Malagacy Becomes Kentucky Derby Contender with Rebel Victory

Malagacy became a top contender for the Kentucky Derby with a victory in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park last Saturday. (Photo credit: kentuckyderby.com)

Malagacy thrust himself into Kentucky Derby contention at the weekend by blitzing the field in the $900,000 Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn. The race featured several leading contenders for the biggest race in the global calendar, which is now just weeks away, and Malagacy surprised everyone by storming to victory.

He remains unbeaten and has now been given an outside chance by bookmakers of winning the Derby. He won his first two races in overnight sprints at Gulfstream Park, but this was his first stab at two turns. He passed with flying colours. The field featured the heavy favorite for the Derby, American Anthem, who had been trading as one of the favorites to win it. But American Anthem could only finish 10th, well behind Malagacy, and he has now gone all the way out to 20/1 to win the Kentucky Derby on May 6. That is the same set of odds now being offered on Malagacy by SBR best sportsbooks, who are all impressed enough with his form to cut him all the way to 20/1. Some have him as low as 16/1, while the best odds you can get are 20/1. Compare that to American Anthem: the best odds on him now are 20/1, whereas you can get 33/1 on him at some sportsbooks. That is how quickly things change in the buildup to the Kentucky Derby.

“We were anxious to see how he would stretch out and step up in class,” said Malagacy’s trainer Todd Pletcher. “He handled it terrifically.” The pace was set by Uncontested, but Malagacy raced clear of him in the stretch and held off the challenge of Sonneteer, winning by two lengths.

Malagacy, the son of Shackleford and Classiest Gem, earned 50 eligibility points in winning the Rebel Stakes, leaving him fourth in the points standings to qualify, behind Gunnevara, Tapwrit and J Boys Echo. His next step is expected to be the $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 15, a Grade 1 race. “Timing wise it would be good, and getting a mile-and-an-eighth race under his belt would also be beneficial,” said Pletcher. “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.” He looks an interesting option at 20/1 now.

It was a disastrous afternoon for the much-hyped American Anthem, who now has just four eligibility points, leaving him 35th in the standings. The betting for the Kentucky Derby is headed by McCracken who has now gone in to 8/1 favorite. McCracken is unbeaten in four starts, and has earned 20 eligibility points. He enjoyed three wins at Churchill Downs as a two-year-old, so he likes the course, and is attracting a fair bit of action in the buildup to the Derby.

McCracken was due to race in the Tampa Bay Derby on March 11, but was pull out after sustaining a minor ankle injury. He is expected instead to take part in the Bluegrass Stakes on April 8 instead, and we will then have a much better idea of how deserving he is of his favorite tag.

Other contenders include Classic Empire, who tops the list for non-restricted stakes earnings and has 32 eligibility points, putting him eighth in the running to make the Kentucky Derby. He dazzled as a two-year-old last year, winning the Breeders’ Futurity Stakes and Breeders’ Cup juvenile, which led him to be named American Champion Two-Year-Old Male Horse of 2016. He was underwhelming in the Holy Bull Stakes, where he finished third, well behind Kentucky Derby rivals Irish War Cry and Gunnevera, but he has bags of potential and looks a good option now at 20/1. The 12/1 on Gunnevera is not quite as attractive, but the 25/1 on Irish War Cry looks interesting.