The answer came Sunday at a ceremony to honor Palace Malice as the Aiken-trained Horse of the Year for 2013.
Despite gloomy weather, a standing-room-only crowd filled the Aiken Municipal Center. So many showed up that extra chairs had to be pulled out of storage.
“Thank you for coming to Aiken many, many years ago,” Mayor Fred Cavanaugh said of Dogwood Stable, drawing a round of applause.
Palace Malice, a Dogwood Stable colt, was broken and trained in Aiken by Brad Stauffer. After a solid performance as a 2-year-old, Campbell pointed Palace Malice toward the Triple Crown races in 2013.
The bay colt out of Palace Rumor by Curlin made a memorable start in the Kentucky Derby, racing out to the early lead before falling back and finishing 12th. After sitting out the Preakness Stakes, Campbell entered him in the Belmont Stakes in early June.
Palace Malice didn’t disappoint, roaring past Oxbow, the Preakness Stakes winner, and Orb, the Kentucky Derby winner, to take the victory.
During his postrace interview, Campbell said it was a “great day for Aiken” and that people would be “dancing in the streets.”
When Campbell and his wife, Anne, returned to Aiken the next day, they were greeted by three women dancing at one of the city’s busy intersections.
“There has never been a horse that has been as close to the people,” said Campbell, who estimated that more than 2,000 people came out to watch Palace Malice train during his winter break in Aiken. “I think people fell in love with him.”
Palace Malice made 10 starts in 2013 and recorded two wins, three second-place finishes and one third-place finish. His earnings were $1,419,135.
His 2014 campaign isn’t off to a bad start, either. The 4-year-old won the Gulfstream Park Handicap in Florida on March 8 and is now pointing toward the New Orleans Handicap on March 29.
If all goes well, Campbell plans to race Palace Malice up to 10 times this year and hopes he is a candidate for Horse of the Year – not just the one presented by Aiken, but also the Eclipse Award honor for being the best in thoroughbred racing.
“He’s going to be at the top of the list for Horse of the Year if he keeps it up,” said John Adger, one of the guest speakers.
The Belmont Trophy presented to the owner was on display Sunday, as were photographs, paintings and other memorabilia from Palace Malice’s career.
Sunday’s ceremony was scheduled to be held at the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame & Museum, but damage from February’s ice storm prevented that. The museum’s supervisor, Lisa Hall, said a room to honor Dogwood’s contributions should be ready in the fall.