AIKEN — Cot Campbell calls it the “race within a race.”
Dogwood Stable’s Palace Malice can lose Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic and still come home to Aiken a winner.
That’s the scenario for the Belmont Stakes champion as he gets one more chance to make his claim for the year’s top 3-year-old horse.
Palace Malice entered the conversation for an Eclipse Award when he won the Triple Crown race in June, and he backed that up with a win in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga.
But in his past two outings, Palace Malice placed fourth in the Travers and second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
‘The interesting thing is there is a race within a race,” said Campbell, president of Aiken-based Dogwood Stable. “And we are anxious to be 3-year-old champion, and to do that we’ve got to beat the hell out of Will Take Charge.”
Will Take Charge has five victories as a 3-year-old and is now Palace Malice’s chief rival for top 3-year-old. Will Take Charge, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, did not win any of the Triple Crown events. Kentucky Derby winner Orb and Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow are not entered in Saturday’s race at Santa Anita Park in California.
Should Palace Malice win the $5 million race, he’ll be the top 3-year-old without a doubt. But Campbell sees another path to the Eclipse.
“I think if we were a good third and Will Take Charge was sixth, I think we’re going to be the champion,” he said.
In their last head-to-head meeting, Will Take Charge got the best of Palace Malice with a win at the Travers on Aug. 24. Palace Malice finished fourth in that race after breaking from the gate poorly.
“I think the Travers was horrible luck, I think we ran the best horse, we should have won, it was just terrible,” Campbell said. “I think in the Gold Cup we got beat by a better horse on the day. That horse (Ron The Greek) was sensational, and he has a reputation for about once a year coming out of the woodwork and running a blinder. And he did that day.
“He ran 67 feet less than we did, but I don’t know if we’re going to beat him if we’re running beside him because he was sensational. I thought we were just second best.”
Campbell has been pleased with Palace Malice’s work leading up to the Breeders’ Cup, and trainer Todd Pletcher should have the son of Curlin ready to go when he breaks from the No. 8 spot.
“Every day he goes out and does exactly what you want him to do with the same degree of enthusiasm and soundness, thank goodness,” Campbell said.
The only variable that has changed is that jockey John Velazquez will be in the irons for this race. Mike Smith, who rode Palace Malice to his two wins in the summer, is aboard favorite Game On Dude.
“We would like to have kept Mike – who wouldn’t? – but Johnny is the leading money-winning rider in the history of racing,” Campbell said. “I’d have to be delighted with him. To lose Mike and get Velazquez is wonderful.”
If Palace Malice goes on to win an Eclipse Award, it would be the fourth such award for Dogwood Stable. Inlander won as champion steeplechaser in 1987, and Storm Song was champion 2-year-old filly in 1996. Campbell received the Eclipse Award of Merit, the industry’s highest honor, in 2012.
“It would be wonderful,” Campbell said.
If Palace Malice wins the Classic, he also could win an Eclipse for Horse of the Year.
“I guess he could, depending on what other horses did,” Campbell said. “I think if Wise Dan lost his turf race and Royal Delta got beat in the distaff ... Jupiter’s got to align with Mars. But I think it’s conceivable.”
Based on Palace Malice’s four starts since the Kentucky Derby, Campbell thinks his horse will be in contention when the field turns for home.
“These are 12 of the best horses in the world, and hopefully we’ll be mature enough to handle it,” Campbell said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see us winning, I wouldn’t be surprised to see us run fourth. But unless he has some horrible problem, he’ll be in the mix.”