Malathaat seeks redemption against Maracuja in G1 Alabama
Malathaat (Shadwell Stables) will look to turn the tables on Maracuja, who provided the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks-winner her first career defeat last out in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks, in Saturday's Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama, a 10-furlong main track test for sophomore fillies at Saratoga Race Course.
Malathaat saw Maracuja snap her undefeated streak in the Coaching Club American Oaks on July 24, where the blue-blooded daughter of Curlin went into the gate as the 1-5 favorite and set a pressured pace down the backstretch before engaging in a dramatic stretch rally, coming up a head shy of victory.
||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
||Ricardo Santana, Jr.
"I'm hoping that we get on the outside and stay clear. Those other two fillies [Maracuja and Clairiere] just kept tag teaming her and she never had a chance to take a breath," said Shadwell Stables' General Manager Rick Nichols. "I think the additional distance will be a benefit to her as well. Her pedigree certainly points towards that direction."
Prior to the Coaching Club American Oaks, Malathaat was a hard-fought winner of the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks on April 30 at Churchill Downs, giving Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher his fourth triumph in the prestigious event. She made a successful seasonal bow when capturing the Grade 1 Ashland on April 3 at Keeneland.
During her juvenile campaign, Malathaat notched stakes triumphs at Aqueduct in the Tempted and Grade 2 Demoiselle after giving Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez his 2,000th Belmont Park victory in a first-out maiden special weight victory in October at Belmont Park.
"She showed how much ability she had in the Demoiselle that day," Nichols said. "Also, it's just kind of demonstrated how much class she has as well. She tried hard in the Kentucky Oaks and that was pretty impressive, too. She was challenged in the stretch and still ran hard and won. Even though she got beat last time, she's never had a bad race. She doesn't know she got beat."
A victory in the Alabama would make Malathaat the fifth filly in the past decade to capture the Kentucky Oaks-Alabama double.
Bred in Kentucky by Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings, Malathaat is the first progeny out of the Grade 1-winning A.P. Indy mare Dreaming of Julia and was purchased for $1.05 million from the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
"She was just such a gorgeous filly with great conformation, Nichols recalled. "As soon as I saw her, I knew Sheikh Hamdan would love her. He's always been partial to fillies. It was obvious from when I saw her that I knew she would be one that he would love."
Velazquez, a three-time winner of the Alabama, retains the mount from post 6.
While Malathaat seeks redemption, Maracuja will try to build off her CCA Oaks victory with another prominent Saratoga conquest. A triumph in the Alabama would make Maracuja the fifth horse in the last decade to score the CCA Oaks-Alabama double, joining Questing , Princess of Sylmar , Stopchargingmaria  and Songbird .
Maracuja, a gray or roan Honor Code filly trained by Rob Atras, was a distant seventh in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks after breaking slowly from the gate and settling toward the rear of the field along the rail.
A winner at third asking going 6 ½ furlongs at Aqueduct under Kendrick Carmouche, it didn't take long for Maracuja to display two turn capabilities when finishing a good second to Search Results in the Grade 2 Gazelle on April 3 at the Big A.
"When Kendrick got off her the first time she won he said that he couldn't wait for us to stretch her out in distance. He knew right away," Atras said. "You always hope for the best, but our goal was always to target the Coaching Club and the Alabama, so it's nice that things are coming together."
Jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. rides from post 4.
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen will saddle Stonestreet Stables' graded stakes winner Clairiere in search of her first Grade 1 triumph.
Never worse than fourth in seven lifetime starts, the homebred daughter of Curlin, out of the three-time Grade 1-winning Bernardini mare Cavorting, finished third in her last two efforts. Prior to finishing third beaten 5 ¾ lengths in the CCA Oaks, Clairiere rounded out the trifecta in the Grade 1 Mother Goose on June 26 at Belmont Park, where she stumbled at the start and rated at the rear of the five-horse field before making a three-wide move around the far turn, finishing 1 ¼ lengths behind Zaajel.
Fourth beaten three lengths in the Kentucky Oaks, Clairiere seeks her first victory since the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra on February 13 at Fair Grounds Race Course.
Irad Ortiz, Jr. will ride from post 3.
Trainer Kenny McPeek has saddled two of the past three winners of the Alabama with Eskimo Kisses  and Swiss Skydiver  and will attempt to one up his record with Phoenix Thoroughbred III's Crazy Beautiful.
The well-traveled gray or roan daughter of third-crop sire Liam's Map has scored against graded stakes company in three of her last four starts.
Following a victory in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks on March 27, she was never a factor in the Kentucky Oaks finishing a distant tenth. But her brilliance was recaptured in her following two efforts, winning the Grade 3 Summertime Oaks on May 30 at Santa Anita ahead of a six-length romp in the Grade 3 Delaware Oaks on July 3 at Delaware Park.
Crazy Beautiful will break from post 1 under Jose Ortiz.
Three Diamonds Farm's Army Wife boasts four lifetime wins all over different tracks and will seek to add Saratoga to her list of oval conquests for leading trainer Mike Maker.
