HOT SPRINGS, Ark. -- Malagacy burst onto the Kentucky Derby trail Saturday at Oaklawn, where he remained undefeated while mastering two turns in the Grade 2, $900,000 Rebel Stakes. He won by two lengths over 112-1 maiden Sonneteer, while it was a nose back in third to Untrapped.
American Anthem, who was favored while attempting to give trainer Bob Baffert his seventh win in the Rebel, finished 10th and following the race jockey Mike Smith said the horse "slipped badly" leaving the gate and struggled.
Malagacy earned 50 eligibility points for the Kentucky Derby and he could take the next step toward that race on April 15, in the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby, trainer Todd Pletcher said. Malagacy won the first two races of his career in overnight sprint races at Gulfstream Park, then tested both stakes rivals and two turns for the first time in the Rebel.
"We were anxious to see how he would stretch out and step up in class," Pletcher said. "He handled it terrifically."
Malagacy ($8.60) was content to track the pace set by Uncontested, racing about a length off that rival in second through fractions of 23.03 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 47.07 for the half-mile, and 1:11.35 for six furlongs. Malagacy began his bid on the final turn, moved to the lead in the stretch, and went on to cover 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.
"I was really satisfied with the way he did it," said winning rider Javier Castellano. "He did it the right way. When I asked him turning for home, he took off."
Sonneteer rallied for second, winning a photo for the place over Untrapped. The horse entered off a maiden special weight sprint at Santa Anita in which he finished second to Kimber, who is under consideration for next week's Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Derby, according to officials at Sunland.
The Rebel exacta of 6-3 returned $285.10.
Malagacy is a son of Shackleford and the Dehere mare Classiest Gem. He won his career debut in a maiden special weight Jan. 4 at Gulfstream, drawing off by 15 lengths while covering 5 1/2 furlongs in a rapid 1:03.60. He backed up the effort with a first-level allowance win over 6 1/2 furlongs, rolling by seven length Feb. 12. In both races he also was ridden by Castellano.
"He doesn't do anything wrong," Castellano said. "Every single race he's been impressive."
Pletcher said after handling 1 1/16 miles, the next logical step for Malagacy will be a test 1 1/8 miles. He said a race that makes sense for that move is the Arkansas Derby. The horse will return to Palm Beach Downs on Monday, said Pletcher.
Pletcher has now won two of the major preps for 3-year-olds at Oaklawn. He captured last month's Grade 3, $500,000 Southwest with One Liner.
Malagacy races for Sumaya Us Stables. He earned $540,000 for the win in the Rebel.
Sonneteer earned 20 points for the Kentucky Derby off his runner-up finish, while Untrapped picked up 10. Petrov, who was fourth, earned five points Saturday.
The remaining order of finish in the Rebel was Silver Dust in fifth, followed by Lookin At Lee, Appalachian Gem, Uncontested, Royal Mo, American Anthem, and Silver Bullion.
Oaklawn handled a meet-high $10.7 million on its 11-race card Saturday. The estimated on-track attendance was 36,000 on a sunny afternoon in the 70s in which the infield was open for the first time this meet. Rebel Day traditionally is the second biggest day of the meet behind Arkansas Derby Day.