NEW YORK — Once again, the “Test of the Champion” proved otherwise.
A day after Dogwood Stable’s Palace Malice pulled off an upset in the Belmont Stakes, the race for a championship is wide open now that each of the classics has been won by a different 3-year-old.
“Everyone goes into the rest of the summer and fall with similar résumés,” trainer Todd Pletcher said Sunday, declaring that his Belmont winner is “feeling very good.
“I don’t think there’s a clear-cut leader.”
In a Belmont featuring a rematch between Kentucky Derby winner Orb and Preakness winner Oxbow, it was one of Pletcher’s record five entries that handled the 1 1/2-mile marathon the best.
Palace Malice took the lead from Oxbow on the far turn and barreled down the stretch for a 31/4-length victory Saturday. Orb made a run at the leaders from way back in the field of 14, but didn’t come close and finished third.
Orb, Oxbow and Will Take Charge, 10th in the Belmont, ran in all three Triple Crown races. They will get their time off. Palace Malice, meanwhile, was full of energy and Pletcher said his colt would be back on the track in four days to resume training.
Having a well-rested horse for the Belmont seems to have its benefits. Since 2000, there have been seven Belmont winners who ran in the Derby but skipped the Preakness.
“It’s not coincidental at all,” said Pletcher. “If you want to win the Belmont, it makes a lot of sense to sit out the middle one. The fresh horse is always going to have an edge, in my opinion.”
After finishing 12th in the Derby and skipping the Preakness, Palace Malice finally came through with the big race Pletcher thought he was capable of producing.
“He is a remarkable horse,” Pletcher said. “He bounces out of his races really well. It was a tough race, a demanding race, and he surprises me how resilient he is.”
For now, the leading 3-year-old looks to be Orb, who won five in a row – including the Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby. Oxbow has two other wins to go with his Preakness, along with a sixth in the Derby and a second in the Belmont.
A few more wins by Palace Malice, or soon to be returning 3-year-old Verrazano could put them in the mix as well.
So let the summer season begin. The highlight is the Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 24, the next time the classic winners might meet again.