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HOT SPRINGS, AR – It may have been a different horse and a different race, but trainer Todd Pletcher got the same result when he sent an undefeated, yet unproven 3-year-old from South Florida to Oaklawn for the Grade 2, $900,000 Rebel Stakes. One month after One Liner won the Grade 3, $500,000 Southwest Stakes in his stakes debut on February 20, his stablemate, Malagacy, was equally impressive when he pressed the pace and then drew off to win Saturday’s race by two lengths.
With 11 races on the card under picture-perfect weather conditions, Oaklawn had a Rebel Day crowd of over 36,000. The total handle for the day was $10,752,313.15, a Rebel Day record.
Sumaya U.S. Stable’s Malagacy, under jockey Javier Castellano, sat just off of Smarty Jones winner Uncontested as he led the field through opening fractions of :23 and :47 for the first half mile. The winner made his move late in the turn for home and edged away from 10 other foes to win the 1 1/16 mile race in 1:43 over a fast track. Sonneteer, a 112-1 longshot from California, had been shuffled back early, but he steadily advanced up the rail after entering the stretch to narrowly get second by a nose over Untrapped. It was another nose back to Petrov in fourth.
“He showed today that he can definitely go around two turns and I am very proud of him,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “He showed good tactical speed, yet he rated very kindly, which we thought he would do. We were trying a new distance and he was stepping up in class against some nice, seasoned horses, so I was very, very pleased with and proud of his effort.”
Silver Dust, fourth in the Southwest, had another troubled trip in the Rebel after breaking last and was fifth. He was followed by Lookin at Lee, Appalachian Gem, Uncontested, Royal Mo, American Anthem, and Silver Bullion.
American Anthem, the 8-5 favorite, never seemed comfortable in the race as he sought to give trainer Bob Baffert his seventh Rebel victory in eight years.
“He slipped really bad leaving there in behind and stayed that way the whole race,” jockey Mike Smith said. “He just struggled, for whatever reason. I was OK as long as we were all slow. As soon as we had to pick it up, I would give him his head, and his legs just went everywhere.”
The Rebel Stakes was the third race in Oaklawn’s Derby Prep series, culminating in the $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 15. Pletcher said the 1 1/8-mile race would likely be the next start for Malagacy.
“The Arkansas Derby would be the logical next step,” Pletcher said. “We’ll bring him home to Palm Beach Downs and see how he bounces out of it. The Arkansas Derby timing-wise would be good, and getting a 1 1/8 mile race under his belt would also be beneficial. That would be Plan A, but in this business, we all know that, sometimes, you have to call some audibles. Right now, that’s what the thinking is.”
Malagacy, a chestnut son of 2011 Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford, is now a perfect three-for-three and has earned $586,800. The victory garnered him 50 qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby and places him fourth on the list of 20 possible starters in the race.
Sonneteer earned 20 points for second, Untrapped earned 10 for second, and Petrov earned 5 for fourth. Untrapped, who previously had 24 points, now sits seventh on the list with 34, while Petrov is now 17th with 13.
Malagacy returned $8.60, $6.60, and $5.60. Sonneteer brought back $58.20 and $15.40, while Untrapped paid $5.40 to show.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, Malagacy – “We wanted to make sure we got to the first turn in good position. He didn’t break super sharply, but he was able to recover pretty quickly and get himself into pretty much the spot where we thought he would be, which was tracking Uncontested. The first quarter was solid, but then they kind of slowed it down in the second quarter, and it was a good honest pace from there on out.”
“He was so impressive in his first two starts that (sending him to the Rebel) wasn’t a question of talent, it was just a question of handling different things, and one of those was shipping from his Florida base to Hot Springs, and he handled that well. Of course, the other questions were stretching out around two turns and stepping up into graded stakes company. We were very confident in the way the horse was training. He had been training very well. He had shown us in his breezes that the added distance wouldn’t be an issue, but we just don’t know until they do it. There’s some stamina in his pedigree, but he’s also a very quick and a very fast horse.”
“The great thing he’s got going for him is a beautiful disposition, and he’s very ratable and he’s fast. That’s a great combination to have.”
