2017 Kentucky Derby Contender Profile: Malagacy

Malagacy (photo by Michael Cox).

Malagacy (photo by Michael Cox).

Trainer Todd Pletcher is far better than the lone Kentucky Derby (GI) win on his resume (Super Saver in 2010) suggests. Perhaps Pletcher is overdue to win another Run for the Roses because he now has three very promising Kentucky Derby contenders in One Liner, Tapwrit and Malagacy, who just won the Rebel Stakes (GII).

Malagacy has had quite a history already at age 3. He has been sold three different times. First, for $45,000 in the 2014 Keeneland Breeding Stock sale; then, for $130,000 in the Ocala Breeders August 2015 Yearling Sale; and, finally, for $190,0000 in the 2015 Fasig-Tipton Mid-Atlantic Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale. Malagacy is currently owned by Sumaya U.S. Stable.

Malagacy did not race as a 2-year-old but he is undefeated in three career starts in his 3-year-old campaign. He broke his maiden in a 5 ½-furlong race at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 4. He won by 15 lengths and received an 87 Beyer Speed Figure. His next start came on Feb. 12 in a 6 ½-furlong race, once again at Gulfstream Park, and he won by seven lengths. He received a 95 Beyer Speed Figure.

Todd Pletcher originally thought that Malagacy would be best suited as a sprinter, but the colt demonstrated in workouts that he could handle the added distance. So, Pletcher opted to enter him in the 8 ½-furlong Rebel Stakes. To say the least, Malagacy was a pleasant surprise, winning the first two-turn start of his career and leaving the race favorite American Anthem, trained by Bob Baffert (who had won six out of the last seven Rebel Stakes), in his wake at Oaklawn Park.

Malagacy’s winning time in the Rebel was 1:43 flat, over a full second slower than One Liner accomplished at the same track and distance in the Southwest Stakes. However, it was warmer Rebel Stakes Day and Malagacy beat a more talented field than One Liner saw in the Southwest Stakes.

Although a few have questioned the talent in the Rebel Stakes given that a 112-1 maiden longshot (Sonneteer) finished second, it’s worth noting that the race featured six horses with career-high Beyer figures of 90+. There hasn’t been a Derby prep race to date that can say the same — and that includes the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November.

Unlike One Liner, Malagacy is similar to 2007 Rebel Stakes winner Curlin, as neither raced as 2-year-olds. Yet, Malagacy’s Rebel time was much faster than Curlin’s (1:44.70) by a large margin on a dry, fast track. Curlin went on to win Horse of the Year honors in 2007 and 2008.

Malagacy is a beautiful horse, a red chestnut colt who resembles a young California Chrome, except with a slightly thinner white blaze down his nose.

Pedigree

When looking over Malagacy’s pedigree, I see a few names that I like to see — mainly, Northern Dancer and Secretariat on both his sire and dam side. An interesting, but probably meaningless factoid: the last four Kentucky Derby winners, as well as five out of the last seven, had Secretariat on at least one side of their pedigree. This is an unusual new trend, as I went back two decades to confirm (Secretariat didn’t have an outstanding stud career and was mostly overshadowed by Northern Dancer’s offspring).

As a 3-year-old, Malagacy’s sire Shackleford finished fourth in the 2011 Kentucky Derby, won the Preakness Stakes (GI) and finished fifth in the Belmont Stakes (GI). He was entered into the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) where he finished second. As a 4-year-old in 2012, Shackleford won the Grade I Metropolitan Handicap (115 Beyer Speed Figure), the Churchill Downs Stakes (GII) and the Clark Handicap (GI). He finished his career with over $3 million dollars in earnings.

Shackleford began his stud career in 2013, so 2017 is his second year of producing Kentucky Derby hopefuls. Consequently, with $586,800 in career earnings, Malagacy is Shackleford’s leading money-winning progeny to date. Malagacy’s dam, Classiest Gem, never raced. Classiest Gem’s sire, Dehere, won an Eclipse Award for American Champion Two-Year-Old Male Horse in 1993 and the 1994 Fountain of Youth Stakes before a cannon bone fracture ended his promising career.

Bottom Line

Overall, from times and speed figures, Malagacy ranks behind One Liner and Tapwrit from Todd Pletcher’s barn. But on pedigree, I would rank him as Pletcher’s second-best and put him among my top 5 Kentucky Derby contenders behind One Liner, McCraken and Classic Empire. His stalking race style will bode well in 9- and 10-furlong races.

Todd Pletcher has hinted that Malagacy’s next start will likely be the Arkansas Derby. That should tell us more about how far this promising colt wants to go.

But just remember what the Rebel Stakes winners have done over the past 13 years:

  • American Pharoah (2015) – The 13th Triple Crown champion and the first Grand Slam Champion of thoroughbred racing.
  • Will Take Charge (2013) – 3-Year-Old Male Champion.
  • Lookin At Lucky (2010) – 2010 Preakness Stakes winner who went on to win the 2010 3-Year-Old Male Champion award.
  • Curlin (2007) – 2007 Preakness Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner who went on to win the 2007 3-Year-Old Male Champion award, the 2008 Older Dirt Male Champion award and Horse of the Year honors in 2007 and 2008.
  • Lawyer Ron (2006) – 2007 Older Dirt Male.
  • Smarty Jones (2004) – Went on to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and the 2004 Male 3-Year-Old Champion award.

Malagacy’s time in the Rebel Stakes was faster than all of the above with the exception of Smarty Jones — and he had less racing experience.

Michael Cox
Michael is a pharmacist by profession, author of “Masten Gregory: Totally Fearless” as well as a horse racing blog that can be found at: www.thederbyhandicapper.com. He attributes his love for horse racing to two things: his grandfather who used to listen to horse races on the radio broadcasted from the now defunct Ak-Sar-Ben race track in Omaha, Nebraska and a Sports Illustrated subscription in the 1970s.
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