As a general proposition, the expectation is that the closer we get to the Kentucky Derby (G1), the better the preps should turn out. This holds true especially for multiple preps held at the same track.
There are occasional deviances, of course, and Saturday’s $900,000 Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn happened to be one of them. Malagacy’s profile going into the Rebel looked a lot like that of stablemate One Liner, who last month went into Oaklawn and smothered the field in the $500,000 Southwest (G3) in his stakes and two-turn debut.
While at first glance Malagacy’s profile remained similar to One Liner’s coming out, it didn’t take long to confirm that the quality of this Rebel wasn’t quite up to snuff compared to the Southwest, a Derby prep of historically less significance.
As has been revealed in the past 24 hours or so, Malagacy earned a BRIS Speed rating of 95 for the Rebel after covering 1 1/16 miles in 1:43. By comparison, Old Liner earned a 101 completing the February 20 Southwest in 1:41.85.
Thankfully for comparative purposes, stakes for older horses at the same distance were held on both Southwest and Rebel Days, and the difference between the quality of the two preps is even more striking. On Southwest Day, Old Liner ran less than a second slower than Gun Runner (who’s in the running for best older horse not named Arrogate) did in winning the Razorback (G3), the latter’s time being 1:40.97.
On Saturday, Mor Spirit won the $250,000 Essex H. in 1:41.62, while Malagacy, as mentioned above, finished nearly :1 2/5 slower. Mor Spirit is an improving older horse, but right now is not viewed in the same light as Gun Runner.
The relative weakness of this Rebel was underlined by the fact that an eight-race maiden, Sonneteer, finished second at odds of 112-1 while finishing ahead of Untrapped, Petrov, Lookin At Lee, Uncontested, Royal Mo, and American Anthem, all of whom now appear marginal or fringe Derby prospects if they weren’t already. Untrapped, who had previously finished second in the Lecomte (G3) and Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds, also didn’t flatter the form of the Louisiana preps.
Malagacy will likely be back to Oaklawn to run in the Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 15, hoping to prove nine furlongs will be within his scope. I think it can be if he faces pretty much the same crew as he did in the Rebel, but like others I’m more wary of him getting 1 1/4 miles. One Liner, on the other hand, will take in the Wood Memorial (G2), Blue Grass (G2) or Santa Anita Derby (G1) the week before.
Judging from what we’ve seen the past four weeks at Oaklawn, any legitimate Kentucky Derby contender emanating from the Arkansas Derby (G1) is likely to be a “grab and go” type rather than one based there.