Written by Rich Forestano Saturday, 22 June 2013 00:00
Mike Smith atop Palace Malice knew when he looked back at a fellow jockey, he reassured victory. Smith had the 145th Belmont Stakes in hand as he thundered down the final stretch on June 8, but not because of a runaway finish. Preakness winner Oxbow with Gary Stevens manning the reins gave Smith the go-ahead as he glanced over to his fellow Hall of Fame member.
“When I ranged up next to [Oxbow], it was like a movie scene,” Smith said. “He looked over to me. I could see his face clear as day. He says, ‘go on little brother, you’re moving better than me. Just ride off your win.’”
The two were almost nose-to-nose in the middle of the final turn. Malice took the lead with a quarter-mile to go in the final leg of the Triple Crown and ran off to a 3 1/4-length victory over Oxbow, with Kentucky Derby winner Orb another 1 3/4 lengths back in third.
“I just tried to make Oxbow as happy as I could,” Stevens said. “Midway around the turn, I said, ‘Well, maybe.’ But I have ridden long enough to know that he was going to walk home the last quarter of a mile.”
While Oxbow fought to take the lead in the final turn, Orb stumbled at the start and needed to make up too much ground.
“He just ran OK,” said Orb trainer Shug McGaughey. “He made a good run around the turn, but we had given up so much. The speed horses held all up front and we just couldn’t catch them.”
Rider Joel Rosario felt Orb’s trip around the track was “perfect” but chalked it up to the 1 1/2 mile and track, the longest in horse racing.
“At a mile and a half, they are all going to get a little tired, but he was starting to get late,” Rosario said. “I felt when he was moving, I was pretty confident like in the Kentucky Derby, but maybe it was the mile and a half, or maybe he was just tired.”
The last quarter-mile was a whirlwind for trainer Todd Pletcher, but could see Malice was “relaxed” and thought Smith got him into a “comfortable rhythm.” Pletcher trained four other Stakes horses: Revolutionary, Midnight Taboo, Unlimited Budget and Overanalyze.
However, Malice’s free-flowing stride may have had to do with rest; it was his second victory in eight starts and didn’t run in the Kentucky Derby. Malice is the third longshot (13-1) in four years to win the Stakes.
Drosselmeyer at 12-1 odds won in 2010, with 24-1 shot Ruler on Ice taking the final leg in 2011. Union Rags won last year at 3-1.
“[Palace Malice] had trained really impressively, and we just felt if we could get him into that rhythm, get him relaxed, it wouldn’t necessarily matter if he was on the lead, fourth, fifth,” Pletcher stated. “Wherever he was, it wouldn’t matter as long as Mike had him in that big gallop he had.”
Cothran Campbell of Dogwood Stable, owner of Palace Malice, was just hoping for some luck.
“I said before, if he has an absence of bad luck, we’ll be all right,” he said. “We’re not asking for any breaks, we just don’t want any breaks against us. This victory is way up there, because I’m in the twilight of my career. It’s a heck of a thing.”