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Bet the Palace

The story about Cot Campbell’s big bet is fairly well known by now, not surprising considering how difficult it can be to keep a good story quiet for long around the racetrack. The fact that the tale’s been told doesn’t decrease the significance of such a move.

The story is not about a man who tosses around his cash like it’s burning a hole in his pocket or plunks down bets the way basketball stars might when they’re in Las Vegas, or on the golf course or playing cards in the locker room. No, this is a story about man who is always on the hunt for value and specifically when it’s about horses.

Campbell liked to strike quick when he worked the yearling and 2-year-old sales, buying horses that sold early in the session and before prices went up as egos and testosterone levels elevated.

The big bet was a $5,000 wager that Palace Malice, last year’s Belmont Stakes winner and the favorite for today’s $1.5 million Whitney Invitational Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, would take down the Horse of the Year title. The Grade 1 Whitney would obviously go a long way toward Palace Malice boosting his already strong 2014 credentials for racing’s top honor.

A victory over a strong cast that includes last year’s champion 3-year-old male and Travers winner Will Take Charge, the speedy Moreno, the consistent Departing, the resurgent Itsmyluckyday and four others would also get Campbell one step closer to cashing the bet he was almost not allowed to make.

“When Palace Malice was in quarters with us in January [in Aiken, South Carolina], I called up a guy named Joe Asher with the William Hill bookmaking organization and said, ‘I want to bet $5,000 that Palace Malice will be Horse of the Year in 2014,’ ” said Campbell, who heads up the Dogwood Stables partnership that campaigns the 4-year-old son of Curlin.

Asher liked the idea, but couldn’t take the bet.

Nevada laws outlawed wagers based on a ballot, but Asher said he’d look into it and try to work out a way to take Campbell’s action.

Eventually Palace Malice was sent back to trainer Todd Pletcher at his winter base at Palm Meadows in South Florida to continue preparations for a 4-year-old campaign. Palace Malice was already considered one of the nation’s leading stallion prospects after a 2013 campaign where he won or placed six times in 10 starts.

To read the rest of the Whitney preview, download Saturday's digital edition of The Saratoga Special presented by Keeneland Sales.

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