Palace Malice, running without the blinkers that hindered a previous performance, won the Belmont Stakes ahead of Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow and Kentucky Derby champion Orb.
Palace Malice, ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, was one of a record five horses saddled by trainer Todd Pletcher for the third leg of thoroughbred horse racing’s Triple Crown at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.
Considered one of the best 2-year-olds in Pletcher’s barn last year, Palace Malice lost six of his first seven starts.
“I kept saying I know there’s a big one there; I felt like he had a big one in him,” said Pletcher, who recorded his second Belmont win yesterday. “I kept waiting for it to materialize in the afternoon. He got close a couple of times, but didn’t quite get it done.”
Palace Malice came out of the gate to set the pace at the rain-soaked Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, on May 4 before finishing 12th. Pletcher didn’t enter the 3-year-old colt in the Preakness on May 18.
“He just got rank with the blinkers and a sloppy track,” Pletcher said. “He looked like he was in a good comfortable rhythm (in the Belmont), and that was the main focus.”
Palace Malice covered the 1 1/2-mile distance in two minutes, 30.70 seconds and finished 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Oxbow after overtaking the second-place runner in the final furlong. Orb, the 2-1 favorite, was five lengths behind the winner.
“We took the blinkers off,” said Smith, who won the second Belmont of his career. “Today he was just enjoying the trip. I was full of run. The whole key was getting him into his rhythm.”
Palace Malice returned $29.60 on a $2 bet to win, $11.20 to place and $6.70 to show. Oxbow paid $9.90 and $6.10 and Orb returned $3.90.
Oxbow, who battled for the early lead with Freedom Child, was a third co-favorite in the race at 9-1.
“I thought I was dead midway down the backside, they were suicidal fractions and he never got any break,” said jockey Gary Stevens, who rode in the Triple Crown after a seven-year retirement. “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.”
Orb, the favorite in all three races, could muster only fourth place in the Preakness to blow his chance of being the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
“He made a good run around the turn, but we had given up so much,” said trainer Shug McGaughey. “The speed horses held all up front and we just couldn’t catch them.”
Orb, ridden by Joel Rosario, was 10 lengths off the lead at the far turn when the colt started to pick up the pace to challenge the frontrunners.
“I don’t think he got tired. He put a pretty good run in to get to where he was, and those horses just weren’t coming back,” McGaughey said. “If they had come back, we’d have been fine. They shook loose and we were just too far back to catch them.”