had been purchased at the Keeneland September yearling sale by Brad Kelley’s Bluegrass Hall for $250,000.
“That is a serious horse,” Lukas said of Oxbow back in January when Kelley still raced under the name Bluegrass Hall. “He’s maturing and getting better, and has such an efficiency of action. He enjoys it and gets in that cruising speed and just stays there.”
But after the Lecomte romp came a tough half-length defeat in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) under Jon Court and a head defeat in Oaklawn Park’s Rebel Stakes (gr. II) under Mike Smith, both times having to race very wide and make premature moves. When Stevens hopped aboard for the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) and took the colt back to last and out of his comfort zone, he felt he had learned a lot about him and looked forward to riding him back in the Kentucky Derby. But the blazing pace and being stuck on the inside compromised his chances.
Stevens needed a boost, as his once-remarkable comeback had hit a snag and he began having doubts for the first time whether coming out of retirement was a wise move.
Lukas was getting more and more confident with each passing day, but he felt Orb was an “exceptional horse” and a potential Triple Crown winner, and that tempered whatever enthusiasm he normally would have before a big race. Lukas also had a talented colt in Will Take Charge, who got stopped while moving with Orb in the Derby, and he threw his speedy colt Titletown Five into the mix for good measure.
Although both his main hopes were leading 3-year-olds, with Will Take Charge having already beaten Oxbow in the Rebel and now a threat coming off the Derby debacle, Lukas’ face always seemed to light up when he discussed Oxbow.
“If he were a basketball player, he’d be a complete gym rat,” Lukas said. “He’s a tough sonofagun, and you wouldn’t be able to get him out of there. I told Gary if you go ahead and hook anybody (in the Preakness) he’ll bring them to their knees because there’s no quit in him. If he gets the trip, he’s definitely dangerous.”
Lukas’ girlfriend, Laurie Krause, who has been in the horse industry all her life in the horse show world, said she would be terrified to ride Oxbow.
“That horse just cracks me up,” she said. “He’s like a little fire-breathing dragon. He has a Napoleon complex. It’s like, ‘I may be little, but you don’t want to mess with me.’ Wayne is crazy about all his horses, but he’s really fond of this one.”
Two works prior to the Preakness raised the proverbial eyebrows, and both were pretty much identical. On the Sunday before the race (May 12), Itsmyluckyday worked five furlongs between races at Monmouth Park and lit up the track with a :471/5 half, out five furlongs in :593/5 to the cheers of the crowd.
Trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. had made a big move following Itsmyluckyday’s 15th-place finish in the Derby, in which the colt didn’t seem to handle the slop. Plesa had a chance to get John Velazquez to ride the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) and Gulfstream Park Derby winner and he grabbed it, replacing regular rider Elvis Trujillo.
It was Trujillo, however, who worked Itsmyluckyday. Following the work, Plesa and Trujillo put their arms around each other, and Plesa told him, “I just want to thank you. I owe you.”
Trujillo replied, “I want to thank you for the opportunity, and I wish you the best of luck.”
The following day came the much-anticipated work at Belmont Park by Orb, who was scheduled to van to Baltimore later that same morning. The son of Malibu Moon indicated his sharpness as well, working his half in :47 flat, out in :592/5.
On the morning of May 15, Lukas and his eight-horse contingent arrived at Pimlico following a 121/2-hour van ride from Louisville.
“The horses are doing better than I am,” said Lukas as he set up shop in his favorite corner of the Preakness Stakes Barn. “That’s a long, hard trip. At my age you wouldn’t think I’d be in that truck for that many hours.”
Later that day Mylute, Departing, and Govenor Charlie arrived on a flight from Louisville. The Preakness would be a reunion of sorts, with Orb and Departing (owned by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider) having grown up in the same paddock at Claiborne, making for an old-time movie theme of this year’s Triple Crown.
Two days before the race Lukas jogged his three Preakness horses, and as expected, Oxbow was like a coiled spring, bounding briskly off the track as if he wanted to do a lot more.
