Sumaya U.S. Stable's undefeated Malagacy was doing great the morning after his mild upset in the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 18 at Oaklawn Park as he was walked around the barn before boarding a flight back to trainer Todd Pletcher's South Florida base at Palm Beach Downs.
"He came out of his race just great," Pletcher's assistant trainer Adele Bellinger said.
Sent postward as the second choice at 3-1 in the Rebel field of 11, even though he was trying stakes company for the first time and had only before run in two sprints at Gulfstream Park, there was clearly a lot of confidence in the son of 2011 Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Shackleford .
The chesnut colt with the white blaze had signaled to Bellinger throughout the week as she galloped him up to the race that he was sitting on a big effort.
"The only time he stepped out of his 'I'm an old horse' mode and showed a little attitude was on Thursday when we went back to the gate. Other than that he trained so beautifully and was so laid back," Bellinger said. "He just galloped along. He ran so well yesterday and we're so proud of him. It was a fun race to watch."
After the race, Pletcher was especially pleased with Malagacy, who thus far has answered the bell loud and clear every time he runs.
Pletcher said his other two trainees Eskenformoney and Madefromlucky both got caught wide in their races but tried hard as always. Eskenformoney, who was looking for her second graded stakes score, finished second to Streamline in the Azeri Stakes (G2), and Madefromlucky came in third behind Mor Spirit in the Essex Handicap.
Both of those horses departed with Malagacy for Florida Sunday afternoon.
There is still some uncertainty about the correct pronunciation of Malagacy.
"In the barn we have always called him mal-a-gay-see," Bellinger said. "That's the way Todd says it. But most of the time, he's just 'Gacy' to us. That's his pet name."
Bred by John Trumbulovic, Malagacy was purchased by Steve Young for $190,000 from the de Meric Sales consignment to the 2016 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale. He vaulted to 4th place on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard courtesy of the 50 points he earned with his Rebel win.
Calumet Farm's homebred Sonneteer made his 9th start in the Rebel as a maiden, missing by only 2 lengths as the 112-1 longest shot in the field. The son of champion sprinter Midnight Lute got shuffled back at the start and raced wide, but jockey Richard Eramia moved him to the inside for the stretch run and he made a huge rally up the rail to gain runner-up status.
"We are definitely proud of our horse and the way he ran," Julie Clark, trainer Keith Desormeaux's assistant, said. "I was talking with Rich and he said he's still a little green. He's still a maiden but he said he did everything right. When Rich asked him to do something, he followed through. He felt like he had a lot of horse under him.
"He (Sonneteer) was a little hesitant down on the rail, but he kept pushing through, and when the horse came to him about a sixteenth (of a mile) out, he pushed on. This was a big step forward for him, a giant step."
If all remains on schedule, Sonneteer and Malagacy will get their rematch in the Arkansas Derby (G1) April 15.
"There's a good chance he'll be back for the Arkansas Derby," Clark said. "He ships really well, and obviously, the surface here agrees with him."