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Malagacy tames distance, field in Rebel

HOT SPRINGS -- Malagacy had one thing to prove, and he did.

In his first race around two turns, Malagacy took the lead at the head of the stretch and pulled away to a 2-length victory in the Grade II $900,000 Rebel Stakes in a field of 11 3-year-olds at Oaklawn Park on Saturday.

Malagacy, a son of Shackleford, went off at 3-1, completing the 1 1/16-mile race in 1:43.00 to secure 50 Road to the Kentucky Derby points and become a near lock for Derby qualification with his third lifetime start. Sonneteer, a 112-1 long shot and maiden by Midnight Lute, finished second, a nose in front of Untrapped, who finished third. Ron Moquett trained Petrov finished fourth.

"He showed today that he could definitely go around two turns," Malagacy's trainer Todd Pletcher said.

Jockey Javier Castellano said Malagacy had nothing to prove.

"Why would I ever have any doubts?" Castellano said. "Sure, he only run two times, but he's done nothing wrong. He won by 15 lengths and 7 lengths. I don't think I look at it the way other people look at it. I tried to stay positive. He already [proved] to me what he can do."

American Anthem, the 3-2 favorite trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, was never closer than fifth and faded to 10th at the finish, 13 1/2 lengths behind the winner.

Uncontested, the son of Tiz Wonderful who set Oaklawn's Smarty Jones Stakes record on Jan. 16, led the field through a quarter-mile in 23.03, a half in 47.04, and remained a length in front of Malagacy through three-quarters in 1:11.35.

Shortly past there, Malagacy rolled by Uncontested, who immediately slowed and fell back to eighth, 10 1/2 lengths behind at the finish.

Untrapped moved from fifth at three-quarters to within a head of Malagacy for the lead as the field turned for home, but Malagacy gradually pulled away.

"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."

Sonneteer, trained by Keith Desormeaux and ridden by Richard Eramia, who had finished fourth in his only previous stakes attempt, passed six winners in the stretch, including Untrapped, who he nosed out at the wire.

Untrapped started the race three weeks after his last start at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

"Untrapped looked like he showed the effects of me wheeling him back," Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen said. "He got a little light late, but he's a good horse."

Petrov was third through the half and three-quarters, but fell to fourth, succumbing to the late rush of Sonneteer.

"It wasn't the trip I wanted," Moquett said. "We just didn't get a chance to ever get clear."

Moquett certainly understands the high-caliber competition his colt faced.

Beyond Sonneteer, the field's quality was beyond question. Soon after it was set Wednesday, several participants labeled it the stiffest Kentucky Derby prep race thus far, including Moquett who said he hadn't seen a tougher field top-to-bottom in years.

Among the starters, American Anthem was second by a nose in Santa Anita's Grade III Sham Stakes. The heretofore sprinter Malagacy was undefeated in two races. Royal Mo won the Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes. Asmussen trained Lookin at Lee was fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall and third in Oaklawn's Grade III Southwest Stakes on Feb. 20. Untrapped finished second in the Fair Grounds' Grade III LeCompte and Grade II Risen Star Stakes. Petrov finished second in the Smarty Jones and Southwest.

"This is what you want," Moquett said. "To be considered a real racehorse, you've got to beat some real racehorses."

Uncontested co-owner Harry Rosenblum said moments after the Rebel that he thought perhaps the distance was too much. He said he might consider 7 furlongs, or perhaps a mile, for Uncontested's next start. After the Southwest, which also saw Uncontested stop on the lead, jockey Channing Hill told trainer Wayne Catalano and Rosenblum that he suspected his horse might have bled. Rosenblum said it was quickly determined that Uncontested had instead displaced his soft palate, thus limiting air intake.

Catalano decided to treat Uncontested with a tongue tie, which secures a horse's tongue to keep it from obstructing airflow. The colt responded with works of 1:00 for 5 furlongs on March 2, and of 58.8 on March 10.

With that specific excuse eliminated, Rosenblum expects a change in plans.

"It's a preliminary assessment, but right now it appears to me that he just doesn't want to go the distance," Rosenblum said. "We may have to take a different route."

Rebel winners

since 1980

YEAR;HORSE

2017;Malagacy

2016;Cupid

2015;American Pharoah

2014;Hoppertunity

2013;Will Take Charge

2012;Secret Circle

2011;The Factor

2010;Looking at Lucky

2009Win Willy

2008;Sierra Sunset

2007;Curlin

2006;Lawyer Ron

2005;Greater Good

2004;Smarty Jones

2003;Crowned King

2002;Winward Passage

2001;Crafty Shaw

2000;Snuck In

1999;Etbauer

1998;Victory Gallop

1997;Phantom on Tour

1996;Ide

1995;Mystery Storm

1994;Judge T C

1993;Dalhart

1992;Pine Bluff

1991;Quintana

1990;Nuits St Georges

1989;Manastash Ridge

1988;Sea Trek

1987;Demons Begone

1986;Rare Brick

1985;Clever Allemont

1984;Vanlandingham

1983;Sunny's Halo

1982;Bold Style

1981;Bold Ego

1980;Temperence Hill

Rebel entrants

in Triple Crown

American Pharoah (2015) went on to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belm0nt Stakes, making him the first thoroughbred in 37 years to win the Triple Crown.

Looking at Lucky (2011) won the Preakness Stakes.

Curlin (2007) won the Preakness Stakes.

Smarty Jones (2004) won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

Victory Gallop (1998) won the Belmont Stakes.

Pine Bluff (1992) won Preakness Stakes.

Sunny's Halo (1983) won the Kentucky Derby.

Temperence Hill (1980) won the Belmont Stakes.

NOTE Creator, third-place finisher in 2016 Rebel, won the Belmont Stakes; Oxbow, runnerup to Will Take Charge in 2013 Rebel, won the 2013 Preakness; Afleet Alex, off the board in the 2005 Rebel, won Preakness and Belmont Stakes; and Elocutionist, runnerup in 1976 Rebel, won the Preakness

Todd Pletcher

by the numbers

1 Victories in Rebel

4 Victories in Arkansas Derby

$935,00 Purse money earned by 4 Oaklawn starters this year, the third-highest total of any trainer who has started at least one horse at Oaklawn this year

Did you know?

Pletcher has won 4,255 races, his horses have earned more than $332 million in purse money, is a 7-time winner of the Eclipse Award as the nation's top trainer, has 3 Triple Crown victories and 9 Breeders' Cup victories, to name a few of his accomplishments in 21 years as a licensed trainer, but he is not yet a member of the National Racing Hall of Fame.

Top Rebel stats

• Oaklawn Park set attendance and wagering records for a Rebel Stakes day:

YEAR;ATT.;HANDLE

2017;36,000;$10.75M

2016;35,000;$9.12M

2015;$30,000;$8.44M

2014;30,876;$9.1M

2013;33,963;$7.9M

2012;31,882;$6.8M

Sports on 03/19/2017

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