Long shot Palace Malice emerged as the hero of Todd Pletcher’s record five starters in the 145th running of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes, charging through the stretch to a 3 ¼-length victory over Preakness winner Oxbow, with Kentucky Derby winner and 2-1 favorite Orb finishing third in the 1 ½-mile “Test of the Champion” at Belmont Park.
Ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, Palace Malice ran in fourth, just off Freedom Child and Oxbow as Frac Daddy was gunned through a quarter-mile in 23.11 seconds and a half in a 46.66. Turning into the backstretch, Palace Malice continued to run easily as Oxbow took command and led the field of 14 3-year-olds through three quarters in 1:10.95. With Frac Daddy having already folded, the swift pace began to take its toll on Freedom Child. As they headed into the far turn Palace Malice drew alongside Oxbow and stuck a nose in front approaching the quarter pole.
Ahead by two lengths turning for home, Palace Malice was never threatened even as Oxbow stubbornly refused to give up. Orb, who had one horse beaten in the early going, worked his way up to finish third, another 1 ¾ lengths back, with Incognito making a run to gain fourth.
Palace Malice, owned by Cot Campbell’s Dogwood Stable, ran with blinkers off and completed the 1 ½ miles in 2:30.70 for his second victory in eight career starts. In his previous start, the son of 2007 Belmont Stakes runner-up Curlin finished 12th when running with blinkers in the Kentucky Derby, and he also owns a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Blue Grass and a third in the Grade 2 Risen Star in 2013.
“I kept saying I know there’s a big [race] there; I felt like [Palace Malice] had a big one in him,” said Pletcher. “I kept waiting for it to materialize in the afternoon. He got close a couple of times but didn’t quite get it done.”
It was the second Belmont victory for both Smith and Pletcher, with Smith having won in 2010 with Drosselmeyer and Pletcher having taken the 2007 edition with the filly Rags to Riches, who defeated Palace Malice’s sire by a head.
“It was an emotional win for me because of the Dogwood connection,” said Pletcher, who also finished fifth with Revolutionary, sixth with the filly Unlimited Budget, seventh with Overanalyze and 12th with Midnight Taboo. “They supported me from the very beginning and to win a big race for them is really gratifying.”
Palace Malice, sent off at 13-1, returned $29.60 for a $2 win bet, and earned $600,000 for Dogwood Stable and its 85-year-old president.
“It’s the mother of all great moments, I’ll tell you that,” said Campbell. “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, so proud. 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! The horse, the horse, I’m so proud of him!”
D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of Oxbow, said he was pleased with the Preakness winner’s effort.
“I was really happy with his performance today,” said Lukas, who was trying for a fifth Belmont win. “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.”
Fellow Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey offered no excuses for Orb’s loss.
“He just ran OK,” he said. “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 … 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.”
Completing the order of finish behind Overanalyze were Vyjack in eighth, Golden Soul, Will Take Charge, Giant Finish, Midnight Taboo, Freedom Child and Frac Daddy.