Jockey Javier Castellano, Malagacy – “He doesn’t do anything wrong, very impressive the way he did it today. I rode with a lot of confidence. He’s such a great horse. Every single race, he’s been impressive. Todd (Pletcher), he did a great job with the horse, going long and stepping up in class, and he still showed up and won the race. I give all the credit to Mr. Pletcher.”
“The way he did it today, very impressive, I think there’s no question he likes to go far. He’s well bred, and he has a good trainer and is a joy to ride.”
Trainer Keith Desormeaux, Sonneteer – “I’m not going to stand here and say that I knew he could do it when he’s sitting there at 100-1, which I can understand. But, the horse has been running quality races in California against quality competition. I love the setup, backing up to seven-eighths and then stretching out again. And physically, he was doing so well, I had to give him a shot. Plus, with the encouragement of Mr. Brad Kelley with Calumet Farm, we had to do it.”
“He showed glimpses with his physical appearance and the way he works effortlessly in a class manner. There’s only one Derby, only one time of year to prep them for the Derby. It was time to prove it.”
“We got a favorable trip along the rail. It looks like Eramia thought about coming out and opted to stay on the rail. He was getting kind of bogged down, and then the horse to his outside bumped him. Richard said he rebroke when he got bumped, so that’s a nice sign.”
“You know it [would have been thrilling if he had lost the photo for second]. We just improved the value of the mare that I’m sure Mr. Kelley owns. She’s now graded-stakes placed. Thing is, he was a nose of being away from being fourth. So we got lucky. There’s a lot of luck involved, but the horse also earned it.”
“[Arkansas Derby is quite possible], but there is going to be some discussion. We’ll see how he comes back. But the horse has always been very resilient. He holds his weight and is a good doer.”
Jockey Richard Eramia, Sonneteer – “This horse ran big. The race set up perfect for him because there was a lot of speed in the race and it was a really tough race. I watch all the replays of this horse and he tries hard every race, and when you get a horse that will try this hard, he will run some good races.”
Trainer Steve Asmussen, Untrapped & Lookin at Lee – “Untrapped looked like he showed the effects of me wheeling him back. He got a little light late, but he’s a good horse. We’ll plan on staying here for the Arkansas Derby with him. Lookin at Lee, I’ll weigh between the Arkansas Derby and the Blue Grass, with him having run well in the Breeders’ Futurity there last fall.”
“Part of it is, it’s hard to be good enough, and it’s really hard to stay around. Both of these horses have been very durable and sound to this point. I think Untrapped will appreciate a little more time between races, but you watch the replay and I’ll debate whether putting blinkers on him or not. You can see where he dropped the bridle down the backside and it forced him to start holding position. But it was his first race here, and the kickback being different. I’ll see how he trains, that is an option. And Lookin at Lee, I think he just needs more ground.”
Owner Mike Langford, Untrapped – “I think three weeks is what I got us. We did a lot in three weeks. He ran a career Beyer [when second in the Risen Star February 25 at the Fair Grounds] and came back here. That’s asking a lot. He ran great. At the top of the lane, I thought he was going to win, to be honest with you.”
Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., Untrapped – “He ran well. He ran so well. He got beat by a good horse, but he was moving well and did everything right. He is a nice horse, I think.”
Trainer Ron Moquett, Petrov – “Not the trip I wanted. We don’t get a chance to ever get clear. We get banged around there and we get beat for second by a nose. You don’t want to run fourth when you run second by a nose.”
Jockey Jose Ortiz, Petrov – “I think we got a good trip. When I hit the quarter pole, I felt like I had a lot of horse. I tried to keep up and follow Javier, and I had enough room. As soon as we entered the stretch, he switched leads and I had plenty of room to go on and he just stayed steady there. Tough beat for second getting beat by a head.”
Assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes, American Anthem – “I don’t know. The horse, he just struggled. He didn’t break as sharp as I thought he would. Had a lot of speed in the race, also. Mikey just said he struggled a bit with the track. Regroup and head back to California and keep searching for a Derby horse.”
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