Training an unbeaten, multiple grade 1-winning filly can be loaded with pressure.
Having a 3-year-old like Malathaat is a great way to alleviate it.
"Any time you have a filly with her credentials, an undefeated Kentucky Oaks winner, you want to keep that streak alive. So, there's some added anxiety over that," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "But she's so good that she gives you so much confidence."
Pletcher, of course, is talking about Shadwell Stable's Malathaat, who will make her first start since winning the April 30 Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) when the daughter of Curlin places her perfect 5-for-5 record on the line July 24 facing just three other 3-year-old fillies in the $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) at Saratoga Race Course.
Though there was some initial thought Malathaat might target the boys and the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) after her thrilling Kentucky Oaks win, her connections elected to give the million-dollar yearling buy some time off to fill out her big frame. So far, that plan seems to be working as the multiple grade 1 winner has been training smartly for her first race in about 2 1/2 months, which will come at the same 1 1/8-mile distance as the Kentucky Oaks.
"Malathaat is training very well, like she always has. The freshening seems to have done her well," said the Hall of Fame trainer who will be trying to extend his record number of CCAO wins to eight. "She looks good and we're very happy with the way she's breezing."
Though each of Malathaat's two 2021 starts have resulted in grade 1 victories, she had to work quite hard for the lioness' share of the purse money. In her season-opening triumph in the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (G1) at Keeneland she needed a strong late surge to score by a head. Then in the Kentucky Oaks, she engaged Search Results in an epic stretch duel, ultimately prevailing by a neck.
"She's a very intelligent filly and is very straightforward to train," Pletcher said. "She's professional and enjoys the game. A lot of her riders will say she targets the horse in front of her to get to them. She has a natural competitive instinct, yet she is kind and easy to train."
Malathaat will be ridden by five-time CCAO winner John Velazquez.
Should Malathaat keep her perfect record intact and become the 15th filly to win both the Kentucky Oaks and CCA Oaks, conjecture about facing the boys in the Aug. 28 Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1) will no doubt arise, but for now Pletcher is looking ahead only to Saturday's race.
"Right now we're just focused on the Coaching Club," Pletcher said. "The plan was always to go to the Coaching Club with an eye toward the Alabama (G1, Aug. 21 at Saratoga, 1 1/4 miles for 3-year-old fillies) because we always felt she would enjoy the mile-and-a-quarter. Right now that's the plan and we'll continue to discuss everything with (Shadwell vice president and general manager) Rick Nichols and the Shadwell team. We haven't thought about anything else."
Bred by Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings out of the Pletcher-trained grade 1-winning A.P. Indy mare Dreaming of Julia, Malathaat was purchased for $1,050,000 from the Denali Stud consignment at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. She is the first of her dam's six foals to run and has a trio of younger siblings: a 2-year-old colt and weanling filly by Medaglia d'Oro and a yearling full sister.
Even with $500,000 on the line, the towering presence of Malathaat explains a four-horse field with just one other graded stakes winner in a stakes that has been won by three of the last five 3-year-old filly champions.
Stonestreet Stables' homebred Clairiere was fourth for trainer Steve Asmussen in the Kentucky Oaks, three lengths behind Malathaat, and was subsequently third in the 1 1/16-mile Mother Goose Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park after stumbling at the start. She started her 3-year-old campaign with a victory in the Feb. 13 Rachel Alexandra Stakes Presented by Fasig-Tipton (G2) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
Clairiere's bloodlines should be a blessing at the Spa as she is out of the Bernardini mare Cavorting, who was undefeated in four starts (all in graded stakes) at Saratoga, two of them in grade 1s.
Beach Haven Thoroughbreds' Maracuja has also been resting since running in the Kentucky Oaks, where she was seventh for trainer Rob Atras. The 3-year-old daughter of Honor Code was second in the Gazelle Stakes (G3) before that.
Midwest shipper Rockpaperscissors could emerge as the pacesetter in a tiny field without an obvious frontrunner. Though Malathaat was a gate-to-wire winner in her second start, the Curlin filly was fifth much of the way in the Kentucky Oaks and Ashland.
WinStar Stablemates Racing's Rockpaperscissors has won her last two starts, taking an off-the-turf allowance race by 9 3/4 lengths at Indiana Grand most recently to give her two wins in three career starts for trainer Rodolphe Brisset.
Because of the small field, the 105th CCAO will be contested as the fifth race on Saturday's card at the Spa with an approximate post time of 3:23 p.m. ET.
Saratoga Race Course, Saturday, July 24, 2021, Race 5
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Malathaat (KY) John R. Velazquez 121 Todd A. Pletcher 2/5 2 2Maracuja (KY) Ricardo Santana, Jr. 121 Rob Atras 6/1 3 3Rockpaperscissors (KY) Luis Saez 121 Rodolphe Brisset 15/1 4 4Clairiere (KY) Irad Ortiz, Jr. 121 Steven M. Asmussen 9/5
Saratoga Race Course, Saturday, July 24, 2021, Race 5