There was an absence of malice by the time the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) ended last month, and that is a situation Cot Campbell's Dogwood Stable hopes to remedy in the June 8 Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
Dogwood's Palace Malice had missed by just a half length in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) in February and by only a neck in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) three weeks before the Derby. But in each race, the Curlin colt displayed signs of being green. Jockey Rosie Napravnik reported that Palace Malice got to looking around during the Risen Star, and then under Garrett Gomez in the Blue Grass he got spooked by tractor tracks and unexpectedly switched leads coming down toward the wire.
"The decision to put blinkers on him was to keep the distractions to a minimum, not to ask him for more early speed," noted Campbell.
While Palace Malice trained just fine in blinkers before the Derby, the excitement of the huge crowd might have gotten him a bit too worked up. His connections were hoping the colt would sit a few lengths off the pace and pounce in the latter stages off the race. But when rider Mike Smith found himself on a runaway train out of the gate, he had a decision whether to fight with his horse and try to wrangle him back, or just hope that when he made the lead, he'd relax. Palace Malice made the lead alright, but relax, not so much.
The fractions told the tale—:22 2/5, :45 1/5, 1:09 4/5. Unless you're Secretariat, you're not going to go that fast and still be around at the finish. And in fact, after running well for a mile, Palace Malice faded to finish 12th, 15 lengths behind winner Orb .
Not surprisingly, the blinkers are a thing of the past.
"He's trained very kindly since the Derby without the blinkers, and he's always rated nicely before then," Campbell noted. "We hope he's matured a bit. In any case, it's better to let the distractions bother him than go 1:09 in the Belmont. Hopefully he's mellowed. We'd still like him to be forwardly placed and cruising along, though we don't need to be on the lead. He's been training wonderfully so we hope he can hit a nice cruising speed and gallop around there."
Palace Malice will be 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. Because New York banned Lasix for many years, Dogwood's Preakness winner, Summer Squall, didn't contest the third leg of the Triple Crown in 1990.
"We were tempted to run him because there was a $1 million bonus for the horse that ran best in the Triple Crown series," said Campbell. "Unbridled had won the Derby and we won the Preakness, and then Unbridled finished fourth in the Belmont and got the million bucks. I always told (trainer) Carl (Nafzger) he owed me a 10% commission on that."
Campbell, the George Washington of running racehorse partnerships, maintains a 30-horse stable with his Dogwood partners. Now headquartered in Aiken, S.C., Dogwood has raced nearly 80 stakes winners since Mrs. Cornwallis won the 1971 Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland.
Campbell has picked out some 1,500 horses at auction for those partnerships, including Palace Malice, whom he selected as a 2-year-old from Keeneland's April sale last year because he liked Curlin as a sire. Consigned by Niall Brennan Stables, the colt was purchased by Dogwood for $200,000.
"Palace Malice was a good-looking big horse with a nice way about him," noted Campbell, "very confident and with a pleasant disposition."
The same can be said for Campbell's participation in racing. He makes the racetrack experience a pleasant one for his family and partners, turning each day at the races into a social party. Dogwood's seasonal newsletters, pulled together with the help of Cot's wife, Anne, come complete with photos of the extended Dogwood family enjoying outings at venues like Saratoga.
During Belmont week the Campbells will be enjoying some Broadway outings, but come June 8 they hope to be back at the Palace—in the Belmont winner's circle with Palace Malice.