Malathaat Back on Track in Alabama Stakes

MalathaatA month ago Malathaat had her first experience of defeat, but on August 21 she reasserted her superiority over her regular rivals in the $600,000 2021 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga under John Velazquez. Bettors did not lose confidence in her as she was the 11/20 favorite in this grade 1 for three-year-old fillies run over a mile and a quarter.

Saddled by Todd Pletcher for Shadwell, a stumble at the start did not stop Malathaat beating Steve Asmussen’s 9/1 shot Clairiere a length and a half. Army Wife was more popular at 17/2 and took third for Michael Maker, half a length behind her. There was a six-length gap to the fourth placed Will’s Secret (245/10), Played Hard (123/10) was nearly a length further back in fifth ahead of Crazy Beautiful (83/10) and the seventh and last placed Maracuja (32/5).

It was Maracuja who beat Malathaat in the Coaching Club Oaks at this track on July 24 under Ricardo Santana Jr. Velazquez had tried to win the race from the front but was hassled on the lead by what appeared to be a tag team. Maracuja pressed Malathaat for the first half mile before dropping back for a breather. Clairiere soon occupied the space she left beside the leader but started to tire a furlong from the wire. Maracuja regained her position at Malathaat’s flank and rallied to beat her a head after a hard-fought battle in the stretch. Malathaat had been the 30/100 favorite while Maracuja was a 15/1 shot.

Many people suspected the placings would be reversed in the Alabama but not that Maracuja would finish last of the seven. Her trainer Rob Atras thought that the race may have come too soon for her. She never looked likely to threaten and weakened tamely.

Pletcher was delighted to see his daughter of Curlin back to winning ways, especially as it was his first visit to a racetrack since he was found to be suffering from Covid the previous weekend. He was concerned about the infection risk to others and wore a mask but was confident that his filly was in good shape after her recent work at home.

What happened in the race?

Crazy Beautiful and Will’s Secret were restless in the two inside gates. There were frantic shouts of ‘no, no, no,’ shortly before they were opened. Both fillies had all four feet on the ground at the time and broke well as did most of the pack. Army Wife was half a stride slower than them while Malathaat momentarily lost her footing leaving gate six and was down on the knuckles of both forefeet as they broke.

The loss of momentum left her a length behind the pack and Velazquez was two wide in fifth alongside Maracuja round the first turn. Played Hard had grabbed the lead and was closely followed by Will’s Secret and Army Wife. Clairiere raced on the rail with Crazy Beautiful on her outside at the back of the pack as the first quarter mile was run in 23.97 seconds.

Played Hard kept the lead under Luis Saez after the half mile was covered in a 49.12 but soon after Army Wife was urged to close on Will’s Secret and Velazquez started pushing Malathaat to follow her. Played Hard maintained an advantage of a length after the three-quarter mile was run in 1.13.27. Irad Ortiz got active on Clairiere leaving Crazy Beautiful to trail the pack.

As they approached the top of the stretch Will’s Secret and Army Wife had joined Played Hard in the front row. Malathaat ran three wide round the bend just behind them, ready to make her move while Clairiere went forward into fifth. Played Hard lost the lead by the quarter pole as Army Wife headed her, closely pursued by Malathaat. Will’s Secret fell back while Clairiere continued to make progress behind the leading group and was angled out to challenge them.

Malathaat took the lead a furlong from home and was soon a length clear of Army Wife. Velazquez did not need his whip as she galloped easily all the way to wire, Clairiere was pushed to pass weakening rivals to finish second. The race was completed in 2.02.59.

Pletcher believes that Malathaat is highly intelligent and will not bust a gut to put significant space between herself and her closest pursuers. Once she has her head in front she is done, she has won the game. The Alabama winning distance of over a length was the largest she has recorded this season. She had previously not succeeded by more than a neck as a three-year-old. Shadwell must be pleased that their $1,050,000 yearling purchase is back on track.

What next for Malathaat?

Pletcher has reported that his star filly is in good shape after the Alabama. The next date in her schedule is likely to be the Breeders’ Cup Distaff on November 6 at Del Mar, a target that was agreed with Shadwell’s Rick Nichols some time ago.

Pletcher has saddled two other Alabama winners. One of them was Stopchargingmaria who won in 2014 and went on to take the Distaff in 2015. If she continues to train well Malathaat looks to stand a reasonable chance of achieving the double for him without the wait. She is currently fourth in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Distaff betting market with the biggest online racebooks for the USA market, behind Letruska, Monomoy Girl and Swiss Skydiver.