The primary attribute of Palace Malice is that he is a very good racehorse, having won the Belmont Stakes, Jim Dandy Stakes, and $1,481,135. But there are other plus factors. One, he is a big, powerful, handsome animal with a most ingratiating personality, deserving of his hefty fan base.
Certainly, we do not choose racehorses based on their affability. Some of the greatest have been mean as hell. In fact, most of the good ones tend to be a trifle edgy. But it is nice when you are able to admire one for his derring do, but love him because he's also a good guy. This one is truly a good guy.
I think if Palace Malice had a human counterpart he would be Derek Jeter, the great Yankee shortstop. Pleasant, enthusiastic, steady, strong, brilliant and durable.
Palace Malice has raced at Belmont Park, Saratoga, Gulfstream Park, Fair Grounds, Keeneland, and Churchill Downs. Dirt, Polytrack, slop. On his back it has been necessary to have the assortment of Javier Castellano, Rosie Napravnik, Garrett Gomez, Edgar Prado, and Mike Smith...with John Velazquez coming up. Not once has he failed to try. Never put a foot out of place in any paddocks, quietly gone about his business in post parades, and then run like hell when the races got underway. That night he would eat his supper, gaze inquiringly out his stall door, and the next day be rearing to train. Sound, thank God.
In the marvelous hands of Todd Pletcher, he performs in the morning with steady eagerness, doing just what is asked of him. No need to stimulate him with a workmate; he will go as fast or as slow as you want him to. His gentlemanly demeanor should not be a surprise, because his education began at Lane's End Farm and was furthered by Niall Brennan, by Brad Stauffer at our barn here in Aiken, S.C., and then by Pletcher.
He spent a short amount of time in Aiken—one of the great places, and a town whose main economic force is horses. When he went off and began dancing in the big dances, the citizenry started following him, especially because his name was rather fun to latch onto. Palace Malice's pre-Kentucky Derby campaign was flashy and promising, so Aiken was really tied on when the Derby came around.
Palace Malice was fitted with blinkers for the first time, and when he broke from the gate—with 72 hooves of l8 horses popping like firecrackers in the sloppy track—he took off with Mike Smith like a scalded dog. As he flew down the backstretch with the Dogwood colors sparkling three lengths in front, the uninitiated, in Aiken and elsewhere, said, "Oh boy, look at this!" The initiated looked at the sizzling early fractions, and said, "Oh my God, he can never last." And he did not. Still it was an exhilarating, rather unforgettable performance, and had many of his supporters on their feet and screaming.
So, when the Belmont rolled around five weeks later, Aiken was primed for redemption. And they got it. When our colt romped to an emphatic victory, the town went crazy. Happily, I happened to blurt out in the winners' circle (to NBC-TV's Bob Costas): "They'll be dancing in the streets in Aiken, South Carolina tonight!" That delighted and cemented the deal in this part of the Southland. His televised win in the Jim Dandy, and his sterling effort in the Travers, have gone on to fuel a well-defined epidemic of "Palace Malicitis."
Palace Malice winning the Belmont Stakes...
...and then the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga seven weeks later.
We don't think about this much. But there is a truly splendid thing about the sport and industry of Thoroughbred horse racing. And it is that here we have a large, four-legged beast, unable to make any of his own self-aggrandizing utterances, and residing in a lowly, 12' by 12' box stall. And, for some inexplicable reason he is imbued with a unique combination of ability, courage, poise—class!—that can strike thrilling delight in the hearts of so many people who watch him perform. And that they can form a wonderful personal affinity with him. His striving becomes a distinct part of their own persona.
This equates to priceless anticipation, joy, excitement...ingredients often not easy to come by, and, in many cases, experienced by recipients that could use some.
Cot Campbell (R) and Mike Smith hoist the Belmont Stakes trophy