December 5, 2020

Kentucky Derby Report March 22: Malagacy adds to Pletcher’s roster with Rebel win

Malagacy became the latest Todd Pletcher-trainee to join the Kentucky Derby mix, posting a two-length victory in the Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park. With Javier Castellano, the speedy colt tracked the pace in second before taking over in the stretch and is now perfect from three career starts.

Pletcher has bolstered his Kentucky Derby ranks significantly since the beginning of the year, with Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner Tapwrit, Southwest (G3) victor One Liner and Malagacy all emerging in the last 2 ½ months. And the Pletcher barn will be looking to add more runners to the equation in upcoming preps, with Always Dreaming, Battalion Runner, Egyptian Hero and Master Plan all readying for their first attempt in a Kentucky Derby qualifying race.

Malagacy opened his racing career with a pair of scintillating performances at Gulfstream Park, recording a 15-length maiden romp going 5 ½ furlongs on January 4 and a seven-length tally in an entry-level allowance at 6 ½ furlongs on February 12. The chestnut registered outstanding BRIS Speed ratings of 104 and 103 for the front-running performances.

However, he did not run back to those numbers while stretching out to two turns in the Rebel, earning only a 95 Speed rating. Malagacy overhauled pacesetter Uncontested in upper stretch and repulsed a brief challenge to win clear in the end, but he did appear to be tiring late in the 1 1/16-mile race as he drifted toward the rail in deep stretch.

The competition left plenty to be desired after offering little-to-nothing in the final furlongs. Runner-up Sonneteer is still a maiden, nine races and counting now. The confirmed late runner, a son of champion sprinter Midnight Lute, hadn’t been close in his first three outings of 2017 and was overlooked at 112-1 odds. He clunked up the rail to edge a tiring Untrapped by a nose, with Petrov another nose back in fourth. Less than two lengths separated Sonneteer and sixth-place finisher Lookin at Lee.

Untrapped caught the eye momentarily, launching a bold outside bid to nearly draw even in midstretch, but he suddenly ran out of gas with a sixteenth of a mile remaining. Untrapped and Petrov brought plenty of hope to the equation after recording runner-up finishes in the Risen Star (G2) and Southwest, respectively, but both regressed with lower BRIS Speed numbers.

Being unraced at age 2 is a negative – every Kentucky Derby winner since Apollo in 1882 had juvenile experience – but Malagacy has some things going for him. His tactical speed is an asset and the lightly-raced type has the potential to develop into a highly-accomplished performer. However, it’s easy to envision his best efforts coming at distances less than 1 ¼ miles.

From the first crop of 2011 Preakness winner Shackleford, Malagacy has some stamina influences on his pedigree page, with Pleasant Colony being the second maternal damsire and Halo the third. But he’s the sixth foal to race out of an unraced mare by the speedy Dehere and she’s produced nothing but speed so far.

Pletcher offered the following insights on Malagacy after his aforementioned allowance win:

“We’ll definitely step him up to a stakes, but I’m not sure at what distance yet,” Pletcher told Gulfstream’s Publicity Department. “He gives me the impression that he will probably be best suited to one turn.”

Future Grade 1-winning sprinters like Secret Circle and The Factor have posted comfortable wins in previous editions of the Rebel before faltering at 1 1/8 miles and with Malagacy expected to return for the April 15 Arkansas Derby (G1), we’ll get a better gauge upon his Kentucky Derby prospects next time.

Up ahead

Saturday’s UAE Derby (G2) is the first of seven major final prep races in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, awarding points on a 100-40-20-10 scale to the top four finishers, and a full field of 16 will square off in the about 1 1/8-mile race.

After romping in a juvenile Group 1 event on turf, Thunder Snow made a seamless transition to dirt with a 5 ¾-length victory in the UAE Guineas (G3) at Meydan and the Irish-bred colt rates top billing for Godolphin. Unbeaten Epicharis has already earned a Kentucky Derby berth, winning the February 19 Hyacinth at Tokyo, and is one of two Japanese entrants in the UAE Derby. Last-out stakes winner Master Plan, a fast-closing second to Tapwrit two starts back, also merits serious consideration.

Two other qualifying races, Saturday’s Spiral (G3) on Turfway Park’s synthetic track and Sunday’s Sunland Derby (G3) in New Mexico, will be offered this weekend. Each offers a total of 85 points (50-20-10-5).

Kentucky Derby Top 20

  1. MCCRAKEN: No rival has stepped up to displace unbeaten colt, who continues to ready for April 8 Blue Grass after missing Tampa Bay Derby due to ankle issue
  2. GUNNEVERA: The more pace the better for last-to-first winner of Fountain of Youth, Delta Jackpot & Saratoga Special
  3. TAPWRIT: Displayed lethal turn of foot in convincing Tampa Bay Derby win, could point to Blue Grass or Wood Memorial on April 8
  4. J BOYS ECHO: Perfect-trip Gotham winner to receive class check in Blue Grass
  5. GIRVIN: Risen Star hero the one to beat in April 1 Louisiana Derby
  6. BATTALION RUNNER: Appears well-suited for 1 ¼-mile distance but must step forward in April 1 Florida Derby
  7. PRACTICAL JOKE: Classy juvenile eligible to improve upon non-threatening Fountain of Youth second in 2017 bow
  8. ONE LINER: Southwest winner isn’t bred for 10 furlongs but could prove tough to beat if he ships west for April 8 Santa Anita Derby
  9. ILIAD: San Felipe runner-up must show more in Santa Anita Derby
  10. MALAGACY: Classy type stepped up in Rebel win, likes to race on or close to the pace
  11. BATTLE OF MIDWAY: Recent allowance scorer appears headed to Santa Anita Derby for Hollendorfer
  12. REACH THE WORLD: Just missed vs Battle of Midway, likely to make stakes debut in Santa Anita Derby for Baffert
  13. MO TOWN: Grade 2-winning juvenile will try to rebound in Florida Derby after flopping in Risen Star
  14. IRISH WAR CRY: Never fired in Fountain of Youth, will be interesting to see if they send from the start in final prep
  15. UNTRAPPED: Offered nice turn of foot into contention before flattening out in Rebel third
  16. ALWAYS DREAMING: Exits pair of convincing wins & Pletcher trainee will look to follow suit in stakes debut next out
  17. TERM OF ART: Late runner bred to relish longer distances, showed improvement for O’Neill with San Felipe third
  18. EL AREEB: Looking to rebound from Gotham clunker in Wood Memorial
  19. CLASSIC EMPIRE: His refusal to work last Sunday could signal end to Kentucky Derby hopes
  20. EPICHARIS: Japanese runner will move up rankings with strong showing in U.A.E. Derby