Handicapping Lesson with Palace Malice

Palace Malice Serves Handicapping Lesson

Palace Malice Handicapping LessonWhen Palace Malice won the Belmont Stakes, obviously many people were caught off guard- especially since he paid $29.60 to win. If you were one of the lucky ones to cash in on the Todd Pletcher trained horse, then this post probably isn’t for you. As many of you already know, I had a rough day that Saturday all together! For whatever reasons, my handicapping eye was a bit fuzzy and the results showed it. Hey… it happens. But as I was debating over how to handle my loss on the Belmont Stakes, I thought it best to use my poor selection as a lesson many handicappers fail at time and time again- learning to go back, look at the form and see where you went wrong.

2 Ways to Handle a Handicapping Loss

Usually there are 2 ways to handle a loss. Many will look at how the race shaped up and focus on factors that could not be determined before the race. Don’t get me wrong- this type of information is very useful and should be considered every time. For example, it’s easy to see how a horse was checked in a race and had trouble finishing well. It’s easy to spot after the race, but was obviously no use to you before the race. Think about it. How many times did you hear that “if Palace Malice had not set that fast, suicidal pace in the Kentucky Derby, so-and-so’s horse would have won” or “Orb would have never been able to pull that off”, etc. Easier said after the race, right? No one knew that was going to happen or could even begin to predict it because it was totally out of character for the horse. What you probably did hear before that race was that “if Verrazano goes to the lead and no one challenges him for it, he could go all the way” or “Verrazano and Goldencents will duel for the lead and probably burn one another out”, etc. These types of statements can be made before the race because they are predicting characteristics of these horses that could hold true.


“As a handicapper, the best thing you can do after a big loss is to ‘double-check’ what you may have missed before the race. This will sharpen your handicapping skills and get you better prepared for future races.”


So the first and easiest way to handle a handicapping loss is to scrutinize what actually happened within the race. Although it can be important and I do it all the time, it is not the best way to handle your loss and see where you went wrong. The best way is to break out the past performance again and see what you might have missed. This is one of the most crucial things you must do if you hope to improve on your handicapping skills. It’s human nature to walk away after a loss, spout off some factor that happened within the race and blame your loss on that one factor. 9 times out of 10, it was generally something you missed on the form, though and being able to spot these “misses” can sharpen your skills as a handicapper more than anything else. Let’s take a look at Palace Malice, think it through and see what I missed that gave him an edge to win the 2013 Belmont Stakes.

The Palace Malice Mistake I Made

Palace Malice in Kentucky DerbyMy first mistake was that before I even got started, I ruled out Palace Malice. Why? Because of his horrible performance in the Derby. Obviously dumb on my part, but it’s the truth, plain and simple. He rushed out to the lead in the Derby and helped set the fastest opening fractions in Derby history, burning himself out along with quite a few others. When it came Belmont time, I didn’t think he would pull the same sort of “shenanigans”, but somewhere within my mind, I just didn’t believe he had what it took to get there and crossed him out without a second glance. Again… dumb on my part. In the Derby, Palace Malice still finished 12th out of a field of 19. Not great, but he did beat out 7 other horses, including Vyjack and Frac Daddy, even though he must have been tired. He beat out Itsmyluckyday, who ran 2nd in the Preakness. He practically tied Overanalyze and was only a ¼ of a length behind Giant Finish. Looking at it from this perspective, it’s safe to say that even after tiring himself out, he actually finished well, all things considered and might would have fared much better had he not set that insanely fast pace.

And what caused him to race like he was on fire in the Derby? It was his first time out in the blinkers. In all of Palace Malice’s other races, he has never been the front runner, but has either stalked the pace or come from behind. Obviously, the blinkers on for the Derby altered his run style and cost him a better finish position within the race. Many wanted to blame Mike Smith for allowing him to run out like he did, myself included, but in all honesty it was Smith’s first time on Palace Malice. Between the Derby and the Belmont, the two had ample time to adjust to one another… and it paid off!

Minor Adjustment Suggested Major Win

Palace Malice & Mike Smith Win the BelmontGoing into the Belmont, Pletcher decided to run him with the blinkers off. This made all the difference in the world! With the blinkers off, Smith could better control the horse’s run style and allow Palace Malice to stalk the pace as he was accustomed to doing. Furthermore, I believe Smith made an excellent decision to stalk Oxbow and Gary Stevens, who was stalking the leader, Freedom Child. This allowed him to have just enough kick to pass up the Preakness winner and claim his victory in the Belmont.

Honestly, I wouldn’t say that I would have made Palace Malice my top pick for the 2013 Belmont Stakes even if I had paid closer attention to him. But knowing what I know now and scrutinizing his race history a lot closer than I had before, I see why he should’ve been a contender (and was.) With the rest of the world eyeballing Orb and Oxbow, it’s easy to see how he should have been up in that mix as well.




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Mike Jr, eldest son of Mike Lane Sr, is co-lead author at and was raised on thoroughbred horse racing and handicapping. Although father and son often butt heads on their selections, they both have much love and admiration for the sport. Mike Jr. brings a new, fresh perspective to horse racing and is often in search of new angles to try.

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