But it was Oxbow’s gallop the next morning that raised the spirits of everyone in the Lukas camp. The pocket rocket, who was always a handful to gallop, demonstrated the kind of controlled aggression Lukas was hoping to see. Lukas and exercise rider Rudy Quevedo had been working on getting the colt to relax, and this gallop told them they had succeeded.
“I’ve been on him since he was a baby,” Quevedo said. “He has a small neck and he pulls so hard he’s difficult to gallop. Some people on TV keep saying that he gallops sideways, but he doesn’t gallop sideways; he’s just so strong you have to pull on him because he wants to go all the time.
“But, oh, man, this last gallop, I jogged him straight and then galloped him from the wire back to the seven-eighths pole. He was strong but relaxed this time, and when he came off the track, he was jumping and kicking. I told Wayne, ‘We got this race.’ ”
Lukas added, “I’ve been working all week on him. I’ve even done some creative training to get him to relax. I’ve changed a few things up a little bit; gave him some open gallops; went backward a couple of days. I know one thing; we haven’t seen his best.”
The morning of the race Lukas was confidently talking about his superfectas, if indeed he actually bet superfectas. At the other end of the barn, McGaughey appeared to be relieving some tension by first sweeping the entire area inside and outside the entrance to the barn and raking the same area for about 15 minutes. Claiborne’s Dell Hancock and Dilschneider showed up around 5:30 to watch Departing go to the track. “I wouldn’t miss it,” Dilschneider said.
Plesa, who was thrilled with the way Itsmyluckyday was looking and galloping, said on a scale of one to 10, his colt was a 10-plus. All he was concerned about was the weather, which was calling for possible intermittent showers.
“He’s been doing so great mentally and physically, I wish the race was last week,” he said. “I wish it was yesterday. I wish it was the first race today.”
The previous morning Mylute had entertained a group of school kids by allowing them to pet him, while he just stood there like an old pony. A few yards away the colt’s co-owner, Paul Bulmahn of GoldMark Farm, was happily raking up manure outside the barn and dumping it in the manure pile. Now that’s an owner you have to admire.
Except for a light drizzle that fell for a short while in mid-afternoon, the day was dry and the track was fast, much to the delight of Plesa and most of the others.
Orb was pounded at the windows, his odds plummeting to 3-5 by post time. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to grab a piece of history.
Stevens broke well on Oxbow, getting a minor bump from Will Take Charge, and cruised up to the lead, where Goldencents awaited after pretty much crawling to the front. Stevens looked over at Kevin Krigger, way up in the saddle on Goldencents, and saw that he was not exactly interested in any confrontations. Stevens didn’t go looking to play the role of pacesetter; it was just handed to him. Not only did Krigger not want it, neither did Julien Leparoux on Titletown Five. The speedy Govenor Charlie broke a step slowly and then was pinched back a little, winding up near the back of the pack. That left Oxbow with a length lead going into the first turn.
Stevens found himself in almost the exact same position he was in the race before on Calumet’s Skyring in the Dixie, stealing away on a non-contested lead.
Orb had broken cleanly and had the inside route all to himself, but jockey Joel Rosario didn’t seem to want any part of the rail and eased Orb out a couple of paths. But without an escape route he was forced to remain inside horses. Velazquez had Itsmyluckyday in the clear on the outside in fourth as Will Take Charge and Mylute brought up the rear through an opening quarter in :23.94.
Oxbow was still lulling them to sleep on the lead through a half in :48.60, as Rosario managed to pick his way through horses and into contention, moving up into fourth. But Orb appeared to get shuffled back a bit in traffic and surprisingly dropped back to seventh, while seeming fairly disinterested at that point.
When Stevens hung up a 1:13.26 three-quarters, the handwriting was on the wall. A horse with Oxbow’s speed, toughness, and pedigree wasn’t about to call it quits.
“When I saw Oxbow’s ears fluttering back and forth at the three-eighths pole, I thought of the 1988 Kentucky Derby (aboard Winning Colors), and I asked him to kick in from there and try to get some separation from the field,” Stevens said.
It was now obvious Orb wasn’t going to be a factor. Departing looked to be menacing along the inside, but Itsmyluckyday and Mylute proved to be the strongest horses, although the latter had a lot of ground to make up, considering the soft pace. Departing had no kick after turning for home and Goldencents was done.
