Palace Malice: Thrills & Chills
Posted by Brian Appleton on September 5, 2014
Horse racing fans know there’s nothing worse than opening up your email or web browser and reading a headline announcing the injury and subsequent retirement of a favorite horse. For me the last two years have been a blast, I’ve had the privilege along with thousands of other passionate racing fans, to watch, attend and share in the joy of a special colt named Palace Malice. Today that racetrack journey has sadly come to an end and I’m once again having a hard time saying goodbye to a horse that has grown to become one of my most beloved racing stars. For me Palace Malice became the kind of horse that transformed a feature race into so much more than just a competition, he became the sole reason I wanted to watch that race. It didn’t matter who the competition was or what the “experts” were saying, I was always convinced he could emerge victorious.
I’m not sure how many people can brag that they saw him win his maiden win. I did and it endeared him to me even more. Catching a future star winning their maiden is like winning the lottery of horse racing bragging rights for fans. It makes each race all the more gripping and each high and low so much more influential. I think I was destined to love Palace Malice from the beginning, seeing as I was such a huge fan of Curlin and already carried a sense of expectancy and hope that he would produce offspring that carried his heart and talent onto the track. Palace Malice’s sophomore season seemed plagued by horrible trips and not-quite-there performances that always had him coming up short of a win, but still garnering plenty of attention for his grit and determination in the face of adversity. His 7th place finish in the Louisiana Derby (Gr.2) after getting slammed, blocked and bounced around more than a ball in a Ping-Pong tournament was one of the best off-the-board finishes I have seen in my life. When he came back two weeks later to finish second by a nose in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (Gr.1) it was obvious to everyone that he had some serious racing chops and was going to have a strong presence in the three-year-old division.
The 2013 Belmont Stakes will always be one of my favorites. The 12th place performance of Palace Malice in the derby after setting insane fractions on the front-end all the way in the far turn at Churchill Downs seemed to have convinced most people that he couldn’t handle the pressure of racing in the Classics. Not only did he handle the pressure, Palace Malice rolled to a 3 ¼ length win with jockey Mike Smith at odds of almost 14-1. I remember sitting in my apartment watching the race unfold on television and slowly realizing that Palace Malice was looking stronger than any of the other runners in the race as the field navigated the far turn. “Curlin’s son is going to win the Belmont”, I said it under my breath at first, afraid to say it too loud. I said it again and again until finally I was shouting at the top of my lungs, my roommate covering his ears as I pounded the couch to a pulp and screamed it for all I was worth, “CURLIN’S SON IS GOING TO WIN THE BELMONT!”. Those are the kinds of moments that made Palace Malice so special. I could make a complete fool of myself, screaming my head off, pumping my fists and stomping my feet, but the euphoria and ecstasy of the moment would not abate. My horse was going to win. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wd-5c4l-iKs
After the Belmont Palace Malice thrilled with a victory in the Jim Dandy before running a game 4th in the Travers Stakes, but proving once again that he would run his heart out not matter the hand dealt to him. After that he was a clear but distant second behind a monster performance from Ron the Greek in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (Gr.1). In the Breeders’ Cup it appeared the effort of his long campaign had finally caught up with him. He finished 6th after a perfect stalking trip while Mucho Macho Man ran his heart out to defeat Will Take Charge by a nose. That performance most likely cost him the three-year-old championship to Will Take Charge but, I was still convinced he was the best.
If Palace Malice was good in 2013 he was absolutely brilliant in 2014. Right off the bat he won the Gulfstream Park Handicap (Gr.2), defeating a stubborn Golden Ticket by a head after a determined stretch-duel that had me once again screaming for him to succeed. Having your favorite horse return from a layoff to ace their first race back is an incredible feeling and makes the future look so bright. I remember boldly declaring he would go on to be Horse of the Year to anyone who would listen. After Gulfstream Palace Malice shipped to Louisiana and snatched a runaway victory in the New Orleans Handicap (Gr.2), defeating Normandy Invasion by more than 4 lengths. From New Orleans Palace Malice headed to Belmont and romped by 9 ¾ lengths in the Westchester Stakes (Gr.3) over a small field. It was little more than a paid workout that received criticism from many for its lack of competitive depth, but I was just thrilled to see him still winning and doing it easily. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hA2GA2ibdbo
The Metropolitan Mile might have been Palace Malice’s finest moment. It is a race that makes a colt a stallion many say and it most definitely increases a stallion prospects value tremendously. A strong field of 12 was entered for the Met Mile but Palace Malice stood out, even with the presence of Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (Gr.1) winner Goldencents in the field. Breaking from post number one Palace Malice ran just behind the lead set by Broadway Empire and Goldencents, inside of Clearly Now and Moreno. As the field came off the turn it was apparent that Goldencents had gotten the jump on Palace Malice as Broadway Empire began to fade, cutting off the path Palace Malice was traveling. John Velazquez masterfully guided Palace Malice to the outside of Broadway Empire and then drove through the opening between the rail and an accelerating Goldencents. Once he had clear running room Palace Malice charged ahead with a vengeance and seized the lead, winning by one length over Goldencents with Romansh just back in third. I’m pretty sure I reached an unseemly decibel with my shouts and screams of encouragement and excitement once Palace Malice got into high gear, one or two of the neighborhood dogs might even be hard of hearing now, but my euphoria couldn’t be contained after that brilliant performance. Now that some time has passed the Met Mile field has proven to be an even stronger in retrospect. Moreno went on to win the Whitney and finish a close second in the Woodward, both Grade 1 events, while Goldencents romped to victory in the Pat O’Brien Stakes (Gr.2) at Del Mar, setting a track record in the process and Clearly Now won the Belmont Sprint Championship Stakes (Gr.3) over Palace by more than 6 lengths. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YoL-0tfRLic
Sadly Palace Malice finished a fading 6th in his final race, the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga Racecourse. Moreno went gate-to-wire over Itsmyluckyday and Will Take Charge to capture the Grade 1 event and while it was immensely disappointing to see such a lackluster performance from Palace Malice, it seems obvious now that he was not quite himself. Owner Cot Campbell said they performed a scintigraphy and discovered a bone bruise in his left hind cannon bone after the Whitney. Unfortunately it could endanger Palace Malice by running again so they made the courageous and appropriate decision to retire him. The Bloodhorse reported that Cambell said, “His career has been a wonderful thing at this stage of my career; I’ve enjoyed it to the utmost. I’d like it to continue, but he doesn’t owe us a thing.”
I echo the sentiments of Mr. Cambell in saying that I’d like the Palace Malice trip to keep on going and never end, but all good things must come to an end. Now he enters phase two of his career with a stellar list of accomplishments and legions of adoring fans that will never forget the thrills and chills he gave us. Maybe one day I’ll be able to visit him at stud and fawn over him in person.