01/08/2014 12:00AM

2013 Eclipse Awards: Palace Malice

photo by: Barbara D. Livingston

After Palace Malice made his first start of the year, a second-place finish in an allowance sprint at Gulfstream Park, he was pointed to the Grade 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds, a race that came on the heels of publication of the inaugural Daily Racing Form Derby Watch list for 2013.

Palace Malice wasn’t on that list, which denotes the top 20 contenders for the Kentucky Derby.

“You’ll have him on the list after he wins the Risen Star,” warned Todd Pletcher, who trains Palace Malice.

Palace Malice didn’t win the Risen Star. In fact, he lost not only that race, but three subsequent starts, including the Kentucky Derby. But the promise that Pletcher had seen for months every morning finally shined best with a victory in the Belmont Stakes, and Palace Malice followed that up with a win in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy. He also was second in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup and was a brutally unlucky fourth in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes.

Those performances helped make Palace Malice one of the three finalists for the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male.

After the Risen Star, Palace Malice returned to Fair Grounds, but like a lot of people who go to New Orleans, he ran into a fair bit of trouble. Unable to find room in the stretch of the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, he finished seventh.

Palace Malice was thus in danger of not having enough points to make a 20-horse field for the Derby, so Pletcher and Cot Campbell, who runs the Dogwood Stable syndicate that owns Palace Malice, decided to bring him back in two weeks for the Grade 1 Blue Grass. He ran second, thus assuring him a spot in the Derby.

For the Derby, Pletcher decided to add blinkers to Palace Malice in the hope it would finally bring out his best, but Palace Malice sped away from the gate and then faded to finish 12th of 19. It was nearly midway through the year, and Palace Malice was winless in five starts.

But he continued to train strongly, so well that Pletcher called his penultimate work for the Belmont one of the best of any horse he’s trained. The blinkers came off, and jockey Mike Smith, who rode him in the Derby, stayed on.

Palace Malice then did what those closest to him long believed he could. He recorded a 3 1/2-length victory over Oxbow, the Preakness winner, and Orb, who had won the Derby.

“I felt like he had a big one in him,” Pletcher said. “I kept waiting for it to materialize in the afternoon.”

The victory had special meaning for Pletcher, because Campbell had been one of the first to support Pletcher when he left the employ of trainer D. Wayne Lukas in 1995.

Campbell called the Belmont win “the mother of all great moments.”

He had purchased Palace Malice as a 2-year-old in training at Keeneland in April 2012 for $200,000. Palace Malice then went to Saratoga, where he captured the Jim Dandy before his eventful trip in the Travers.

In the fall, Palace Malice was second to runaway winner Ron the Greek in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, then completed his year in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, finishing sixth of 11 after a wide trip.

Palace Malice is a colt by Curlin and is out of the Royal Anthem mare Palace Rumor, a pedigree that suggests he should improve with age. He’ll get a chance to show that in 2014.

Palace Malice in early January traveled to Pletcher’s winter headquarters at the Palm Meadows training center in South Florida. He is scheduled to make his first start of the year in the Grade 2, $400,000 New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds on March 29.