Oxbow, meanwhile, did kick into another gear through a :24.88 quarter and spurted away to a three-length lead. Itsmyluckyday took up the chase, with Mylute trying to close the gap, another two lengths behind. Orb was going at an even pace, but his best hope was a fourth-place finish. Stevens went to a series of right-handed whips, and Oxbow kept finding more. Itsmyluckyday continued to peck away at the lead, but had no chance at this point of catching Oxbow.
With a solid final three-sixteenths in :19.40, Oxbow hit the wire 13/4 lengths in front of Itsmyluckyday, with a gallant Mylute falling a half-length short of the place spot. Orb was another 63/4 lengths back in fourth. The final time of 1:57.54 for the 13/16 miles was the slowest Preakness since Carry Back in 1961. It must be noted, however, that the previous day’s Pimlico Special (gr. III) was run in 1:58.50, with a three-quarter fraction in 1:14.18. The 11/8-mile Black-Eyed Susan, also the day before, was run in a sluggish 1:52.73.
So, for Stuart Janney III, his Triple Crown attempt is not going to end in victory at Belmont, as the poets would script it, in the shadow of Ruffian’s grave. For McGaughey and the Phipps family, there would be no Part Two to their long-awaited Kentucky Derby dream.
Stevens, however, has gone from playing a broken-down, washed-up jockey on the short-lived TV show “Luck” to reliving real-life images of Silver Charm and Point Given draped in Black-Eyed Susans, proving that the best scripts are the ones you write yourself.
For Lukas, he no longer lives life in excess and now is content merely being content. And that means bonding with other trainers, being around his 48 horses every morning, and even riding in a van with them for 121/2 hours. The only similarity between Lukas today and the old Lukas is that when he gets off that van after 121/2 hours, there isn’t a single crease in his jeans.
He admittedly is more comfortable in his own skin now and no longer feels he has to wake up every morning proving to others he is a superior horseman. Although he says it would have been great for racing to have Orb trying for the Triple Crown, he “gets paid to spoil dreams,” not to mention having the satisfaction of seeing his training skills turn an aggressive free spirit like Oxbow into a classic winner.
As for Lukas still going strong at 77, Krause says, “He’s dynamic; he really is.”
But like another dynamo, Oxbow, Lukas also has learned how to relax, and after 13 years of trying to recapture past glories, he, too, is a classic winner.
Belmont S. (gr. I)
BELMONT S. (gr. I), Belmont Park, June 08, 2013, $1,000,000 Guaranteed, value of race $1,000,000, 3 yo, 1 1/2 miles, 2:30.70 Dirt FT.
(Bay Colt ,
Curlin Palace Rumor , by Royal Anthem
BW. S. Farish , KY ; ODogwood Stable ; TTodd A. Pletcher
(Bay Colt ,
Awesome Again Tizamazing , by Cee's Tizzy
BColts Neck Stables LLC , KY ; OCalumet Farm ; TD. Wayne Lukas
(Bay Colt ,
Malibu Moon Lady Liberty , by Unbridled
BStuart S. Janney, III LLC & Phipps Stable , KY ; OJanney, III, Stuart S. and Phipps Stable ; TClaude R. McGaughey III
Margins: 3¼, 1¾, 1 . Others: Incognito 126 ($60,000) , Revolutionary 126 ($30,000) , Unlimited Budget 121 , Overanalyze 126 , Vyjack 126 , Golden Soul 126 , Will Take Charge 126 , Giant Finish 126 , Midnight Taboo 126 , Freedom Child 126 , Frac Daddy 126 . Winning Jockey, Mike E. Smith.
Belmont S. Recap
In the Derby and Preakness, we saw how names such as Phipps, Janney, and McGaughey, and Lukas and Stevens, whose major accomplishments were believed to be in the past, came together to weave a stunning tapestry of the Turf, as fresh and contemporary as if it had been crafted in their younger days.
