Todd Pletcher's Horse Beats out Derby, Preakness winners
Trainer Todd Pletcher stacked over 1/3 of the field for the 145th running of the Belmont Stakes with his record-tying five entries. He held all of his horses out of the Preakness to prepare for this race. He brought his family including his father, wife and children, out to the track to hopefully celebrate a victory with him. And they were able to do just that as his strategies paid off. His 13-1 underdog Palace Malice, who had just one win before the Belmont Stakes, took home the victory for the trainer and owner Cot Campbell.
Pletcher said in the post-win press conference that from the start, Palace Malice was his easiest horse to spot due to his positioning during the race. While watching the race, he occasionally glanced to find the others such as when, Revolutionary, 5th place finisher, began to make move in the stretch and when Unlimited Budget, the 6th place horse, attempted to break from the pack. Still, it was Palace Malice who caught his trainer’s eye, even causing him to jump out of his seat and cheer him on after he passed the 16th pole.
Winning the Belmont is nothing new for Pletcher, who captured the third leg of the Triple Crown for the first time in 2007 with filly Rags to Riches. This time around, however, was different for the renowned trainer. Pletcher said that in 2007, it was a “relief” for him to win to “get the monkey off his back.” This time around, he was able to enjoy the race and experience pure excitement.
Not many expected Palace Malice to be the Pletcher horse to take the Belmont. He had a poor showing in the Derby finishing 12th with blinkers on. The fact that they were coming off scared many away. He also performed poorly in another qualifying race, the Louisiana Derby. His lone win came in a maiden race in Saratoga.
Despite the fact that his sire Curlin, the 2007 Horse of the Year, gave him the pedigree to run the distance, the betting community disagreed. They favored Pletcher’s other horses such as Revolutionary, sending him to the gate as the second-favorite with 5-1 odds and Overanalyze, a hot pick in recent days. But it was Palace Malice who outshined them all as he was “relaxed and comfortable” as jockey Mike Smith stated. Smith said he felt the horse settle into a nice pace early on and continued it throughout the grueling 1.5 mile race. The tricky backstretch, however, worried Smith slightly who said that no victory can be locked up until the race is over.
Still, Smith believed some of his prior races at Belmont helped him guide Palace Malice to victory. He’s had an illustrious career that contains 15 Belmont appearances, two of them victories. The Hall of Famer also has a victory in the Derby and the Preakness.
To win the race, though, Palace Malice had to defeat the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners, Orb and Oxbow. Orb, who was the clear 2-1 favorite in the race, stayed relatively far off the lead until the backstretch when he began to make his move. However, it was too late for trainer Shug McGaughey’s horse, as Orb finished behind Palace Malice and Oxbow in 3rd.
Oxbow, on the other hand, set out toward the front of the crowd, just as many expected. He set out chasing the lead behind Freedom Child and longshot Frac Daddy, who held the early lead in the race. Things looked promising for Oxbow, just as trainer D. Wayne Lukas predicted when he said earlier in the week that he believed was sending a better horse out for the Belmont than the Preakness. But his protégé got the best of him on Saturday, and Palace Malice caught up with Oxbow.
Smith said that as Palace Malice was coming from the outside, passing Oxbow, Stevens told him to “go on with it big boy, you’re moving better than me.” Smith took those words to heart and captured the lead just as the horses entered the backstretch.
Many were looking forward to an Oxbow-Orb showdown, but that turned into a race for 2nd as neither was able to catch Pletcher’s horse in stretch run. The two traded off places following the mile but were unable to come close to catching Palace Malice’s back as he charged through the finish line, 3 ¼ lengths ahead of 2nd place Oxbow.
When asked about plans for the horse’s future, Pletcher joked that Campbell will want to send Palace Malice to try his chances again in Saratoga. Campbell laughed and did not deny the possibility, as that’s where his horse won once before. Smith was not opposed to being on board Palace Malice for another ride, when that time should come, as Pletcher plans to give his horse plenty of time to rebound from his impressive Belmont finish.