The bay daughter of Declaration of War was a fourth out maiden winner going seven furlongs in October at Churchill Downs before defeating winners at Gulfstream Park two starts later. After a distant third in the Gazelle, she picked up scores in the Grade 2 Black Eyed Susan on May 14 at Pimlico and the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks on July 2 at Prairie Meadows.
"She doesn't need to take her racetrack with her, we're just trying to pick the right spots with her and it's worked out well. I hope we have a winning trip," Maker said.
Jockey Tyler Gaffalione, who rode Swiss Skydiver in the 2020 Alabama, will seek a second straight Alabama win aboard Army Wife from post 7.
Trainer Dallas Stewart sends out Will's Secret after a disappointing sixth in the Grade 3 Indiana Oaks on July 7 last out.
Owned and bred by Willis Horton Racing, Will's Secret's uncharacteristic performance in the Indiana Oaks came after two Grade 1-placings when third to Malathaat in the Ashland on April 3 at Keeneland and the Kentucky Oaks.
Following an off-the-turf maiden conquest in December at Fair Grounds, the daughter of 2013 Travers winner Will Take Charge captured the Martha Washington and Grade 3 Honeybee at Oaklawn Park.
Veteran jockey Jon Court ships to Saratoga to pilot Will's Secret from post 2.
Completing the field is Rigney Racing's Played Hard, who makes her stakes debut for trainer Phil Bauer.
The bay daughter of leading sire Into Mischief has not lost in two starts around two turns. After three starts at six furlongs, Played Hard handled a stretch out to 1 1/16 miles with flying colors winning a June 20 maiden special weight at Churchill Downs by 5 ¼ lengths. In her most recent effort, she defeated winners going nine furlongs on July 22 at Saratoga.
"The sprint mentality has gone away from her," Bauer said. "She's always been a horse with natural speed but her first two-turn effort at Churchill, she was a little keen down the backside when we tried to rate her. She's come a long way as far as that; hopefully it'll make her a better racehorse. She showed it in her race here and obviously she's had everything her way, but I think good horses can create trips that look like they are given to them, but that's not necessarily the case."
Jockey Luis Saez will ride from post 5.
The Alabama is slated as Race 10 on Saturday's 11-race card, which offers a first post of 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
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Maracuja Final Prep for G1 Alabama
AUG 16 - Beach Haven Thoroughbreds' Maracuja completed her preparations for Saturday's Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama with a solid half-mile breeze Sunday on the Spa main track.
Trained by Rob Atras, the daughter of third crop sire Honor Code went to the track at 6:00 a.m. and breezed in 49.61. This was her second work back since upsetting Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks-winner Malathaat in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks on July 24 at Saratoga.
"She worked a half-mile in 49 and change and galloped out nicely," Atras said of the work. "She went in company with an unraced 2-year-old. They just went head-and-head."
One start prior to the CCA Oaks, Maracuja exited post 2 in a 13-horse field in the Kentucky Oaks in April at Churchill Downs and closed up the rail for seventh in a race won by Malathaat by a neck over Search Results.
In a compact field of four assembled for the CCA Oaks, Maracuja tracked closer to the pace in third under Ricardo Santana, Jr. and battled gamely to the wire to best Malathaat, who was pressed throughout, by a head.
"The way Malathaat had to run last time compromised her, I thought," Atras said. "It won't be an easy task to run against her again. Ultimately, I'll leave it up to Ricardo. Hopefully, she will get the same kind of break and see how the race sets up. You never know how tricky it can be with a short field with not much pace."
Boasting a consistent 6-2-2-1 record and $407,100 in lifetime earnings, Maracuja broke her maiden at third asking going 6 ½ furlongs at Aqueduct before finishing second in the Grade 3 Gazelle on April 3 at the Big A.
G1 winner Maracuja training well into G1 Alabama
AUG 13 - Trainer Rob Atras said Beach Haven Thoroughbreds' Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks-winner Maracuja is training well into her next engagement - the 10-furlong Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama on August 21 at the Spa.
The Honor Code gray posted a swift half-mile breeze in 47.67 seconds Sunday in company on the main track in her first work back since upsetting Malathaat in the nine-furlong CCA Oaks on July 24.
"She went a little quicker than I thought, visually," Atras said. "She broke off a little quick and was rolling along and galloped out real nice. I never get too concerned about the time, but she did it well within herself. That's all that matters to me."
A $200,000 purchase at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Yearling Sale, Maracuja graduated at third asking in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden sprint in February at Aqueduct Racetrack and followed with a closing second in the Grade 3 Gazelle in April, finishing 2 3/4-lengths back of Search Results.
Maracuja exited post 2 in a 13-horse field in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks in April at Churchill Downs and closed up the rail for seventh in a race won by Malathaat by a neck over Search Results.
Last out, in a compact field of four, Maracuja tracked closer to the pace in third under Ricardo Santana, Jr., and battled gamely to the wire to best Malathaat by a head.
"She broke so sharp in the last race and we were hoping for that," Atras said. "We were hoping she could be a little more tactical. That would definitely be an advantage to her going forward.
