Catching Up With Palace Malice

Palace Malice after winning the Metropolitan Handicap as a 4-year-old. (Eclipse Sportswire)

A regular on the Kentucky Derby trail in 2013, Dogwood Stable and Todd Pletcher obviously thought highly of Palace Malice from the start after he broke his maiden as a 2-year-old at Saratoga Race Course.

Palace Malice broke his maiden in his second start, defeating future Breeders’ Cup winner Hightail, and two starts later, Palace Malice made his first Derby trail start when he was half a length behind 135.20-to-1 upsetter Ive Struck a Nerve in the Risen Star, his first stakes attempt.

Normally finishing seventh in a late Derby trail prep would knock a horse out of Kentucky Derby contention and it looked like that may be a case for Palace Malice after the Louisiana Derby. But in an unusual move for a horse trained by Todd Pletcher, Palace Malice squeezed in a start between the March 30 Louisiana Derby and the May 4 Kentucky Derby when he ran in the April 13 Blue Grass. The move proved to be a profitable one when he finished second in the race, winning $150,000 and more importantly securing a Kentucky Derby spot.

In another unusual move, Palace Malice was fitted with blinkers for the first time in the Kentucky Derby. When the gate opened, Palace Malice, who had been more of a stalker during his time on the Derby trail, shot out of the gate and immediately took the lead. Setting a fast pace up front, Palace Malice covered the first two quarter-miles in :25.57 seconds and :22.76 seconds, pulling away by 3 ½ lengths by the half. But his runaway performance caught up with him shortly after six furlongs with Normandy Invasion and Oxbow passing him in the turn. Palace Malice ultimately faded to 12th and the decision was made to skip the Preakness Stakes.

Coming back in the Belmont Stakes, Palace Malice was again without blinkers and took up his normal stalking position. Relaxing right behind the leaders for the first half-mile, Mike Smith asked Palace Malice for his run about a mile into the race, and he and Preakness winner Oxbow separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Running a little green (inexperienced) down the stretch, he was still focused enough to beat Oxbow by 3 ¼ lengths at odds of 13.80-to-1. Kentucky Derby winner Orb was 1 ¾ lengths behind Oxbow in third.


The Belmont Stakes win was the second for Todd Pletcher, who ironically had upset Palace Malice’s sire Curlin in the 2007 Belmont Stakes by a head with the filly Rags to Riches.

“It's huge. It's huge," Pletcher told ESPN. "We always felt like he had a big one in him. 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."

Palace Malice showed a month and a half later that the Belmont wasn’t a fluke when he beat a field of eight other horses – including five graded stakes winners headlined by eventual champion Will Take Charge - in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy. While Palace Malice ran credibly the rest of the season, a few bad breaks cost him.

In the Travers, he stumbled out of the gate and was as far as 8 ½ lengths behind the leaders at one point but rallied to finish fourth, just three-quarters of a length behind the winning Will Take Charge. While Palace Malice had a good start in the 2013 Jockey Club Gold Cup, in his first start against older horses it was Ron the Greek’s day to shine. Ron the Greek won by 6 ¾ lengths in what would be his final U.S. start, but Palace Malice beat five other Grade 1 winners and a Grade 3 winner when finishing second.

In the final start of his 10-race season, Palace Malice shipped to California for the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November. Palace Malice was never really able to factor into the race, finishing sixth by seven lengths.

While he had won one of the top races for 3-year-olds the year before, Palace Malice seemed bound and determined to better his season as a 4-year-old.

Pletcher aimed him for the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap in early March for his first start of the season. The race was a picture of things to come when he impressed everyone when he came back from being passed in the stretch to win by a nose. Three weeks later he was even more impressive when returning to the Fair Grounds and sweeping to a 4 ¾-length victory in the New Orleans Handicap.

Returning to the scene of his greatest victory for the first time as a 4-year-old, Palace Malice turned the four-horse Westchester Stakes into a paid workout. For the first half-mile, he played with the rest of the field by relaxing a few lengths behind the leader. Jockey John Velazquez gave him the signal to start running going into the turn, and by the top of the stretch it was all over. Velazquez hand rode him to the wire with Palace Malice leaving everyone else 9 ¾ lengths behind him, the perfect prep for the Metropolitan Handicap (more commonly known as the Met Mile).

One of the undercard races on the newly formed Belmont Stakes Racing Festival card, the $1.25-million Met Mile attracted a field of 12 horses, with Palace Malice and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Goldencents leading the nine graded stakes winners in the field. In the toughest race he’d been in all year, Palace Malice went off at odds of 1.35-to-1.

Broadway Empire set the early pace with Goldencents close on his tail and a group of four horses, including Palace Malice, right behind him. That four-horse group didn’t last long with Palace Malice running up the rail to take third before Romansh moved up to challenge the leaders.

Coming into the stretch, it looked like it was Goldencents’ race to lose as Broadway Empire faded with Palace Malice stuck behind the two. But Broadway Empire's drop back left a hole for Palace Malice, who bolted through and was soon up to challenge Goldencents. It didn’t take long for Palace Malice to pass the Breeders’ Cup winner, pulling away in the final strides to win by a length.


Palace Malice became the first Belmont Stakes winner to also win the Met Mile since Conquistador Cielo. However, Conquistador Cielo’s accomplishment was a little bit different as he won the Met Mile five days before his 1982 Belmont Stakes victory.

"It's pretty extraordinary to have a horse win the Belmont a year ago and come back and win the Met Mile from the number one post carrying 124 pounds and beating last year's Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner," Pletcher told The Blood-Horse about Palace Malice. "In the process, it's an unbelievable accomplishment." 

Palace Malice went off as the 3-to-5 favorite in the Whitney, taking his four-race win streak to Saratoga where he had won the Jim Dandy the year before. In an uncharacteristic run for the colt he finished 11 lengths behind the winner in sixth. His connections couldn’t find anything wrong with him but when he didn’t work well after the race he was sent to Rood and Riddle where it was found that he had a bone bruise.

Palace Malice was initially retired but a few weeks later when it was announced that Three Chimneys Farm had purchased part of him, the news also came that he may return to racing.

Palace Malice at Three Chimneys (Melissa Bauer-Herzog/America's Best Racing)
“Palace Malice will be examined by a panel of vets on November 15 and if he is 100 percent racing sound to the satisfaction of Three Chimneys and Dogwood, he will be shipped to Dogwood’s barn in Aiken, South Carolina, and prepared for another campaign with Todd Pletcher, his trainer throughout his career. Upon retirement from racing, Three Chimneys will acquire full ownership of the horse,” owner Dogwood Stable’s Cot Campbell said in a press release.

That examination went well and Palace Malice returned to training in the winter of 2014 with an aim at a 2015 campaign. He returned to Pletcher’s barn in February with an aim at a title defense in the Westchester. However, a hoof bruise delayed his return until the following month where he finished third in the Diablo Stakes.

Palace Malice had a few minor issues throughout the spring and early summer, delaying his next start until August in Saratoga. After a fourth-place finish in the Alydar Stakes at Saratoga, Palace Malice was retired to Three Chimneys in September. In 19 races, Palace Malice won seven races and had six other on-the-board finishes for $2,691,135 in earnings.

Standing for a fee of $20,000 this year, Palace Malice is one of Curlin’s first sons at stud and the only one standing in Kentucky.

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