NEW YORK — Palace Malice took charge on the turn for home and won the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, holding off Preakness winner Oxbow and Kentucky Derby winner Orb.
The win gave Todd Pletcher his second Belmont win in six years, and vindicated the trainer’s support of a 3-year-old who came into the final leg of the Triple Crown with only one victory.
Palace Malice, who finished 12th in the Derby and skipped the Preakness, covered the 1½ miles in a slow 2:30.70 on a fast track following a 24-hour downpour. The colt owned by Cot Campbell’s Dogwood Stable won by 3¼ lengths after passing pacesetter Oxbow. Orb made a late move but came up far short and finished third.
Palace Malice, ridden by Mike Smith and sent off at odds of 13-1, returned $29.60, $11.20 and $6.70. The colt was one of a record five entries by Pletcher.
Incognito was fourth, followed by Revolutionary, the filly Unlimited Budget, Overanalyze, Vyjack, Golden Soul, Will Take Charge, Giant Finish, Midnight Taboo, Freedom Child and Frac Daddy.
Oxbow, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, returned $9.90 and $6.10, and Orb, trained by Shug McGaughey, paid $3.30.
When Palace Malice moved past Oxbow, Smith said fellow Hall of Famer Gary Stevens looked over at him “like a big brother telling his little brother. ‘You go on with it big boy, you’re moving better than me.’”
Last Sunday, Palace Malice put in his final workout before the Belmont, blazing 4 furlongs in 47.40 seconds. Pletcher called it one of the most impressive works he’d ever seen. And Palace Malice came through in a big way, earning $600,000 of the $1 million purse and giving Pletcher his third win in a Triple Crown race.
The nation’s leading trainer also won the 2007 Belmont with the filly Rags to Riches and the 2010 Derby with Super Saver. Smith won his second Belmont, having won aboard Drosselmeyer in 2010.
Pletcher’s other four Belmont runners were Revolutionary, Unlimited Budget, Overanalyze and Midnight Taboo.
The 14-horse field — the largest since 1996 — got off to an even start on a warm, sunny day after Tropical Storm Andrea moved out of the area.
Frac Daddy and Freedom Child set out for the lead from their inside posts, with Oxbow not far behind. As the field came out of the turn, Stevens put Oxbow on the lead into the long backstretch run. But unlike the Preakness, he had company up front. By the time the Oxbow moved into the far turn, Palace Malice had moved into contention and Orb was beginning to make a run from way back in the pack.
With a quarter-mile to the finish, Palace Malice seized the lead. The question was whether anyone was going to catch him. Unlike the Derby, Orb was unable to come through with a winning kick. He couldn’t even reel in the tiring Oxbow.
“It’s huge. It’s huge,” said Pletcher, who twice before sent out five horses in the Kentucky Derby and came up empty. “We always felt like he had a big one in him. We were just waiting for it to finally develop. I told Mr. Campbell this horse is training unbelievable. I know he’s got a big run, we just need to put it all together.”
Pletcher sounded more optimistic in Palace Malice’s chances as the Belmont drew closer.
“His work two works (before the race) were as good as I’ve seen a horse work,” he said. “We were quietly confident coming in.”
McGaughey said Orb made a good run around the turn, “but we had given up so much ground. The speed horses held all up front and we just couldn’t catch them.”
Stevens was happy Oxbow hung on for second.
“Going into the far turn, I didn’t think he would have hit the board,” Stevens said. “To finish second, I am really surprised. I’m really proud of him.”