Go back to May 1990. The founder of racehorse syndicates, 62-year-old Cot Campbell, stands in his box at Pimlico and shouts at the top of his lungs, “Go on with him!...Go on with him!...Go on with him!” As his colt, Summer Squall, crosses the finish line, defeating Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled in the 115th Preakness Stakes, Campbell utters a few impious words and unleashes a flurry of left hooks into an invisible
“Wasn’t that great?” he asks no one in particular. “Oh, boy, I’m so glad for all of us. If this doesn’t make everyone happy, nothing will. I’ll never forget this moment. It’ll take about three months for it to sink in.”
Now go back to June 2007. Perennial leading trainer Todd Pletcher, burdened with an 0-for-28 record in Triple Crown races, stands in his box at Belmont Park and shouts at the top of his lungs, “Come on, baby!...Come on, baby!” while unleashing a flurry of eight short jabs into that same invisible opponent. As his filly Rags to Riches crosses the finish line a neck in front of budding superstar Curlin in the 139th Belmont Stakes (gr. I), Pletcher flings his fist in the air and kisses his wife, Tracy, knocking her hat off.
Normally, those moments would remain frozen in time in some hallowed corner of one’s memory. But this is Thoroughbred racing, where rejuvenation is part of the natural order.
So, on to June 8, 2013. Campbell, now 85, and Pletcher, with a long-awaited Kentucky Derby victory now added to his extensive résumé, stand in their respective boxes at Belmont Park. Both simultaneously break into their theatrical repertoires as Palace Malice, trained by Pletcher and owned by Campbell’s Dogwood Stable, draws clear of his opponents, including Derby winner Orb and Preakness winner Oxbow, to win the 145th Belmont Stakes.
The sire of Palace Malice: Curlin, the horse whom Pletcher had defeated six years earlier with Rags to Riches.
For Pletcher, this one was especially gratifying, as it was for Campbell, who was one of the trainer’s earliest clients when Pletcher went out on his own after a number of years as assistant to Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas. The horse who finished second to Palace Malice in the Belmont: Oxbow, trained by D. Wayne Lukas.
It should also be noted that Pletcher’s first major impact on the classics came in 2000 when he finished third in the Kentucky Derby. The horse who gave him his first classic placing: Dogwood Stable’s Impeachment.
Both owner and trainer have added their own chapters to the annals of the Triple Crown, but they will be the first to tell you it’s all about the horse, and if ever a horse deserved to bask in the limelight on the classic stage, it is Palace Malice, who has persevered through bad trips, failed equipment changes, altered schedules, and four jockey changes since late February.
Palace Malice’s story actually begins well before he was even born and demonstrates the intricate network of events that dictate the course one takes in life, even to the extent of being born. In the case of Palace Malice, it was a simple but fateful decision by Burl McBride, the trainer of the colt’s dam, Palace Rumor, that led Palace Malice to the winner’s circle of the Belmont Stakes.
On Nov. 5, 2005, McBride shipped his 2-year-old filly Palace Rumor from his barn at Ellis Park to Churchill Downs to compete in a 11/16-mile allowance race on the grass, sending her to the barn of his friend Hal Wiggins.
Palace Rumor, a daughter of Royal Anthem, had been purchased as a weanling at the Keeneland November sale for $8,000, then was pinhooked the following year to the Keeneland September yearling sale, where she sold as Hip No. 4602 for a meager $5,000 to McBride, representing Corbet Bryant Jr. and Tim Gavin.
Making the fifth start of her career in the Churchill allowance race, Palace Rumor, who had broken her maiden by 51/2 lengths at Kentucky Downs, rallied from 11th to finish fifth. McBride was about to van her back to Ellis Park after the race but had second thoughts and decided to keep her at Churchill overnight.
“I ran her that day and she had a real tiring race, so I said, ‘You know what, I’m just gonna let her rest and spend the night at Churchill, and I’ll take her back in the morning,’ ” McBride said. “I had borrowed a stall from Hal to run her out of, and I just kept her there that night.”
At around 2 a.m., McBride received a phone call and was told his barn at Ellis Park was gone. A tornado had ripped through the backstretch, destroying six barns. Most of the trainers had shipped out, either to Churchill or other tracks, but McBride was one of the few who still had horses there.
