May 28, 2024

Malagacy ‘just great’ following Rebel victory, Arkansas Derby rematch possible for top five

Malagacy at Oaklawn Park
Oaklawn Park (Coady Photography)

Unbeaten Malagacy was doing well one day after taking Saturday’s Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park by two lengths for trainer Todd Pletcher, and boarded an afternoon flight back to his conditioner’s Palm Beach Downs base.

“He came out of his race just great,” said Adele Bellinger, who saddled Malagacy in the Rebel and has acted as his exercise rider at Oaklawn all week.

The chestnut colt entered the 1 1/16-mile contest off two romping wins at Gulfstream Park, for which he earned triple-digit BRIS Speed ratings. The Kentucky-bred son of Shackleford was sent off the 3-1 second choice against 10 rivals and pulled clear in the stretch to easily capture his stakes debut and first try past 6 1/2 furlongs.

“The only time he stepped out of his ‘I’m an old horse’ mode and showed a little attitude was on Thursday when we went back to the gate. Other than that he trained so beautifully and was so laid back,” Bellinger said of Malagacy’s mindset entering the Rebel. “He just galloped along. He ran so well yesterday and we’re so proud of him. It was a fun race to watch.”

“In the barn we have always called him mal-a-gay-see,” Bellinger added when asked about the correct pronunciation of the colt’s name. “That’s the way Todd says it. But most of the time, he’s just ‘Gacy’ to us. That’s his pet name.”

Pletcher weighed in on the name as well, saying “I believe so” when asked if Malagacy was named for the Malagasy people on the Island of Madagascar and their language.

“But we don’t know for sure, just like we don’t know the exact proper pronunciation of his name,” he admitted.

While the debate continues on the pronunciation of Malagacy, who is expected to ship back to Oaklawn for the April 15 Arkansas Derby (G1), another question has cropped up asking just how good maiden Sonneteer really is after he finished second in the Rebel as the 112-1 longshot.

The Calumet Farm homebred showed eight starts and no wins heading into the Rebel, but rallied under jockey Richard Eramia to nose out Untrapped for second on the wire. Sonneteer’s only other stakes try prior to Saturday came as a fourth in the California Derby.

“We are definitely proud of our horse and the way he ran,” said Julie Clark, assistant to trainer Keith Desormeaux. “I was talking with Rich (Eramia) and he said he’s still a little green. He’s still a maiden but he said he did everything right. When Rich asked him to do something, he followed through. He felt like he had a lot of horse under him. (Sonneteer) was a little hesitant down on the rail, but he kept pushing through, and when the horse came to him about a sixteenth (of a mile) out, he pushed on. This was a big step forward for him, a giant step.”

Sonneteer boarded a plane back to Desormeaux’s Southern California base early Sunday morning, but is expected to return to Oaklawn for a rematch with Malagacy in the Arkansas Derby.

“There’s a good chance he’ll be back for the Arkansas Derby. He ships really well, and obviously, the surface here agrees with him,” Clark said.

Untrapped, third in the Rebel by a nose over Petrov, could also show back up for the Arkansas Derby.

Trainer Steve Asmussen decided to bypass the Louisiana Derby (G2) on April 1 for the Lecomte Stakes (G3) and Risen Star Stakes (G2) runner-up and try Untrapped in this spot instead.

“Untrapped ran OK,” Asmussen said. “He’ll need a little more time between races between now and the (Kentucky) Derby (G1), so hopefully, he’ll respond to that. Obviously, he’ll need to find a little more. They both need to improve.”

Asmussen also saddled Lookin at Lee in the Rebel, and the bay colt rallied from last to sixth on the wire, beaten just four lengths by the winner.

“We’re not out of the game, but like I said, they need to improve,” Asmussen reiterated. “I’m a little disappointed with Lookin at Lee’s race yesterday. I thought he would run sharper because he had trained well.”

