AIKEN — Cot Campbell wasn’t that surprised Saturday.
A few hundred people turned out on a cold and overcast day to watch Palace Malice gallop at the Aiken Training Track.
The prized colt of Dogwood Stable won the Belmont Stakes in June and came home to Aiken in November after the Breeders’ Cup. He’s regularly drawn more than 100 people to the track to see him graze or get in a light workout over the past two months.
“I think it’s astonishing,” said Campbell, the president of Dogwood Stable. “People are so grateful that we’ve brought them into it. How could we do anything else? It’s wonderful. I bet there’s 400 or 500 people.”
Palace Malice ships out this morning for Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach, Fla. He’ll be under the supervision of trainer Todd Pletcher and will begin preparing for his 4-year-old campaign.
Campbell said the plan is for the colt to get an allowance race in early March and then run in the New Orleans Handicap on March 29.
Campbell and Ron Stevens, who worked with Palace Malice when he arrived in Aiken as a 2-year-old, think the colt could be primed for a big year.
“There’s every reason to think that,” Campbell said. “He’s always acted like a horse where the older he gets the better he’s going to get. I think he’ll have a great year. He’s sound as he can be, thank God, and if stays that way he’ll be salty, I believe.”
Palace Malice was scheduled to breeze ³⁄8 of a mile Monday but that was scrapped because of the rain and condition of the track. Instead, he galloped in front of about 50 people.
Campbell said he was pleased with Palace Malice’s stay in Aiken. Although the colt’s year ended on a down note when he finished sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he garnered national attention late in the summer with a win in the Jim Dandy Stakes and a second-place showing in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
“He’s amazing because he’s not lost much condition at all,” Campbell said. “I think you could take this horse and breeze him 5⁄8 of a mile right now and he’d handle it. I couldn’t be more tickled with him. He may have put on a few pounds since he’s been here but he came in in good shape. I believe Todd Pletcher’s going to be delighted when he sees him.”
After his Saturday gallop, Stevens walked Palace Malice over to see the public. The colt eagerly ate peppermints from outstretched hands.
When Palace Malice won the Belmont, Campbell quipped on national television that the people in Aiken would be “dancing in the streets.”
“Now they’re shivering in the cold after they’ve danced in the streets,” Campbell said with a laugh. “But it’s very rewarding. The town and the region has taken to the horse, and they feel like they own the horse and it means a lot to us.”