01/06/2015 12:31PM

2014 Eclipse Awards: Palace Malice

Tom Keyser

What’s not to like about a precocious 2-year-old who wins a classic at age 3 and then goes on at 4 to dominate older runners and rise to the top of the American rankings? That is Palace Malice in a package.

Palace Malice is a classic bay colt with black mane and tail and a couple drops of white. He is by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin out of a mare by Royal Anthem, who won the Canadian International at 1 1/2 miles on grass. He was bred by Will Farish in Kentucky, sold first as a yearling for $25,000, and then to Cot Campbell and his Dogwood Stable partners for $200,000 as a 2-year-old.

Palace Malice made five appearances in 2014, beginning in March at Gulfstream Park. He won the first four with a rat-a-tat burst that put his name back in the headlines he’d earned the year before by winning the Belmont Stakes.

He was dead fit but a little rusty between the ears for his season debut in the Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 8, going a one-turn mile. John Velazquez had all the early speed he needed to keep his colt in the thick of the running down the backstretch, and he seemed to be ready to take command and draw away at will. Then in the stretch, Palace Malice appeared to stall. Velazquez had that brief, sick feeling that his horse was short and needed the race. But Palace Malice shook loose the cobwebs, lowered his body, and slipped past Golden Ticket to win by a head.

The New Orleans Handicap at 1 1/8 miles was next March 29, with Mike Smith subbing for Velazquez. Palace Malice responded like a horse who knew he was best. Answering every cue from Smith, he made the lead halfway down the long Fair Grounds stretch and won by nearly five lengths over the accomplished Normandy Invasion.

New York is supposed to be a tough place to win a race like the one-mile Westchester Stakes, even though it ranks as a Grade 3 event with a $150,000 purse. But only three modest runners emerged from the vast Belmont stables on May 11 to meet the Dogwood colt, and they served as little more than window dressing. Palace Malice won by nearly 10 lengths, eased at the end by Velazquez and looking for more.

That day came June 7 in the newly enriched, $1.25 million Metropolitan Handicap – the storied Met Mile – and its commingling of ambitious, brilliant sprinters and classy route horses. Not surprisingly, the gate was nearly full, with 12 running.

Palace Malice and Velazquez shadowed the early pace and appeared to be in perfect rhythm. But up ahead, Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Goldencents was every bit as comfortable in his skin, and with a furlong to run, it appeared as if the race was going his way. A few strides later, in an echo of his Gulfstream finish, Palace Malice surged past Goldencents to win by a length.

Palace Malice would have gone to bat a lot more had he not emerged from his mysterious sixth-place finish in the Whitney at Saratoga on Aug. 2 with bruising to his left hind cannon bone. That was a wrap for the year, and he was sent home to Campbell’s Dogwood Stable facility in the horse-crazy South Carolina community of Aiken, where Palace Malice is a local celebrity.

A stallion career beckoned, even though Palace Malice left his fans wanting to see much more. Fortunately, one of them was Campbell, who steered the partnership toward Three Chimneys Farm for a half-interest in Palace Malice predicated on his return for a 2015 campaign before his retirement to stud.