Maracuja did not know that place money was her only feasible target when she headed the unbeaten and supremely talented 3/10 favorite Malathaat in the 2021 Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday July 24.
A photo was needed to confirm that Maracuja had managed to maintain the narrow advantage she gained 50 yards from home as she crossed the wire under Ricardo Santana Jr. The result left many who watched it in a state of shock but the track known as the Spa has a history of being a graveyard for favorites.
Trained by Rob Atras, Maracuja was the 14/1 long shot in the field of four lining up for this grade 1 contest for three-year-old fillies run over a mile and a furlong, she won by a head. Clairiere, the 5/2 second favorite, was six lengths behind the leading duo while Rockpaperscissors (43/5) weakened significantly in the manner of a filly who was not at her best on the day and was last by a distance.
Owned by Beach Haven Thoroughbreds, Maracuja was a $200,000 purchase as a yearling acquired through Jason Servis, she is a daughter of Honor Code out of an Unbridled’s Song mare. Maracuja was unpopular with bettors for obvious reasons, she was last seen finishing seventh, nearly eight lengths behind Malathaat in the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs over the same distance as the CCA Oaks at the end of April.
The sole victory on her resume was in a rather weak, six-runner maiden special weight at Aqueduct in February but she finished a surprisingly creditable second in the grade 3 Gazelle Stakes at the same track on April 3. Maracuja was completely unfancied at 18/1 on that day and was only beaten by the best filly, Chad Brown’s 2/5 favorite, Search Results.
It was Search Results who went on to chase Malathaat home in the Kentucky Oaks and finished a neck adrift of her in second. That victory was Malathaat’s second top level score. She beat Pass The Champagne by a head in the grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland in early April. She ended her successful juvenile campaign with a win in the grade 2 Demoiselle Stakes on a sloppy track at Aqueduct proving that unpleasant conditions did not diminish her talent or her will to win.
Bred by Stonestreet Thoroughbreds, Shadwell had to pay out $1,050,000 to purchase Malathaat as a yearling and entrusted this daughter of Curlin with Todd Pletcher. He trained her talented dam, Dreaming Of Julia, a daughter of A.P. Indy for Stonestreet.
Dreaming Of Julia won at the highest level as a juvenile and went on to win the grade 2 Gulfstream Oaks. The only time she finished out of the first three was when she had an extremely troubled trip in the Kentucky Oaks and was fourth, beaten less than three lengths. Sadly she has been less successful as a broodmare. Retired as a three-year-old, Malathaat is Dreaming Of Julia’s only representative on the racetrack so far and she is now an 11-year-old.
There were no clues before the CCA Oaks that Malathaat was vulnerable and all the experts believed she was the winner in waiting. Pletcher reported that she had been training well and displayed the benefits of a break of almost three months. She is a tall filly who has not yet filled her frame. The Belmont Stakes was contemplated by her connections after the Kentucky Oaks win but a more conservative route was taken in the hope of promoting a longer racing career for her. Favorites are often beaten by less talented, fresher rivals; this was not the case in the 105th CCA Oaks.
Pletcher admitted to feeling the pressure in the build-up even though he must have been very hopeful that Malathaat would add to his already record-breaking seven wins in the race. The plan was to race prominently or lead as there was no obvious pacesetter and she was drawn in stall one. There was no in-running scenario that explained her first defeat and there is only so much trouble that can be encountered in a four runner affair.
Rob Atras was feeling no pressure at all and decided to ditch the smart clothes he had worn for the Kentucky Oaks and dress like the underdog in an open neck shirt and his customary New York Yankees cap. He admitted he was beyond delighted when he thought Maracuja might take second and struggled to process the reality of her win.
What happened in the race?
It was an even break and John Velazquez grabbed the lead on Malathaat soon after the gates opened. Maracuja started well from gate two and headed the pack for the first 100 yards but accepted second place going into the first turn. Santana positioned her on the girth of the favorite. Rockpaperscissors was on his outside in third leaving Clairiere to run four wide round the clubhouse turn.
Soon after it Luis Saez decided to save ground and drop behind the leading duo on Rockpaperscissors, the only other filly who came into the race unbeaten. This was her first test at graded level. She landed her only start as a juvenile and must have suffered a setback as she was not seen on the track for 275 days. She reappeared in an allowance race at Indiana Grand on June 21 and, having started as the heavy favorite, won it very impressively in the manner of one for trainer Rodolphe Brisset. Rockpaperscissors’ resume was no match for Malathaat’s but this daughter of Distorted Humor was unexposed and had potential for further improvement.
Steve Asmussen’s Clairiere raced on her flank under Irad Ortiz at the back as the quarter mile was run in 23.28 seconds. The order was unchanged until Ortiz chose to push forward in the back stretch as Maracuja gradually slipped back. Clairiere occupied the new vacancy at the favorite’s flank, ensuring Malathaat never benefited from a breather on the lead as they clocked a 47.13 seconds half mile. Maracuja was now at the back of the pack, two lengths behind the leaders as they posted a 1.11.02 three quarter mile.
As they rounded the final turn Clairiere was a close second whilst Santana urged Maracuja to get involved. Rockpaperscissors had already run out of gas and losing touch, holding a firm reservation for fourth. A furlong from the finish Clairiere ran low on gas too and dropped back whilst Maracuja closed on the leader. She edged ahead to the astonishment of the race caller and won in a time of 1.49.29. Racing off the pace before her final thrust may well have been a race-winning move.
Both fillies have reportedly come out of the race well and are being pointed at the Alabama Stakes. It would not be a surprise if Malathaat reasserted her superiority.