08/20/2013 4:46PM

Saratoga: Campbell would savor 'icing' of a Travers win

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Barbara D. Livingston
Cot Campbell, principal of the Dogwood Stable, which owns Palace Malice, raises the trophy in the winner’s circle at the Belmont Stakes. The colt will be Dogwood’s third Travers starter.

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Before Cot Campbell fades into the background of a new business venture involving his longtime partnership Dogwood Stable, he will be front and center Saturday in Saratoga’s $1 million Travers Stakes, the marquee event in the sesquicentennial season of this historic track.

Campbell’s Dogwood Stable owns Palace Malice, who after a frustrating start to his 3-year-old season has won the Belmont Stakes and Jim Dandy in impressive fashion, perhaps setting himself as the favorite in a compelling Travers that includes Kentucky Derby winner Orb, and Haskell and Wood Memorial winner Verrazano.

At age 85, and having come to Saratoga for more than four decades, Campbell said a victory in the Travers would be special.
“It would certainly be the icing on the cake for me,” Campbell said Tuesday morning at Saratoga. “It comes at a time of my life when I’m not going to have many more shots, so it would mean everything. I’m a stickler for tradition. I love the idea that the race was started right after the Battle of Gettysburg. Anybody would love to win it, but I as heck sure would.”

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Dogwood has participated in two Travers, finishing sixth with Wallenda in 1993 and fifth with Impeachment in 2000. Neither was considered a top-flight contender. In 1990, Dogwood’s Preakness winner Summer Squall was kept out of big stakes races in New York because he was a bleeder and Lasix was not permitted for use in the state at that time.

Soon, the Dogwood partnership will cease to exist as we know it. Effective July 1, Dogwood merged with Eclipse Thoroughbreds, run by Aron Wellman, and all new acquisitions will run under the Eclipse/Dogwood banner.

“Eclipse will deal with our customers, our client base and offer them shares in their horses, and they will run in the name of Eclipse/Dogwood with alternating colors,” said Campbell, who would act more as a consultant.

Campbell said that Dogwood would still continue to manage the 28 horses who currently are in training under its name until their careers are complete.

Palace Malice is certainly the head of that group. A son of Curlin, Palace Malice demonstrated great promise at 2 before bucked shins forced him to the sidelines when he was preparing for the Grade 1 Hopeful here last summer.

“That was disappointing certainly, because we thought we were headed for the Hopeful,” Campbell said. “It was probably a blessing in disguise.”

As a May foal, Palace Malice was a bit younger than horses like Orb (February foal) and Verrazano (January foal). Physically and mentally, Palace Malice likely benefited from the time off to mature.

Palace Malice was a bit unlucky beginning his 3-year-old year with a runner-up finish in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park and a narrow loss in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds. When he got a traffic-filled trip in the Louisiana Derby, Palace Malice was wheeled back in two weeks in the Blue Grass Stakes in hopes of getting enough qualifying points to make the Kentucky Derby. He ran well to be second, with room for improvement.

“He changed leads two or three times, spotted the tire tracks about six or seven jumps from the wire, and kind of looked at them,” Campbell said. “That’s when the big blinker idea came.”

Trainer Todd Pletcher put blinkers on Palace Malice for the Kentucky Derby and they got him revved up. The colt set blistering early fractions before finishing 12th, 13 1/2 lengths behind Orb.
“Even though he ran that goofy three-quarters, the race was impressive in that he hung on to finish as well as he did under the circumstances,” Campbell said.

Palace Malice’s breakthrough race came in the Belmont when, with blinkers off, he settled just off another wicked pace and drove home a 3 1/4-length winner. Seven weeks later, he sat off the speedy Moreno and won the Jim Dandy by a handier-than-it-looked one length over Will Take Charge.

“He’s a horse that does seem to get better as he gets older,” Campbell said. “I hope the trend continues through Saturday afternoon.”

While Campbell is looking for his first Travers victory, Pletcher is seeking his third, having won it with Flower Alley and Stay Thirsty. Campbell was one of the first owners to give Pletcher horses, and Pletcher believes Campbell’s endorsement helped legitimize his fledgling career.

“When you get someone like Mr. Campbell who endorses you and sends you horses, I think it sends a message  to the industry that someone that’s well respected in the industry thinks you’re qualified enough to train,” said Pletcher, who will also start Verrazano in Saturday’s Travers. “The endorsement itself is important.”

Pletcher, who trained graded stakes winners Cotton Blossom, Trippi, and Smok’n Frolic among others for Campbell, called the Belmont Stakes win by Palace Malice “the crowning achievement of our success together.” But Pletcher believes Palace Malice has more to show.

“He seems to be thriving,” Pletcher said. “The more he does the better he gets.”

For Campbell, success doesn’t get any better than success at Saratoga.

“I love Saratoga, this is my kind of place,” Campbell said. “I just love the atmosphere here. Everybody’s in a good mood. People that nod to you at Belmont, they’ll embrace you warmly here. I have learned how to pace myself here. I go to a lot of parties, but I come home early.”

Campbell’s hoping to throw one more shindig Saturday night.