While plans are for Untrapped to target the Arkansas Derby next, Lookin at Lee could possibly be headed to the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland on April 8. The son of Lookin at Lucky finished second in last year’s Breeders’ Futurity Stakes (G1) at that Lexington, Kentucky, venue.

“Possibly, we’ll just change surfaces with him and go to the Blue Grass,” Asmussen said. “I don’t think he’s shown his best. We might do that but we’ll see how we train out of this race.”

Asmussen added that he’s weighing adding blinkers to Untrapped’s equipment for his next start.

Untrapped’s owner, Michael Langford, dropped in to see his Trappe Shot colt both after the race and on Sunday.

“I came by the barn last night and he came back good,” Langford said. “He ate up and walked this morning. We didn’t expect this to be his best race. We wheeled back in three weeks (after finishing second in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds on February 25), and that’s asking quite a lot of a three-year-old.

“Plus, he moved from there (New Orleans) to here (Hot Springs, Arkansas). That was also asking quite a lot of him. But, he responded well and this morning he’s doing well. With him staying here to run in the Arkansas Derby, I’ll get to come over here and see him all the time.”

“It’s a process, and I think a lot of owners don’t understand that,” Langford added. “We thought he could win the race, but we expect him to run better in his next race. We expected and hoped to get points and move forward. That’s the whole thing at this stage: to move forward, and I think we’re doing that.

“I told my son yesterday that they’re going to start separating themselves now. I think we’re going to be on the part that goes on. There are still lots of possibilities for us.”

Petrov, who missed second by two noses, exited his fourth-place Rebel finish in good order, according to trainer and co-owner Ron Moquett. Runner-up in the prior two Oaklawn three-year-old stakes – the Smarty Jones Stakes and Southwest Stakes (G3) – Petrov may stick around to complete the series in the Arkansas Derby, though Keeneland’s Blue Grass Stakes is also under consideration.

“I’m going to do what’s best for him,” Moquett said, adding he’d “like to stay here.”

The conditioner was still smarting Sunday over those two noses, though.

“When you think of the difference between $180,000 (for second) and $45,000 (for fourth) is less than a quarter of an inch, it really makes you hate to have to go around horses deep in the stretch,” Moquett said. “In the whole thing, we’re the horse in trouble.”

Silver Dust, 1 1/4 lengths behind Petrov while fifth in the Rebel, is headed for a rematch with whomever shows up in the Arkansas Derby.

“He came back fine,” trainer Randy Morse said. “He’s real disappointing, that horse. He’s got way more in the tank. It’s what (jockey) Corey (Lanerie) said again. He said when this horse learns what he’s going to do, he’s got it. He runs in spurts.”

Silver Dust made his sophomore debut a well-beaten fourth in the Southwest Stakes on February 20. Though he dropped to fifth in the Rebel, he was only beaten 3 1/2 lengths on this occasion.

Morse added that the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Arkansas Derby should benefit the gray son Tapit.

Uncontested set the pace through six furlongs in Saturday’s Rebel but faded to eighth on the wire after being challenged by Malagacy.

Because of that, and his well-beaten sixth going the same 1 1/16-mile distance in the Southwest Stakes last out, trainer Wayne Catalano said Sunday that the Tiz Wonderful colt will now be shortened up.

“I told (co-owner) Harry (Rosenblum) before the race that the jury is still out,” Catalano said. “The verdict is in, I guess. He had the perfect setup yesterday. He went slower, he was comfortable, but he couldn’t quite get the distance.”

Uncontested was doing good on Sunday according to Catalano, while Rosenblum mentioned such summer sprints as the June 10 Woody Stephens Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park and King’s Bishop Stakes (G1) at Saratoga as possible goals for the colt.

The John Shirreffs-trained Royal Mo, who faded to ninth in the Rebel, and American Anthem, who finished 10th as the 3-5 race favorite from Bob Baffert’s shedrow, were both aboard the same flight as Sonneteer back to California on Sunday morning.