Of McBride’s seven horses, three were dead and four were so badly injured that none of them ever raced again. It was a devastating blow. In a heartbeat McBride was wiped out, except for his one 2-year-old filly who had the good fortune of having raced at Churchill Downs that afternoon and the even better fortune of remaining in Louisville overnight.
“That tornado took half the grandstand, too,” McBride said. “Just like that, I only had one horse left. I was ready to quit, but Hal made me come back. If I had hauled her home that night, she’d probably be dead with the rest of them.”
In 2008 Palace Rumor, who went on to win four more races, including Ellis Park’s Audubon Oaks, for McBride, was put in the Keeneland January mixed sale, where she was purchased in foal to Tiznow by William S. Farish for $140,000.
The story doesn’t end there. It was McBride, a former jockey, who took a fellow New Mexican named Mike Smith under his wing.
“I put Mike Smith on horses before he started winning races,” McBride said. “He’s from Roswell, N.M., and I’m from Alamagordo. I quit riding in 1980 and that’s when Mike came around. My agent brought him out when he was a bug boy. He rode some nice winners for me. I was there when he won the Derby with Giacomo, and I was there when he won the Breeders’ Cup with Royal Delta. He’s a good friend of mine. I always called him an illegal alien because he was born in Roswell.”
So, of course, who was given the mount on Palace Malice in the Kentucky Derby and rode him to victory at Belmont?
Mike Smith getting the mount on Palace Malice was just one of many coincidences surrounding this colt.
On Sept. 18, 2011, Palace Malice arrived at Niall Brennan’s farm, having just been purchased at the Keeneland September yearling sale for $25,000. Also arriving from the sale at the same time was a War Pass colt, purchased for $80,000, later to be pinhooked and named Revolutionary. Already at Brennan’s farm, having arrived on July 30, was a Malibu Moon colt, owned and bred by Stuart Janney III and the Phipps family, later to be named Orb.
Those three colts would go on to win the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, and finish third in the Derby and Belmont and fifth in the Belmont.
“Three talented colts in the same group, and we’re just lucky enough to be along for the ride,” Brennan said. “Palace Malice was a May 2 foal, so it was surprising to see him showing his talent so early as a 2-year-old, but (Pletcher assistant) Tristan (Barry) told me when I was at Saratoga he was doing super and was one of their better 2-year-olds. He always did things effortlessly and showed off that talent right away.”
Palace Malice was consigned to the Keeneland April 2-year-old sale and caught the eye of Campbell, who purchased him for $200,000. After a brief stay with Ron Stevens at Aiken for his early training, he was sent to Pletcher.
“He was a high-class horse from the day he got here,” Stevens recalled. “He was very mature, classy, and professional for his age, and he took to everything right away. He was push-button, and it didn’t take a genius to train him.”
Palace Malice, who was bred by Farish, was so precocious, despite being a late foal, he debuted on July 5 going five furlongs and was beaten a half-length by a speedy colt named Carried Interest, who had been yet another 2-year-old at Brennan’s farm.
Around this time Campbell announced he was slowing down and cutting back on syndicating horses from about 65 head to between 30 and 35. Campbell had left a legacy that has changed the entire infrastructure of racing, bringing in thousands of new owners through the numerous syndicates that have followed the path Dogwood Stable started.
“I don’t think (winning the Belmont) is going to accelerate my retirement, I’ll put it that way,” Campbell said. There are few things more distinctive in racing than Campbell’s voice stringing together a symphony of words as comforting as a southern breeze.
“Syndicating horses has always made sense to me, but in the early days the establishment looked down on it a little bit. They thought it was a break from tradition, which it certainly was. And racing was not one to embrace a break from tradition. All I know is that I’m enjoying life. I’m a lucky guy. I’ve had a wonderful, exciting, and colorful life, and I love what I do.”
Accompanying Campbell every step of his incredible journey is his wife, Anne, whose ebullience is contagious. Regarding her husband’s “so-called” retirement, Anne said, “You can retire from a job, but can you retire from a way of life?”
Meanwhile, Palace Malice continued to progress. An impressive maiden victory at Saratoga followed, but sore shins kept him out the remainder of the year.
