Orb won the Kentucky Derby but finished behind Oxbow in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, and those two colts both were behind Palace Malice on Saturday in the Belmont, leaving the male 3-year-old title up for grabs nearing the midway point of the year.
Three different horses winning three legs of the Triple Crown has happened often, including just two years ago, but there never was a subsequent showdown in 2011. This year, however, all three are pointing to the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, NY, on Aug. 24. The routes they take there could differ, though.
Palace Malice is likely headed to the Jim Dandy at Saratoga on July 27 as his prep for the Travers, according to his trainer, Todd Pletcher. Pletcher keeps his best horses at Saratoga in the summer, and Cot Campbell, whose Dogwood Stable syndicate owns Palace Malice, has spent many a summer there, so the Jim Dandy-Travers parlay is “probably where we’ll go,” Pletcher said.
Pletcher said this Belmont win was “very satisfying” because of his long-held belief that Palace Malice had that kind of ability, and the support of Campbell and Paul Oreffice, a longtime Dogwood investor who is a co-owner of Palace Malice.
“I was very happy for Mr. Campbell, very happy for Mr. Oreffice, very happy for everyone at Dogwood because they’ve supported me a long time, from back when I didn’t have any horses,” Pletcher said. “And it was satisfying because of the horse. We kept believing in him because of what we saw in the morning, and he showed up with a race we thought he had in him.
“And it’s nice to win a race like that,” added Pletcher, who also won the Belmont with Rags to Riches in 2007. “Rags to Riches was exciting, and it was a relief because it was our first classic. This was exciting. You could just enjoy it.”
Pletcher said Palace Malice is “very tough, durable, resilient.”
“He takes his races really well,” Pletcher added. “Of the five we ran in the Derby, if we were going to run one in the Preakness, he’d have been the one.”
Palace Malice got a 98 Beyer Speed Figure for his Belmont victory, the second lowest Beyer in the Belmont, behind only Drosselmeyer’s 94 in 2010.
Oxbow returned to Churchill Downs on Sunday following a van ride from Belmont Park. His trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, on Monday said “the obvious target for Oxbow” is the Travers, and that the Jim Dandy was a more likely prep than the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on July 28.
“He’s such a tough horse that running back from either race into the Travers is very workable,” said Lukas, adding that he’d “have to check with the owner,” Brad Kelley of Calumet Farm. “And I haven’t really heard from the Haskell folks yet. But either way, I’m sure we’ll go in one of those to set us up for the Travers.”
Lukas took a rare morning off Monday after getting home to Louisville, Ky., late Sunday night. Lukas was tired from a lengthy van ride that he said was “extended by about three hours” by stopped traffic caused by a fatal accident on Interstate 71 just outside of Louisville.
Oxbow finishing in front of Orb in the Belmont marked the fifth consecutive time, dating to 1994, that the Preakness winner finished in front of the Derby champion in the Belmont.
Orb was tired Sunday morning, according to his trainer, Shug McGaughey, who said he was thinking of sending Orb to the Fair Hill training center in Maryland with trainer Bruce Jackson to get him away from the racetrack environment and freshen him before a return to training.
“Hopefully, we can get him back on his feet,” McGaughey said. “I’d love to run in the Travers. My main objective, if he bounces out of this the way I hope, would be the Travers.”
McGaughey said he was satisfied with his decision to run in the Belmont.
“I don’t think I took a horse over there that wasn’t ready to run,” he said. “It was just hard to make up ground over that track. He made a long move from the five-eighths to the quarter pole. He just couldn’t sustain it. The difference between this off track and the one at Churchill is that Churchill was more like a springboard track.
“This was deeper, looser, sandier, but it was in fabulous shape after all the rain they had. That’s a real tribute to Glen Kozak,” McGaughey said, referring to the vice president of facilities and racing surfaces at Belmont Park. “He does a great job, not only for Belmont Day, but all the time. This place wouldn’t be standing if it wasn’t for him.”
Revolutionary, who finished third in the Derby, skipped the Preakness, and then was fifth in the Belmont for Pletcher, was sent to WinStar Farm in Kentucky on Sunday and will get an extended vacation before returning to race as a 4-year-old, Elliott Walden, the chief executive and president of WinStar, said Monday.
“We want to give him two or three months to get stronger, freshen him up, and point for a 4-year-old campaign,” Walden said. “We feel like without having won one of the Triple Crown races, there’s no championship on the line. We’d love to run in races like the Jim Dandy and Travers, but we feel he’s going to be better at 4.
“He’s an immature type. This will give him a chance to fill out. A lot of times, you don’t get a chance to do that when you stay in training. We’re sacrificing the rest of his 3-year-old season, but it’s for the right reason. He’ll be bigger, stronger, and fresher when he comes back at 4.”
Unlimited Budget, the filly who finished sixth in the Belmont, will race against fillies next time, Pletcher said, with the Coaching Club American Oaks on July 20 at Saratoga most likely.
Pletcher said he was “not sure what we want to do” with Overanalyze, who finished seventh. He said the Jim Dandy and Travers are possible, as is the Haskell, a race that is the intended target for Verrazano, who has not raced since suffering his first loss in the Derby. Verrazano is scheduled to return Sunday at Monmouth in the Pegasus.
— Additional reporting by David Grening and Marty McGee