"I knew you could throw the Oaks out and she was capable of better," Atras added. "I thought if she took a step forward from the Gazelle she could be a contender, if not for the win, then for second. She definitely took a big step forward last time. Right out of the gate, she showed that she was live that day."
Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama Stakes
Probable: Army Wife (Mike Maker), Clairiere (Steve Asmussen), Crazy Beautiful (Kenny McPeek), Malathaat (Todd Pletcher), Maracuja (Rob Atras), Played Hard (Phil Bauer) and Will's Secret (Dallas Stewart).
Atras said Dennis Narlinger's graded stakes placed Sadie Lady, who worked a half-mile in 48.11 Sunday on the main track, is slated to make her next start in the $100,000 Union Avenue, a 6 1/2-furlong main track sprint for New York-bred fillies and mares 3-years-old and up.
"She's doing well," Atras said. "It was a good work and she's on target for that race."
Played Hard Targeting Class Jump in G1 Alabama
Making a stakes debut at Saratoga is often a daunting challenge. Competing in a Grade 1 under those same circumstances only adds to the level of difficulty, but trainer Phil Bauer said Played Hard has earned that right after posting a 4 3/4-length victory at Saratoga Race Course earlier in the meet.
Now, the daughter of Into Mischief will face a steep class increase as she readies for a start in the $600,000 Alabama for 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/4 miles on August 21.
Played Hard, owned by Rigney Racing, has never finished off the board in five starts, posting a 2-2-1 record since commencing her career with debut runner-up effort in March at Fair Grounds. After posting two runner-up efforts and a third in six-furlong sprints, Bauer stretched her out to 1 1/16 miles in June at Churchill Downs, resulting in a 5 1/4-length maiden-breaking score.
Bauer said the plan was to then enter a 1 1/4-mile allowance race at Saratoga for sophomore fillies, but plans changed and Played Hard entered a 1 1/8-mile contest for 3-year-olds and up. Facing older horses did not deter Played Hard, who led at every point of call and drew away to win by open lengths, registering a personal-best 89 Beyer Speed Figure for her victory on July 22.
"She's doing well. We originally were looking at a 10-furlong allowance a-other-than for 3-year-old fillies and if we were competitive, we would consider the Alabama," Bauer said. "They had to combine the two races and she took on older fillies, so for her to win like she did, we felt like 10 furlongs is a unique distance that we can take a shot at. We're excited to see how good we are."
Played Hard did not race as a juvenile. The $280,000 purchase at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, bred in Kentucky by Susan Casner, showed early ability in her workouts last year. But Bauer said the connections did not want to rush her development, and the move has paid off as she looks to improve to 2-for-2 at the famous track.
"We ran into a little hiccups; it looked like she was ready to make a start in the fall of her 2-year-old year and she indicated she was talented then," Bauer said. "We ran into a little speedbump with her but given the quality she had shown and the time she needed, it just pointed towards a 3-year-old campaign."
Bauer, who won his first race in 2013, has registered two career graded stakes wins -with Channel Marker in the 2015 Grade 3 Jaipur and the 2018 Grade 3 Hutcheson with Madison's Luna - and will be seeking his first-ever Grade 1 victory. Those graded stakes victories also represent the two career scores for the ownership group led by Richard Rigney.
"This is why we do it. I think I'm more excited for the owners with everything that they've invested, that they are going to have the opportunity to participate," Bauer said. "Hopefully, I can ride their coattails."
Will's Secret Looking To Upset G1 Alabama
Known for swinging for the fences at a high level, trainer Dallas Stewart will seek another upset victory when he sends out graded stakes winner Will's Secret for the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama Stakes on August 21 at Saratoga Race Course.
Owned and bred by Willis Horton Racing, Will's Secret arrives at the prestigious event for sophomore fillies off a distant sixth as the favorite in the Grade 3 Indiana Oaks on July 7, where she raced along the rail down the backstretch and appeared to be making a move around the far turn, but was unable to make up ground in the stretch and finished 8 ¼ lengths to winner Soothsay.
The uncharacteristic performance from the daughter of 2013 Travers winner and Champion 3-Year-Old Will Take Charge came after two Grade 1-placings when third to Malathaat, also pointing to the Alabama, in the Ashland on April 3 at Keeneland and the Kentucky Oaks on April 30 at Churchill Downs.
"In her last race she had the one hole and it had rained, so it was pretty muddy down in the one hole where she was at," Stewart said. Things just didn't work out that day. She's shipped up and doing fine. She's caught some good breezes since coming up here. We know that she's a nice filly."
Following an off-the-turf maiden conquest in December at Fair Grounds, Will's Secret captured the Martha Washington and Grade 3 Honeybee at Oaklawn Park.
"She's run well the first half of the year, so we'll see what happens here at a mile and a quarter," Stewart said.
Stewart will look to add to his Saratoga stakes prosperity, which also includes victories in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign [2017, Forever Unbridled], the Grade 2 Jim Dandy [2008, Macho Again] and the Grade 2 Adirondack [2013, Designer Legs].
Stewart confirmed that veteran jockey Jon Court will retain the mount.