He returned 51/2 months later to finish a solid second to the quick-footed Majestic Hussar in a seven-furlong allowance race in the slop at Gulfstream. That began a series of races in which the colt was asked to do things few 3-year-olds are asked, and he never as much as flinched.
In the 11/16-mile Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, he was the only horse in the 12-horse field that had never been two turns and he was coming off one sprint in 61/2 months. With Rosie Napravnik aboard for the first time, Palace Malice ran his heart out, only to finish third, beaten a half-length. The Louisiana Derby (gr. II) a month later was a disaster. With Edgar Prado aboard, he was moving strongly and looked like a potential winner, only to get trapped behind horses the entire stretch run.
With not nearly enough points to make the Kentucky Derby field, the only alternative was to run him back in two weeks in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) over Keeneland’s Polytrack surface. This time he had Garrett Gomez up and had to do all the dirty work chasing the brilliant Rydilluc. He managed to take command but apparently became distracted by the tractor tire marks on the track and lost focus, switching back to his left lead. He still battled to the wire but was nipped in the final stride by the late-closing Java’s War. He had lost another race but now had enough points to get in the Derby.
But he once again needed a new rider, and Pletcher obtained the services of Mike Smith, who flew in to work the colt. Following the work, in which Palace Malice wore blinkers for the first time, Smith went into the media center to check the training board and could barely contain his enthusiasm.
“He worked great, but what I really loved was his gallop-out,” Smith said. “Coming back the entire way until I got off him, he wanted to do more. Even when the pony came, I was still trying to slow him down. He’s a strong sonofagun; there’s a lot to him. When I turned him around after the gallop-out, he took off again, and I had to go ‘Whoa.’ I’ll tell you one thing, the farther the better.”
Back at the barn Campbell could start smelling the roses, having previously run second, third, and fourth in the Derby.
“If there are Derby gods, they better get on with it,” he said. “There are more Derbys in my past than there are in my future.”
Unfortunately, the Derby turned into another disaster, as the blinkers experiment backfired badly. Pletcher’s instructions to Smith were to get him out of there and get a good position, but according to Smith, when he did get him out of there, “he was gone.” The colt proceeded to set suicidal fractions that killed off not only him, but every horse anywhere near him.
With the Preakness coming too soon, only the Belmont Stakes was left for Palace Malice to get a little luck and show off his talent on the big stage.
“If he has an absence of bad luck, we’ll be alright,” Campbell said. “I’m not asking for any breaks. I just don’t want any breaks against him.”
The first positive sign was a sensational work and gallop-out two weeks before the race, after which Pletcher said, “I don’t know that I’ve ever had a horse work any better.”
Also working that day were four potential Belmont starters owned by Mike Repole. When asked his thought on the works, Repole said. “My thoughts are I wish I owned Palace Malice.”
On Belmont morning the skies cleared around 6 o’clock and the first patches of blue appeared following a deluge from the previous day’s tropical storm. Pletcher put the final touches on his five-horse arsenal that consisted of Palace Malice, Revolutionary, and the Repole trio of Overanalyze, Unlimited Budget, and Midnight Taboo. With the main track open to Belmont Stakes horses from 6-6:30, Shug McGaughey brought Orb out for a gallop around the dogs on the sloppy, sealed track.
“I’ll be glad when the day’s over with,” he said. “It’s a bit distracting training your other horses. When we were in Louisville and Baltimore, I tried to keep myself focused on my other horses, but you get so wrapped up in the one horse.”
The conclusion of the Triple Crown also meant that Orb’s co-owner Stuart Janney III could finally get a good night’s sleep.
“I’ve probably slept well four nights since before the Derby,” he said. “I’ll wake up at four in the morning and start thinking too much. There’s so much pressure and so many people depending on you.”
Over at Barn 5, Lukas, who had Oxbow and Will Take Charge, sat on a chair in the shedrow and was exuding confidence in both his horses, especially the indefatigable Oxbow, who hadn’t had more than five weeks between races since last October.
“This horse always shows up, and Gary (jockey Stevens) is over the moon,” Lukas said. “They’ll have him to deal with.”
