03/21/2017 12:40PM

Road to the Derby: Rebel Stakes analysis

Coady Photography
Malagacy remained unbeaten with this victory under Javier Castellano in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn.

Grade 2, $900,000 Rebel Stakes; 1 1/16 miles; Oaklawn Park; March 18, 2017
(50 Derby qualifying points for a win, 20 for second, 10 for third, 5 for fourth)

Winner: Malagacy, by Shackleford
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: Javier Castellano
Owner: Sumaya U.S. Stable
Beyer Speed Figure: 91

MALAGACY stretched out successfully around two turns, remained unbeaten, and won his stakes debut while shipping out of town – all significant feats – with this win in the Rebel. His victory continued a good spring for Pletcher, who won the Tampa Bay Derby with Tapwrit one week earlier and the Southwest with One Liner last month at Oaklawn.

The knocks on this race, though, are that the Beyer Fig wasn’t anything special, the first four runners were within two lengths of one another, and SONNETEER, a horse who had raced eight times without winning and whose previous best fig was 77, was second. At the moment, this does not look like the strongest prep run so far this year, but Malagacy has yet to do anything wrong, and the way things have gone this spring, that’s saying something.

In the Rebel, Malagacy broke a half-step slowly but used his keen speed to immediately go up and vie for the lead. He sat second behind UNCONTESTED around the first turn and down the backstretch, was asked three furlongs out to go after Uncontested, took the lead entering the stretch, had rivals attack him from both sides at midstretch, but came away in the closing yards.

Sonneteer, who was second, was brushed by Uncontested leaving the gate, had no early speed and was near the back of the pack while along the rail around the first turn. He split horses down the backstretch to get closer, was cleverly angled to the rail near the quarter pole by Richard Eramia to cut the corner and save ground, and made steady progress to touch out UNTRAPPED and PETROV for second.

:: ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays, and analysis

Untrapped, who was third, raced in the two path while between horses around the first turn, split rivals on the far turn to loom a major threat in the three path into the lane, was a bit late to change leads in upper stretch, had dead aim on Malagacy, but was outrun through the final furlong. I’m wondering if he’s reaching the outer range of his comfort level in terms of distance.

Petrov, who was fourth, raced just behind Uncontested while saving ground around the first turn, continued in that spot down the backstretch and around the far turn, had to wait just a bit behind the tiring Uncontested coming off the bend, got around Uncontested at the furlong pole, but could not gain any ground on Malagacy in the final furlong. I wouldn’t want to exaggerate his traffic trouble in upper stretch, as it was minor. Overall, I thought he had a very good trip.

SILVER DUST, who finished fifth, raced near the back of the pack in the two path around the first turn, had to tap on the brakes entering the backstretch while in traffic, was right alongside Untrapped entering the far turn, was outrun around the turn while being urged, was angled out for room in upper stretch, then drifted a bit to his left while going evenly through the lane.

LOOKIN AT LEE, who was sixth, lacked speed per usual and trailed into the first turn while being angled toward the rail. He started to pick off the back markers on the far turn, saved some ground before angling out through the lane to avoid SILVER DUST’s heels, but never threatened the leaders.

APPALACHIAN GEM, who was seventh, was toward the back of the pack while three paths wide around the first turn, raced outside Sonneteer down the backstretch, could not keep pace with Sonneteer three furlongs out, was fanned to the four path entering the lane and had to check off the heels of the tiring AMERICAN ANTHEM, but was outrun through the final furlong.

Uncontested, who was eighth, broke to his right leaving the gate but had his usual good speed and led into the first turn, maintained a clear lead down the backstretch and into the far turn, but steadily faded through the lane after being passed in upper stretch. He can’t stay the trip 

ROYAL MO, who was ninth, was in third while three paths wide, outside Uncontested and Malagacy, around the first turn, stayed in that spot down the backstretch and into the far turn, was urged along three furlongs out but had no response, drifted out entering the lane, and tired.

American Anthem, who was 10th, wasn’t as quick away from the gate as he had been in his two prior starts and was seventh, in the three path, initially on the first turn before making a big brush leaving that turn to range up outside Royal Mo entering the backstretch. He went into the far turn four paths wide, came under an aggressive ride three furlongs out, but never fired and was ridden sympathetically by Mike Smith through the lane when the cause was lost.

SILVER BULLION, who finished last of 11, saved ground while mid-pack into the first turn, started to lose ground heading down the backstretch, was last by the time the field entered the lane, and continued to fade.