Halfway through his projected campaign of eight races this year with an unblemished record so far, Dogwood Stable’s Palace Malice is poised to turn a corner in Saturday’s Whitney Handicap that could lead to a very exclusive neighborhood.
Since 1950, in what was once referred to as “the handicap division” but is now loosely termed the “older” set, only three horses – Tom Fool, Spectacular Bid and Cigar – have managed to run the table in a season consisting of a goodly number of starts.
While it might be premature to mention Palace Malice in the same breath with these titans of the turf, it is not unforeseeable that this horse just might join this select company.
The Whitney was a weight-for-age race when Tom Fool galloped home over a single opponent, but the 1950s were the days when handicap races were the meat and potatoes of the American turf. The following year it became a handicap and six times during the ’60s, the winner carried 130 pounds or more.
Illustrating how dramatically things have changed, only Quality Road – second to Blame four years ago – has carried 126 pounds in the Whitney since Criminal Type won with that impost in 1990.
Top weight last year was fifth-place finisher Fort Larned at 122.
For this year, the Whitney conditions have changed again and, although still styled as a handicap, it is really an allowance race with a fancy name. Palace Malice and Will Take Charge are top-weighted at the maximum allowable of 124 because they are Grade I winners at a mile or over in the last two calendar years.
Their seven opponents will carry from three to seven pounds less as established by the conditions.
“Generally, without handicaps, just a few horses would dominate the sport and the others would have no shot at the big race,” Dogwood’s Cot Campbell wrote in his book, Lightning in a Jar.
“Sometimes they dominate anyway. Kelso, Forego, Discovery, Exterminator – they were all legendary weight carriers.”
For this year at least, Palace Malice won’t be joining that company, but fellowship with Tom Fool, Spectacular Bid and Cigar would be mighty fine.