ELMONT, N.Y. – Years from now, Palace Malice might be the answer to a trivia question only hard-core Thoroughbred racing fans will be capable of providing.
Maybe weeks from now.
Winners of the Belmont Stakes in years when there is no Triple Crown on the line often become anonymous. While Palace Malice satisfied his backers by returning $29.60 on a $2 win bet, his 3¼-length victory over Oxbow on Saturday at Belmont Park didn’t send shock waves throughout the industry. Surprise? Yes.
With one victory in seven previous career starts, and that victory coming in a maiden sprint at Saratoga, Palace Malice was shunned by most handicappers. He led early before fading to 12th in the May 4 Kentucky Derby, won by Orb, and skipped the Preakness, won by Oxbow.
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The five-week break and trainer Todd Pletcher’s decision to take off the colt’s blinkers factored into Palace Malice’s victory in the 1½-mile race.
“We always felt like he had a big one in him,” said Pletcher, who saddled four other horses in the $1 million event.
“We were just waiting for it to finally develop. I told (owner) Mr. (Cot) Campbell, ‘This horse is training unbelievable. I know he’s got a big run, we just need to put it all together.’ ”
Pletcher’s instructions to jockey Mike Smith were to sit right off Oxbow, whom many thought had stolen a Preakness in which slow fractions prevented closers from doing their thing.
Hall of Famer Smith executed the plan to perfection. He didn’t flinch as Frac Daddy, Oxbow and Freedom Child took turns battling for the lead in fractions of 46.66 seconds for a half-mile and 1:10.95 for 6 furlongs that were too quick for the lengthy Belmont challenge.
“They were suicide fractions,” said Oxbow jockey Gary Stevens, a Hall of Famer who was the leading rider at Longacres in Renton in 1983 and 1984.
“Going into the far turn, I didn’t think (my horse) would have hit the board. Midway through the turn, I said, ‘Well, maybe.’ But I have ridden long enough to know that he was going to walk home the last quarter of a mile. To finish second, I am really surprised.”
Imagine Smith’s surprise when he was moving past Stevens at the three-eighths pole.
“When I ranged up next to him, it was like a movie scene,” Smith said. “It was like a big brother telling a little brother, ‘You go on with him, big boy, you’re moving better than me.’
“And we went on with it.”
In a slowed-down stretch run that produced a winning time of 2:30.70, a late closer never materialized.
“I don’t think he got tired,” trainer Shug McGaughey said of third-place Orb, the 2-1 favorite in a field of 14. “He put a pretty good run in to get to where he was, and those horses just weren’t coming back. If they had come back, we’d have been fine.
“They shook loose and we were just too far back to catch them.”
When Orb was a distant fourth in the Preakness, it doomed Belmont Park to another year in which a Triple Crown wasn’t on the line.
A crowd of 47,562 showed up — about half of what the attendance might have been if the Triple Crown was at stake.
Affirmed, in 1978, was the last Triple Crown winner.
Smith and Pletcher each posted his second Grade I Belmont Stakes victory.
Smith was aboard 2010 winner Drosselmeyer, also a 13-1 shot, and Pletcher sent out filly Rags to Riches to prevail in 2007.
|Price is right at Belmont Park|
|Palace Malice is among several recent Belmont Stakes horses to win at generous odds. Of the last dozen Belmont winners, the lone betting favorite was Afleet Alex in 2005.|
|Year||Winner||$2 win payoff|
|2011||Ruler On Ice||$51.50|
|2007||Rags to Riches||$10.60|