Friday, February 13, 2015

Home Again: Palace Malice Back in Aiken

By Mary Jane Howell, photography by Gary Knoll

Everyone around him is in agreement: the Palace Malice that is in Aiken this winter is bigger, stronger and tougher than the colt that was here last year. He’s a 4-year-old with bragging rights, having won such races as the Belmont Stakes and Metropolitan Mile. If he were Rocky Balboa he would be throwing his arms up at the top of those famed steps in Philadelphia. His arena of choice is the Aiken Training Track.

The colt returned to Aiken on November 14, after a veterinary exam showed no signs of the bone bruise that had called an end to his 4-yearold campaign. Now owned by a partnership of Dogwood Stable and Three Chimneys Farm, Palace Malice will train in Aiken until mid- January and then be shipped to his trainer, Todd Pletcher, at Palm Beach Downs in Florida.

Cot Campbell, the president of Dogwood, is out most mornings to watch the stable’s star train and is quick to express his delight that Palace Malice is back in town.

“It did him a world of good to be brought back last year and have a bit of a working vacation, so a return to Aiken this time around to get legged-up made perfect sense,” explained Campbell. “Aiken has been so supportive of this horse and I think people get a kick out of coming to the track in the morning to watch him train.”

Training is what Palace Malice likes to do and he lets his team know it. When he first arrived in Aiken, his trainer Brad Stauffer had him simply walk a few times around the shedrow. The colt had been off for 60 days, so he had to be started slowly. At least that was the plan. Palace Malice was having none of it. So off he went to the track with his exercise rider Gene Tucker, accompanied by both Stauffer and Ron Stevens on ponies. The idea was to have several days of jogging and then eventually work up to a steady gallop.

Once again, the colt had other ideas. On one drizzly, cold November morning, Palace Malice reared, unseated his rider and headed off down the track at a gallop. Dogwood’s vice president, Jack Sadler slipped in the mud, losing his boots, glasses and hat as he tried to catch him. The sight of the vice-president on his belly on the track gave pause to Palace Malice’s run, and the colt walked up to Jack and stopped. Catastrophe averted.

Palace Malice goes to the track each morning at 8:30, jogs a turn around the oval and then gallops five-eighths of a mile. In the afternoons around 1:30 he is brought out of his stall for a walk, and if there is an audience he will throw his head up and pose when he hears the click of a camera.

“Last year we could take him over to where people were standing and let them feed him peppermints, but not this year,” said Stauffer. “He’s a different horse.”

Horses are creatures of habit, so the team at Legacy Stable has tried to make Palace Malice’s routine as much like last year’s as possible. He has the same stall, the same groom (Daniel Negrete) and the same rider. He is definitely “The Horse” around the barn and the track.

“If he is walking back to the barn and a set of horses is jogging towards us he puffs himself up and thinks about doing something,” said Tucker. Fortunately, Palace Malice has not acted on his impulses.

Dogwood and Three Chimneys Farm have released the names of the five races on Palace Malice’s schedule for 2015, beginning with the Westchester Handicap in May and culminating with the Breeders’ Cup at the end of October, which will be held for the first time at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky. Between these bookend races are the Metropolitan Mile, the Whitney and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. The opportunity for Palace Malice to win back-to-back runnings of the Westchester and Metropolitan Handicap would place him in rarified company and further enhance his already impressive record.

Palace Malice has purse earnings of $2,676,135 as he heads into 2015 and his fourth year of racing. Upon completion of his racing career he will stand at stud at Three Chimneys Farm.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Ask The Judge: From Surprised

Questions About Dressage

With Amy McElroy

Amy McElroy is a USEF R judge, qualified to officiate at any USEF recognized show at all national dressage levels. She rides, trains and teaches at Fairlane Farm in Aiken and judges about a dozen dressage shows and events each year. In her popular Ask the Judge column, she answers readers' questions about dressage.

Dear Amy,

I recently competed in a recognized horse trials. I closely watched the rider in front of me perform her dressage test. Her horse broke gait several times during her ride. I performed my test error free. I was so surprised to see that she placed ahead of me in the class. How is that possible?


Dear Surprised,
It is wonderful that you had an error free test. In answer to your question, it is quite possible that the rider ahead of you deserved a better score. A mistake free test is a great thing, but to earn a high score you need much more than that.

First, I think you might not be clear on what the word "error" means in a dressage test. An error is not just a mistake. An error is when you perform something that is not prescribed by the test. For example, if you make a wrong turn, if you perform a movement at the wrong letter or you lose your place, that would be an error. An error will cost you a 2-point deduction for the first one, a 4-point deduction for the second one, and elimination for the third.

If, on the other hand, your horse simply breaks gait during a movement that you are performing in accordance with the test, this is not considered an error. This kind of mistake does not have a specific point dudction, but it will affect the score for the movement. Even if the horse breaks gait several times in one movement, this will only affect the score for that one scoring box on the test. If the horse breaks gait in more than one movement in a test, the score for each movement would be affected. Several breaks in gait should also be taken into consideration in the scores for the collective marks.

There are four collective marks: gaits, impulsion, submission and rider position. Breaking gait might affect the collective marks for submission and possibly for rider position and impulsion. The submission score might be lowered by a point or more. Many breaks in gait would show that your horse ahs issues with attention, ease and harmony, which are part of the directives for the submission score. The rider position score could be affected by a point or more as well, if the breaks in gait seem to have been caused by the rider: the effectiveness of the aids is part of the rider position score. The impulsion score might also be lowered by a point or more, since breaks in gait can indicate a loss of engagement, which is part of the directives for the impulsion score.

As with any dressage test, the whole picture tells the story. In each movement, the judge is observing how well the horse is able to use the training scale, as well as the accuracy and correct geometry of the test, and the ability of the horse to perform the prescribed movement. Judges are looking for clear rhythm with energy and tempo, relaxation with elasticity and suppleness, steady connection to the bit, acceptance of aids, lively impulsion with energy and thrust, straightness with alignment and balance, and (at higher levels) collection.

So, if you test was mistake free, you are halfway there. To learn more, it is important to read the comments that your judge gives on your test. You can pick up your copy of your test after your class has been scored and posted. You copy is often available at the show office, so look for it there. Tests are always avialable to riders, so check with the show manager if you don't find it. The test is yours to keep, but you have to know to pick it up. Be sure to read the collective marks and the "further remarks" section. Most judges take a few words to say what they enjoyed most about your ride and what they think your ride still needs to improve. This can be very helpful feedback, and should give you a better understanding of how your test was evaluated. For example, maybe your test was very accurate and you looked beautiful on your horse, but he was too unsteady in his connection to the bit and could have been moving more freely forward. These issues would definitely affect your score, even if the test was perfectly accurate with no breaks in gait and no errors.

Perhaps the horse in front of you had a break in gait (not an error) in one or two movements. That would warrant low scores in those two movements, maybe only a 4 in each. If the remainder of the test was performed well and consistent with the training scale, it is quite possible for that horse and rider combination to have a better overall score than you did. 

So before your next show, I encourage you to try to improve by reading the scores and remarks on your last test and start working on those areas that need continued improvement. When you ride a test, you should always be striving for a picture of harmony and ease. Your judge wants to see a horse and rider that are working together and are reliable and solid at the level in which they are performing. Keep practicing and try to wow your judge with your performance at your next show. 

Good luck!

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.