Cot Campbell knew Palace Malice was capable of a big win.
The Dogwood Stable owner’s faith was rewarded Saturday, when the Aiken-trained colt won the Belmont Stakes ahead of Oxbow, the Preakness Stakes winner, and Orb, the Kentucky Derby winner.
Palace Malice had a close call at the Blue Grass Stakes in April. Then he raced to a big lead at the Kentucky Derby before fading to 12th. Dogwood decided to rest its star 3-year-old and skipped the Preakness Stakes.
“We’ve been waiting for the horse to prove he could get the job done,” Campbell said in a phone interview Saturday night. “Man, he got the job done today.”
The victory was only the second in eight career starts for Palace Malice, who was sired by former Preakness winner Curlin. Campbell, who founded Dogwood Stable and moved its base of operations to Aiken in 1986, purchased the colt as a 2-year-old for $200,000 at the Keeneland sale in April 2012.
“He put an A-plus on his report card and an A-plus on mine,” Campbell said.
The victory was the second in a Triple Crown race for the 85-year-old Campbell. Campbell made his first Triple Crown appearance in 1990 with Summer Squall, and the feisty colt finished second in the Kentucky Derby.
Two weeks later, Summer Squall blazed down the backstretch at Pimlico to win the Preakness Stakes and give Campbell and Dogwood its first Triple Crown triumph.
“Somebody said to me it’s about time you won another classic,” Campbell said.
During his postrace interview, Campbell said it was a “great day for Aiken” and that people would be “dancing in the streets.”
Palace Malice received tremendous support before and after his Derby appearance, Campbell said.
“Aiken was carried away when he ran in the Derby,” he said. “I never saw such acclaim and support for a horse.”
At the West Side Bowery restaurant in downtown Aiken, the diners on hand let out a “good hurrah” when Palace Malice crossed the finish line in first place.
“We had quite a few who had reservations who were anxious to find out who won,” said Craig Kessler, the restaurant’s manager. “We were scurrying back and forth to let them know.”
The Bowery, which features pictures of Aiken’s rich equine history, is filled with Dogwood memorabilia. Photos of previous champions from the stable adorn the hallway, and a fiberglass horse featuring Dogwood’s signature green-and-yellow color scheme once stood on display in the restaurant’s courtyard before falling victim to a willow tree’s branch.
“The bar wasn’t full, but the ones who were here definitely enjoyed it,” Kessler said.
Mary Jane Howell, Dogwood’s former public relations director, rushed to the office Saturday night to help make calls and assist with interviews. The win had special meaning for her.
“The Belmont was my home track for so many years,” Howell said. “Being a New York girl, I’m so excited that Dogwood won the Belmont.”
Going off at 13-1 odds, and without the blinkers that were blamed for his torrid pace at the Derby, Palace Malice stalked the early lead and moved into contention on the far turn just as Oxbow grabbed the lead. Orb, the favorite for the 1 ½-mile race, began his run from far back in the pack.
But with veteran jockey Mike Smith guiding him, Palace Malice took the lead with ¼ mile to go and none of the other 13 horses in the field could catch him. Oxbow placed second, and Orb took third.
“When he pulled up next to Oxbow, Gary Stevens turned to Mike Smith and said, ‘You’ve got more horse than I do, little brother,’” Campbell said with a laugh.
Incognito, broken and trained in Aiken by Darley Stable’s Tim Jones, finished fourth.