Orb was made the 2-1 favorite, followed by Revolutionary at 5-1 and Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) winner Freedom Child 8-1. Everyone else was double-digit odds, with Oxbow a generous 10-1, along with Overanalyze, and Palace Malice 13-1.
Frac Daddy’s trainer Ken McPeek assured his colt would gun to the front from the rail and if anyone wanted to take him on, he’ll welcome the challenge. Frac Daddy was indeed hustled out of there, followed closely by Freedom Child and Oxbow. Mike Smith broke alertly on Palace Malice, but this time the colt, without the blinkers, relaxed much better and tucked in several paths to avoid going wide into the first turn.
Around the turn and onto the backstretch, it was obvious the pace was a demanding one as Orb and Golden Soul dropped to the back of the pack. The opening fractions of :23.11 and :46.66 were extremely fast to be going 11/2 miles, with Frac Daddy, Freedom Child, and Oxbow getting separation from Palace Malice, who was also going fast but had settled into a good rhythm, with his ears pricked.
“I was keeping a close eye on Gary (Stevens) to make sure he didn’t try to steal it again at some point,” Smith said. “Gary has been known to do stuff like that.”
When the three-quarter fraction of 1:10.95 went up, and with still half the race to go, it didn’t bode well for anyone near the pace. Frac Daddy and then Freedom Child began backing up, leaving Oxbow and Palace Malice to battle it out well clear of the others. Revolutionary had begun his move and appeared to be a strong horse as he charged up into fourth, with Orb launching his bid around horses, losing ground around the far turn.
Palace Malice was the stronger of the two horses and took a half-length lead into the stretch, with Oxbow three lengths clear of Revolutionary and Orb.
“It was like a movie scene,” Smith said. “Gary looked over to me, and I could see his face clear as day. He says, ‘Go on, little brother; you’re moving better than me.’ ”
Palace Malice was moving better than anyone, opening a two-length lead at the eighth pole and then extending it to 31/4 lengths at the wire. Oxbow, in another gutsy performance, finished a clear-cut second, 13/4 lengths ahead of Orb, who finished a length ahead of the regally bred Incognito.
“I’m so proud of this colt,” Stevens said. “I thought I was dead midway down the backside. They were suicidal fractions, and he never got any break. To finish second, I’m really surprised. He galloped out after the race like you wouldn’t believe.”
Revolutionary was unable to sustain his run, settling for fifth. The early fractions did take their toll, as evidenced by the final time of 2:30.70.
Pletcher said this was an emotional win because of Campbell. “He supported me from the very beginning, and to win a big race for him is really gratifying.”
McGaughey said it was a fun ride and he has no problems with the way the Triple Crown played out. He won the race he wanted, but his only regret was not having Orb run better in the Preakness and Belmont.
On the winner’s side there was nothing but joy and exultation.
“I cannot believe this,” said Anne Campbell, who was overcome with emotion. “I’m just so happy for Cot. We knew the horse was capable of doing this. Cot never lost faith in him. Most of the time you’re disappointed, and for this to happen now at this stage of his career it makes it all the more special. And he has not retired. This will give him a whole new life.”
The one disappointment was not having their daughter Lila there.
“Her flight was canceled,” Anne said. “She was on the phone weeping and
Lila watched the race from her home in Atlanta and admits to having mixed
“It was an emotional roller coaster, and I was sick with regret not being there,” she said. “I was standing in front of the TV screaming my head off, knowing this likely was my dad’s last shot at the gold ring. I adore him and am thankful for the life he’s given me. I’m so proud I could bust.”
No one, however, was more excited watching Palace Malice come down the stretch than Burl McBride.
“Oh, my God, I had tears in my eyes when that horse crossed the wire,” he said. “I’ve been braggin’ on that mare for years, and I’ve been braggin’ on this colt. Well, I don’t have to brag on him anymore, because the whole world knows who he is. I can finally shut up. From now on, people can just look at my face and know what I’m thinking and feeling.”
It was only fitting that McBride watched the Belmont at Ellis Park, where this amazing story began so tragically, only to end in triumph nearly eight years later.