Malathaat delivers poignant Kentucky Oaks success for Shadwell operation
Daughter of Curlin was a $1,050,000 buy from Keeneland September Yearling Sale
Less than a year removed from a Longines Kentucky Oaks run under Covid-19 protocols in early September, the 2021 running returned to its rightful spot the day before the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs — and Malathaat delivered a performance worthy of its lofty status to secure a poignant success for the Shadwell team.
After a thrilling stretch duel, the daughter of Curlin prevailed over Search Results by a neck to win the $1.25 million race.
Malathaat, sent off as the 5-2 favourite, secured her fifth win in as many starts.
The win came a little more than a month after the death of Shadwell founder Hamdan Al Maktoum.
Sheikh Hamdan's pursuit of excellence in racing was global in reach, including operations in Europe, Australia, South Africa, and North America, where his Shadwell Estate Co. is a major landholder in central Kentucky. Rick Nichols, general manager and vice-president of Shadwell, worked for the sheikh for more than 35 years.
"A million things have been going through my mind," Nichols said after the race. "We heard that there were several people in Dubai that stayed up late hours to watch. You know, losing the boss the way we did and him coming off a great year — he was the leading owner in Europe last year. And we have many good horses in our stable this year. And having Malathaat to step up and give him an Oaks win is more than we could ask for.
"Sheikh Hamdan, to racing, was such an influence, in England, in Ireland, in the US. He was so supportive. He loved the sport. Even in his advanced years, he didn't lose his passion for it. But personally, June 1, I have worked for him 36 years. He was a very, very close friend. He was a lot of times a father figure, sometimes like a brother, sometimes like a friend. But he was always the boss. I loved him dearly. He'll always be missed."
Trainer Todd Pletcher was winning his fourth Oaks, and is now tied for second-most all-time with his mentor D Wayne Lukas and Ben Jones. Woody Stevens holds the record with five wins.
"She has an innate ability to target a horse and want to go by it," Pletcher said of Malathaat. "We've always felt she was a special filly from day one. We've been blessed to have the opportunity to train her. She's so professional."
Pletcher praised jockey John Velazquez for overcoming a bumpy start that could have left Malathaat at the back of the pack.
"She didn't get away real cleanly. She got bumped around at the start, and I think Johnny made a key decision recovering that position heading into the first turn and that made a huge difference," he said.
Returning crowd treated to thriller
With reduced capacity restrictions amid Covid-19, attendance at Churchill Downs was 41,472 for the Oaks. Most took in the good weather while watching the races maskless, and were treated to the sixth-fastest running in history.
"When I turned for home I had a target to send her after," Velazquez said. "We got up next to [Search Results] and my filly went by. Then she waited a bit; she does that. The other filly came back but I could tell I was still in control. I never thought I was going to do anything but win."
Malathaat made her debut last October going seven furlongs at Belmont Park, then sparkled in the November 6 Tempted Stakes at Aqueduct, drawing clear by seven and three-quarter lengths in the one-mile event with Kendrick Carmouche aboard. She later annexed Aqueduct's Demoiselle Stakes under Velazquez. Her three-year-old debut in the April 3 Central Bank Ashland Stakes at Keeneland was delayed a week by Sheikh Hamdan's death.
"We angled her toward the Gulfstream Park Oaks, but when Sheikh Maktoum [Sheikh Hamdan's father] passed years ago, Sheikh Hamdan called me and said, 'Please don't run any of our horses during a ten-day mourning period'," Nichols said last month. "So, I asked Todd Pletcher, 'What about the Ashland?' He said, 'That would be great'."
The winner was bred by Barbara Banke's Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings and is out of Stonestreet's stellar Grade 1-winning mare Dreaming Of Julia, who ran fourth as the favourite in the Oaks for Stonestreet and Pletcher in 2013.
Stonestreet entered Malathaat in the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale as part of Denali Stud's consignment and Nichols snapped her up for $1.05 million for Sheikh Hamdan's Shadwell Estate Co.
"I couldn't believe they even considered selling her," Nichols said. "The main thing is, I'm glad we got her. She was a gorgeous yearling filly and that was the last year Sheikh Hamdan was here for the sales. That year we really focused on getting some well-bred fillies, and she fit that bill."
Malathaat's Oaks score ranks up among the top US wins for Shadwell Stable, which include the 2006 Belmont Stakes with Jazil and the 2006 Breeders' Cup Classic with Horse of the Year Invasor. Other Breeders' Cup scores have come with Lahudood (2007 Filly & Mare Turf) and Tamarkuz (2016 Dirt Mile).
The other Grade 1 on Friday's Churchill Downs card, the La Troienne Stakes, went the way of Shedaresthedevil, who along with Swiss Skydiver has put sire Daredevil's name in lights over the past couple of years.
The fillies' successes had led to the nine-year-old Daredevil being relocated back to the US to stand at Lane's End Farm in Kentucky, as the property of the Jockey Club of Turkey, for whom he was a shrewd capture in 2019.
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