One hopes that unbeaten McCraken and likely Xpressbet.com Florida Derby (USA-G1) favorite Gunnevera will prove the exceptions on their next outings; the former has been brilliant throughout his brief career before suffering a minor physical setback, and Gunnevera is a seasoned and honest horse who is vulnerable to an unfavorable pace scenario but nonetheless fires his shot every time. In the meantime, the latest "new kid on the block," Malagacy, admittedly looked good in winning the Rebel Stakes (USA-G2) and certainly has the pedigree to be a contender. A son of 2011 Preakness Stakes (USA-G1) hero Shackleford out of the unraced Dehere mare Classiest Gem, he has Pleasant Colony (1981 Kentucky Derby and Preakness), Halo (sire of two Kentucky Derby winners) and Northern Dancer (1964 Kentucky Derby and Preakness) as the sires of his next three dams.
Like so many of this year's prep race winners, Malagacy is a very lightly raced horse. He blew the doors off a Gulfstream Park maiden special weight by 15 lengths on January 4, earning a Thoroughbred Daily News "Rising Star" designation, then came back to win a 6.5 furlong allowance at the same track by 7 lengths. His win in the Rebel was solid and professional for such a green colt, but a perfect stalking trip with pretty even fractions against a rather uninspired group of rivals is a long flight from facing the best of the division in a crowded and contentious Derby field where the ability to produce a burst of tactical speed at the right moment is often the difference between victory and defeat.
Malagacy may come back in the Arkansas Derby (USA-G1), and a good win there would certainly solidify his credentials for Kentucky. However, he probably does not need the Arkansas Derby to have enough points to make the Kentucky Derby field. That's good for trainer Todd Pletcher, who can get another race in or skip it according to what he feels his colt's best interests are, but is more problematic for those trying to get a line on just how good Malagacy really is.