Trainer Has Two of Top Four Derby Points Horses
By Dick Downey
Todd Pletcher annexed the Rebel Stakes to his list of 2017 Oaklawn Park stakes wins and added to his stable of Kentucky Derby contenders with Malagacy.
After taking the Southwest Stakes with One Liner four weeks ago, Pletcher sent Malagacy to Arkansas to try two turns and stakes company for the first time.
Check and check, and Malagacy made it look easy.
Malagacy and Javier Castellano sat off opening fractions of 23.03, 47.04 and 1:11.35 set by a seemingly easy-running Uncontested into the far turn. Royal Mo and Petrov vied for third position and were in close contact up the backstretch. In the far turn, Royal Mo began to falter and Petrov began a bid.
Uncontested led coming out of the turn, but then, just as fans saw in the Southwest Stakes, he quit in the stretch. Malagacy kept firing, and he crossed the finish line best by two lengths in a time of 1:43.00.
Three noses separated the next three finishers. Untrapped, racing three weeks after his second-place finish in the Risen Star Stakes, which followed a second-place finish in the LeComte Stakes, raced in fifth or sixth place into the far turn. He surged within a head of Malagacy mid-stretch and at the wire looked like he might have finished second again -- but Sonneteer nosed him out at odds of 112-1. Sonneteer had come from 10th of 11 after the first half-mile, almost seven lengths off the pace. Petrov, who was third or fourth at each call, ran on evenly in the stretch to get fourth, just a nose back of Untrapped.
At 8-5 oddds, post-time favorite American Anthem, who shipped in from California for Bob Baffert, was never in contention. The remaining order of finish was Silver Dust, Lookin at Lee, Appalachian Gem, Uncontested, Royal Mo, American Anthem and Silver Bullion.
Malagacy, the 3-1 second choice, returned his backers $8.60, $6.60 and $5.60. From the Rebel Stakes purse of $900,000, he collected $540,000.
Malagacy, who didn't race in 2016, now has three wins from three starts. He debuted at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 4 and won by 15 lengths on a sloppy track. On Feb. 12, he got a fast track at Gulfstream and prevailed by seven lengths in a $75,000 allowance optional claiming race.
The win by Malagacy gives Todd Pletcher two horses in the top four points leaders for the Kentucky Derby, and with nine Derby prep races offering major points remaining, he has a barnful of other good 3-year-olds. Malagacy now has 50 Derby points and is fourth on the leaderboard. Tapwrit, also in Pletcher's barn, has 54 points.
Also picking up points in Hot Springs were Untrapped, who now has 34, Sonneteer, who has 20, and Petrov with 13.
The winner is owned by Sumaya U.S. Stable, owned by Oussama Aboughazale. According to America's Best Racing, Aboughazale is a native of Jerusalem and named the stable after his mother Sumaya. He lives in Santiago, Chile where he is a perennial leading owner. The family is majority shareholder of Del Monte Fruit Company.
John Trumbulovic bred Malagacy in Kentucky. He's out of Classiest Gem, by Dehere. A member of Shackleford's first crop, Malagacy had a winding auction path to his owner. Sold as a weanling for $45,000 at Keeneland November 2014, he brought $130,000 at OBS August 2015 and finally sold for $190,000 at Fasig-Tipton Midatlantic 2016.
Todd Pletcher: “He showed today that he can definitely go around two turns, and I am very proud of him. 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.
“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 IT 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 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.
“The Arkansas Derby would be the logical next step. We'll bring him home tomorrow to Palm Beach Downs and see how he bounces out of it. The Arkansas Derby timing wise would be good, and getting a mile-and-an-eighth 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.”
Javier Castellano: “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, 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.”
Keith Desormeaux, second-place trainer of 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. We just improved the value of the mare that I’m sure Mr. Kelley owns. She’s now graded-stakes placed. Thing is, she 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.
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.”
Richard Eramia, second-place jockey of 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.”
Steve Asmussen, third-place trainer of Untrapped: “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, (blinkers) is an option. And Lookin At Lee, I think he just needs more ground.”
Irad Ortiz, Jr., third-place jockey of 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.”
Mike Langford, owner of third-place Untrapped: “I think three weeks is what got us. We did a lot in three weeks. He ran a career Beyer 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.”
Ron Moquett, fourth-place trainer of 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.”
Jose Ortiz, fourth-place jockey of 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 switch leads and I had plenty of room to go on and he just stayed steady there. Tough beat for seconnd getting beat by a head.”
Assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes, American Anthem, 10th as favorite: “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.”
Mike Smith, American Anthem, 10th as favorite: “Slipped really bad leaving there in behind and stayed that way the whole race. 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, legs just went everywhere.”