#US RACING: Malathaat wins Kentucky Oaks

Malathaat
Malathaat

Malathaat put her unbeaten record to the test Friday in the 2021 Kentucky Oaks and emerged a winner, turning back the previously unbeaten Search Results in a thrilling stretch duel.

Trainer Todd Pletcher earned his fourth Kentucky Oaks triumph as Malathaat, a daughter of Curlin, improved to 5-for-5 in her career. Jockey John Velazquez scored in the 1 1/8-mile Oaks for the second time.

Travel Column, bidding to become trainer Brad Cox’s third Kentucky Oaks heroine in the last four years, set the early fractions of 23.60, 47.47 and 1:11.31. She came under fire around the far turn from Search Results, who stalked the early pace.

As those two hit the stretch side by side, Malathaat revved up outside of them. She and Search Results put away Travel Column and battled to the wire.

Malathaat, who won Keeneland’s Ashland Stakes (G1) earlier this month by a head, prevailed by another tight margin, this time a neck. As 5-2 favorite, the Shadwell Stable runner returned $7 while covering nine furlongs in 1:48.99 – the sixth-fastest final time in Kentucky Oaks history.

“She was running well and when I turned for home, I had a target (Search Results) to send her after,” Velazquez said. “We got up next to her 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.”

Pletcher praised Velazquez for his Kentucky Oaks-winning ride, noting that Malathaat was bumped at the start while breaking from the ninth post.

“She got away from there just a bit slow, but Johnny moved her up and got her in a much better position,” Pletcher said. “He had to lose some ground and go wide to do it, but it was the right thing to do. She wants a target to run at and she got one here. Delighted with the outcome.”

Malathaat’s victory carried some redemption for both Pletcher and Velazquez. They were trainer and jockey of dam Dreaming of Julia, who was jostled at the start of the 2013 Kentucky Oaks and finished fourth as 3-2 favorite.

“I was having nightmares when that happened out of the gate today, the same thoughts of what happened in the Oaks with her mom,” Velazquez said. “I couldn’t get the position that I wanted.

“Obviously, the outcome was not the same. Today, we got the position that we wanted, and she responded to the things we wanted to do.”

Pletcher’s three prior Kentucky Oaks victories came with Ashado (2004), Rags to Riches (’07) and Princess of Sylmar (’13). Velazquez’s only other Oaks win before Friday was aboard Ashado for Pletcher.

Pletcher and Velazquez now turn their attention to Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. Pletcher saddles Bourbonic, Dynamic One, Known Agenda and Sainthood in the Run for the Roses, while Velazquez rides Medina Spirit for trainer Bob Baffert.

Malathaat’s win Friday was emotional for Rick Nichols, Shadwell’s vice president and general manager. The international Thoroughbred operation’s owner, Sheikh Hamdan, died in March at 75.

Nichols and Sheikh Hamdan picked Malathaat out together at a Keeneland yearling sale in September 2019, and Shadwell paid $1.05 million to purchase the filly bred by Stonestreet Farm.

Malathaat ran in the Ashland rather than a week earlier in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) because the Gulfstream race fell during a 10-day period of mourning after Sheikh Hamdan’s death.

“I worked for him 36 years,” Nichols said. “He was a 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 and he’ll always be missed.”

Second-place Search Results took the first loss of her career in the Kentucky Oaks. Aqueduct’s Gazelle Stakes (G3) winner nearly scored at 6-1 odds Friday under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. but, in the words of the official chart, “was out-gamed in the final stages.”

“I’m so proud of the filly and the way she ran,” trainer Chad Brown said. “She put it all out there on the track for us and you can’t ask for anything more than that. She ran her eyeballs out, she really did.

“She battled all the way to the end, and we got beat by a really good filly. She delivered and hopefully we’ll get one of these one day.”

Third-place Will’s Secret juiced up the trifecta at 27-1 odds for trainer Dallas Stewart and jockey Jon Court. The winner of Oaklawn Park’s Honeybee Stakes (G3) sat mid-pack most of the way before making a bid down the lane and finishing 2¾ lengths behind Search Results.

“We’re real proud of her,” Stewart said. “This filly’s been knocking heads all year. We ran hard in Hot Springs (winning two stakes) and now we ran hard here.

 

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