Malagacy: won the Rebel Stakes on SaturdayPICTURE: Oaklawn Park/Coady photography
Malagacy emerges as Shackleford's star
AN EXCITING flagbearer has emerged from the first crop of Shackleford in Malagacy, whose success in the Rebel Stakes on Saturday identified him as the latest candidate to break the 134-year curse of Apollo - still the only Kentucky Derby winner not to have raced as a juvenile.
Malagacy was actually entered for a maiden claimer at Gulfstream in December but spiked a temperature and was scratched. What a blessing that turned out to be for Todd Pletcher, who might otherwise have lost a colt who instead won a maiden over five and a half furlongs on January 4 - by no fewer than 15 lengths.
Having followed up with another runaway win, by seven lengths over six and a half furlongs, Malagacy was tried over two turns in the Rebel and proved comfortably equal to the step up in both trip and class.
After asserting by two lengths in the straight, he is now legitimately on the kind of trail taken in recent years by the likes of Verrazano and Curlin before they too succumbed to the Apollo curse at Churchill Downs.
If the profile of unraced juveniles on the first Saturday in May is discouraging, those to have recently graduated to stardom via Oaklawn's richly endowed Grade 2 trial include Smarty Jones, Lawyer Ron, Curlin, Lookin At Lucky, Will Take Charge and American Pharoah himself.
A big, strong chestnut, Malagacy strongly evokes his sire, who won the Preakness Stakes in 2011. Shackleford's first crop of juveniles, last year, were somewhat overshadowed by an old rival, Dialed In, who had likewise ended up at Darby Dan in Kentucky.
Dialed In once beat Shackleford a head in the Florida Derby and, though both produced 19 individual winners, it was Dialed In who topped the American rookies' prizemoney table.
Darby Dan duly doubled his fee to $15,000, while trimming Shackleford, 11th in the standings, down to the same ticket from an opening $20,000. But his own template, whether in terms of that rangy physique or his own racing career, makes it seem eminently possible that Shackleford's three-year-olds have so far been just a work in progress.
Having seen through a very tough sophomore schedule, barely given a break after contesting all three legs of the Triple Crown yet still managing second in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, at four Shackleford gave increasing expression to the trademark pace of his sire Forestry.
He became the first Preakness winner to win the Met Mile the following year since 1962, and also beat the previous year's champion sprinter Amazombie in a lightning time over seven furlongs. Not least bearing in mind the speed Malagacy has been showing so far, his prospects of appreciating another three-sixteenths in the Derby would duly seem open to question.
But there are some authentic Classic influences on both sides of his pedigree. Shackleford's remarkable dam, Oatsee, is a daughter of Unbridled - as deep a Triple Crown seam as you could hope to see, clearly, albeit as a racehorse he had the speed to do much the same to Housebuster as Shackleford did to Amazombie - tracing to the illustrious family of Tamerett, dam of Known Fact and grand-dam of Gone West.
Oatsee, US broodmare of the year in 2011, has produced four other Graded stakes winners, including the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes winner Lady Joanne.
Malagacy's own dam, the unraced Dehere mare Classiest Gem, was certainly not treated as any kind of Oatsee when she went to the 2014 Keeneland November Sale, carrying a sister to Malagacy, and raised just $17,000. Yet she is a half-sister to the Canadian champion Impossible Time, and while their dam Classiest Carat was also unraced she introduces some exceptionally robust names to the family tree: her own sire Pleasant Colony, for one, while her multiple stakes-placed dam was a Windfields home-bred by Halo.
The next dam, moreover, was by Northern Dancer out of Deceit, who won the Mother Goose, Acorn and Matchmaker Stakes for EP Taylor in 1971. Deceit brought together two outstanding broodmare sires in Prince John and Double Jay, and in that respect Classiest Gem's own sire Dehere and damsire Secretariat round things off very nicely. All in all, there are some deep strains of old-school quality and toughness in Malagacy's pedigree.
Classiest Gem now resides at Dean and Teresa Benson's Wood-Mere Farm in Minnesota. In a typical anomaly of the game, a few years ago she had a son by Hat Trick running round Wolverhampton off 50. But she looks very well bought now, albeit now 17, and was recently covered by Distorted Humor.
Malagacy himself, likely to edge up to 1m1f in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on April 15, has passed through a sales ring three times: as a $45,000 Keeneland weanling, a $130,000 OBS August yearling and a $190,000 Fasig-Tipton Maryland May two-year-old. On this last occasion he was bought by agent Steve Young on behalf of Oussama Aboughazale, whose Sumaya Stable is a rising force on the American scene.
Aboughazale recently acquired a farm in Bourbon County, was leading buyer at Keeneland January and bought the sale-topper at Fasig-Tipton February. If a project on this scale is necessarily in its early stages, he is unlikely to falter on the road so long as he can keep turning up colts like this one.