Haskin's Derby Trail: Play the Palace

In 1971, when Cot Campbell started the concept of buying horses at auction for the purpose of forming syndicates, he had to watch one of his first rejects, Canonero II, who he turned down for $1,200 because of a crooked leg, win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Now that Campbell has announced his retirement from syndicates at age 84 after revolutionizing the sport, how appropriate would it be for him to finally get that elusive Derby winner 42 years later after having finished second (with Summer Squall), third (with Impeachment), and fourth (with Limehouse) in the Run for the Roses? Don’t you love a good story? We know the Derby gods do, and like to reward lifetime achievement, and this one involving Palace Malice should be right up their alley.

Campbell and Dogwood Stable have been doing things the right way for over four decades, and if you ever want to live vicariously, just picture yourself a lifelong syndicate member, or better put a Dogwood family member, meeting new people, attending various racing parties and functions, soaking up the intense flavor of Saratoga, rejoicing in the winner’s circle, and going down to Aiken, S.C. every year to watch the new babies and listening to Cot’s now-famous yarns about racing’s most colorful characters – both human and equine. It’s not that Cot’s tales are that much different than anyone else’s. It just sounds more entertaining listening to them through Cot’s silver-lined vocal cords that produce words as comforting to the ear as a southern breeze blowing through the willows. And in addition to Cot you get his wife Anne’s infectious smile as an added attraction.

So, here you have Cot announcing his syndicate days are over after leaving a legacy that has changed the infrastructure of racing, bringing in thousands of new owners through the numerous syndicates that have followed the path Dogwood Stable started.

What better way for the Derby gods to finally give their thanks than by presenting Cot and Anne and Dogwood with the Kentucky Derby trophy in the year of their retirement. Of course, that doesn’t mean racing and Cot Campbell will be parting ways. You can bet he will find new ventures to keep him involved in the sport. What also makes the timing right for the Derby gods to get involved is that Dogwood appears to have a worthy representative in Palace Malice.

The son of Curlin will be stretching out to two turns next Saturday in the Risen Star Stakes and we are expecting a huge effort and possible upset that would put the colt back in the Top 12, where he was in Week 1. He’s certainly bred to go long, being out of a Royal Anthem (who is by Theatrical) mare and tracing back to Hail to Reason, Relaunch, Damascus, and Grey Dawn. And even if he runs a good second or third and is coming on at the end it will be a big step forward toward a peak performance on Derby Day. He couldn’t be any sharper, coming off a bullet work in 1:00 1/5 in company with Violence, so everything seems to be falling into place.

“We’re starting to get into a very exciting time of year,” Cot said. “With all the Kentucky Derby preps coming up around the country everybody in the nation starts to get interested in horse racing and I think that’s a wonderful thing for our sport.

“I know (trainer) Todd (Pletcher) seemed very pleased with Palace Malice’s work, so the horse appears to be very much on target for this race. He’ll have to be if we’re going to have the points we need to continue on the Derby trail. This will be his first quest at a mile-and-a-sixteenth. In his last race at Gulfstream he caught a sloppy track and the horse that beat us was quite a speed horse, but (Palace Malice) galloped out well that day, and he looks to me like a horse that wants to go long.”

Cot also is thrilled to get the services of the meet’s leading rider Rosie Napravnik, who doesn’t do much wrong at Fair Grounds, or any place for that matter.

“We’re tickled to death to have Rosie to ride him,” Cot said. “How far in front is she in the rider standings now, anyway? Yes, I can say we’re definitely looking forward to our trip down there this weekend.”

And so are the Derby gods, who no doubt will be sizing up Cot for a blanket of roses. Who knows, this year could be the perfect fit.

Under the radar

OK, so MUDFLATS beat one horse in the six-horse San Vicente and will be pretty much ignored coming out of that race. But if you’re looking for a hidden gem, you might want to go back and study that race more closely. Not only was he wide every step of the way, he was looking strong around the far turn as he moved up into contention, but pretty much lost his action turning for home, throwing his head up and refusing to change leads. Then Treasury Bill sawed him off, causing him to again throw his head up and steady at the most crucial moment of the race, with the entire field spread out across the track. He dropped back to last before finally finding his best stride and was running strongly to the wire, beaten a head for fourth and three-quarters of a length for third, while finishing only 2 1/2 lengths behind the winner. The son of Tapit’s tail-female family traces to major stamina influences Slew o’Gold, Stage Door Johnny, Herbager, and Ribot and for all you Rasmussen Factor (RF) followers, he is inbred 4x4 to the Claiborne Farm mare Narrate. One thing is sure, you’ll get price on him next time out.

Perhaps one of the most underrated horses on the Derby trail is Sam F. Davis winner FALLING SKY, who outran the swift Majestic Hussar going 6 1/2 furlongs (Majestic Hussar came right back to beat Palace Malice comfortably), then stretched out to two turns in the Sam Davis and charged to lead from the outside going into the first turn and held off the late surge of Pasco Stakes winner Dynamic Sky, who still couldn’t get by him after the wire. What we found interesting is the decision to run him back in three weeks in the Fountain of Youth instead of waiting another two weeks for the Tampa Bay Derby. Could it be that in picking his Pletcher poison, trainer John Terranova decided that Violence is not quite as lethal as a dose of Verrazano? Or perhaps he's doing the unthinkable -- running back soon enough to give him more options to earn points later on. Whatever the reason, it's something you don't often see anymore -- a horse actually running sooner rather than later.

Most of all, we’re crazy about this colt’s pedigree. One of the truly great stamina and class influences in the breed is Hail to Reason. Not only is Falling Sky inbred three times to Hail to Reason, something you rarely see, he actually has him four times in his pedigree, 4x5x5x7 (an extreme rarity), three in the female family. He traces to Hail to reason through Mr. Leader on his sire’s side and through Roberto and the great mare Admiring on his dam’s side. Going back two more generations, you find Hail to Reason again as great-grandsire of Seattle Slew. And if you want a real rarity, Falling Sky’s broodmare sire is Kentucky Derby and Travers winner Sea Hero, who has been standing in Turkey for the past 14 years and whose name has virtually disappeared from U.S. pedigrees. It might not be wise to overlook this colt just because his lead was diminishing in the Sam Davis. The horse he beat had a lot more two-turn experience and this guy is eligible to improve.

Can a Cal-bred who was beaten in a state-bred stakes at 4-5 knock off Flashback and Goldencents in the San Felipe Stakes? We’re not saying yes, but don’t overlook OMEGA STAR in the 1 1/16-mile race. He was stuck down on the rail from the 1-post and was forced to make a premature move at the five-sixteenths pole. He looked like a winner after turning for home, but a more experienced horse came from the clouds to beat him over a track favoring deep closers. He’s by Candy Ride, out of a Fusaichi Pegasus mare and he has a big, powerful stride that should help him as the distances stretch out. He’s a huge longshot, but if this John Shirreffs-trained horse can show something in the stretch and at least be competitive with the top two he could establish himself as a legitimate Derby contender.

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