Dogwood Stable’s Palace Malice will go to the post of the Belmont Stakes today along with 13 other hopefuls and all will be undertaking something they’ve never tried before – a contest over the distance of a mile and a half.
While the experience will be new for the horses, it also will present a challenge to the jockeys, who almost never ride a race of this distance on a dirt surface except in early June at Belmont Park. As might be expected, such enigmas have led to some convoluted results that inspire confidence for the connections of long shots.
Palace Malice will play that role, being held at 15-1 in the morning line, and for what appears, at first glance, to be good reason. The Dogwood color-bearer has started seven times and has made but one visit to the winner’s circle. He has never won a stakes race. And in the Kentucky Derby five weeks ago, he left the gate, in the words of Dogwood managing partner Cot Campbell, “like a scalded dog,” paying no heed to the efforts of jockey Mike Smith to restrain him and save something for the homestretch.
Oddly, a review of the Belmont since 2000 indicates a colt with the credentials of Palace Malice has a much better chance of success than the price on the tote board might forecast.
Despite being eligible for an entry-level allowance race for nonwinners of two – like the second race on today’s Belmont card – Palace Malice would hardly be unique should he win the big one. Four of the past 13 Belmont Stakes winners, or 31 percent, were scoring their second career victory. Furthermore, six of the Belmont winners of this century, or 46 percent, were becoming stakes winners for the first time.
Sticking with the sample, it’s much more probable that a horse sporting odds of 10-1 or better will win a Belmont than the favorite. Only two favorites – Point Given (2001) and Afleet Alex (2005) – have reported home with punctuality in the given span, while seven winners have been double digits on the board, led by Sarava ($70.25-1 in 2002) and Da’ Tara ($38.50-1 in 2008).
Cold, hard number analysis comes to an end, though, when a horse’s style of running becomes the focus. Campbell, Smith and the Malice’s supporters are hoping his race in the Derby was an anomaly.
Blame for that disappointment has been squarely placed on the set of blinkers adorning the colt’s head on that rainy afternoon in Louisville.
But the blinkers sharpened the colt too much, making him too competitive and unwilling to rate.
Off come the blinkers for the Belmont and the hoped for trip would be a clean break, a ground-saving, stalking position behind a moderate pace through the race’s early stages and a clear shot free of traffic when the time for the real running arrives about 3/8ths of a mile from the finish.
Palace Malice has not had that kind of trip this year and is overdue.
If he gets it this afternoon, he just might visit that hallowed spot on the race track that, regardless of its appearance, has palatial overtones – the winner’s circle.