Growing up, I was always more of an Amazing Spider-Man guy than say, Superman or Batman, and frankly, The Fantastic 4 was little more than an afterthought. Not that they didn’t have a cool cast of characters, but they were simply down my list of preferred superheroes. Honestly, the only thing that has stuck with me from the eclectic foursome is the tagline of the big, brawny Thing. “It’s Clobberin’ Time!” It was a statement both succinct and full of meaning. When Thing said those words, you knew his foes were about to feel his wrath in a big way. All this leads me to what I believe is about to go down in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. I could just see Palace Malice walking into the starting gate now at Belmont Park saying those exact words.
Big respect for the talented speed of Cross Traffic, the Gold Cup record of the Baron of Belmont, the consistency of Last Gunfighter, the multiple stakes wins of Alpha and Ron the Greek, and of course, the Derby winner, Orb, but for me, this one all boils down to Palace Malice.
From the day the beautiful son of Curlin first made it to the races, July 5 of last year, when he ran a good second in a sizzling maiden race at Belmont, much has been expected of the Dogwood runner. He has delivered. Wins in the Belmont Stakes and Jim Dandy are proof of that, but still, I believe we have not yet gotten to the bottom of what Palace Malice, the racehorse, will become.
Perhaps it is checkered career of just three wins in ten career starts. Truth be told, this Todd Pletcher trainee has run into more bad beats than a down on his luck professional poker player. Or perhaps it is his relative youth when compared to the nation’s other top three-year-olds. The talent was always there, but the big wins were not. That is, until Belmont Day.
Noted for his flourishing physicality, and his positive presence in the mornings leading up to the Belmont by railbirds, and his trainer alike, Palace Malice finally lived up to all his potential on a very big stage. The formerly bad luck colt won the Belmont Stakes like a very good thing. The 3 ¼ length score in the longest leg of the Triple Crown was proof to his supporters of his ability, and came as no big surprise to those who believed in the apple of Cot Campbell’s eye since that debut at Belmont Park the previous summer.
If the Belmont was a breakthrough, the Jim Dandy was validation. Taking the race right to his competition early and often, Palace Malice always looked like a winner as he was ridden with complete confidence by Mike Smith. He had Moreno measured early and was strong for Will Take Charge’s late thrust. He became a millionaire that day, and the quality of the performance, in which he blitzed the nine furlongs in 1:47.37, was further authenticated by the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby finishes of Will Take Charge and Moreno since. Unfortunately, there is only one problem with that for Palace Malice, in that he was one of the horses they beat in the Travers.
Or at least that is what the past performance line says … Palace Malice finished 4th, beaten ¾ of a length in the MidSummer Derby. Those of us who believe in him maintain that a stumble at the gate, being much farther back early than usual, while behind a pedestrian pace, and having his momentum briefly interrupted in the lane, all adds up to much more than the less than a length in which he was beaten. Believe that as we may, for the May foal, it was another excused performance rather than a win. The time for excuses is now over. Palace Malice has turned the corner, and must now demonstrate that he is not only ready to assume the role of leader of this crop, but also that he is ready to handle a fine field of older runners, as well.
Ten furlongs at Belmont Park would seem to fit him to a tee, and everything we’ve seen in the last one year plus seems to be leading up to this. If Palace Malice has indeed become the horse I think he’s become … “It’s Clobberin’ Time!”