Malathaat, seen her galloping at Churchill Downs, was installed as the morning-line favorite for the Kentucky Oaks. Churchill Downs/Coady Photography.

Malathaat Installed as Morning-Line Favorite for Kentucky Oaks

By Alicia Hughes

Long-term plans in the Thoroughbred industry are often the first things that go by the wayside, taken down by the pitfalls that come when dealing with young, fragile athletes. So the fact that Shadwell Stable’s Malathaat has carried her boatload of expectations to the very place she was meant to arrive at this point in her career is a testament to the unique ability her connections feel she houses.

As a yearling in the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale catalog, her regal pedigree and superior physical attributes elicited a final bid of $1,050,000 from representatives of the late Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum. Everything about the bay filly by Curlin and out of Dreaming of Julia screamed quality, including her results once she hit the racetrack. 

She had yet to beaten in her four career starts and she has already prevailed at the top level, like her sire and dam and dam’s sire before her. So it is fitting that she heads into the most prestigious race of her division sporting the biggest target.

The presence Malathaat was indeed deemed the most daunting as the Todd Pletcher-trainee was installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite in the field of 14 entered for the 147th edition of the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) contest over 1 1/8-miles at Churchill Downs on April 30. 

The centerpiece of Friday’s 13-race program that features six graded stakes, the Kentucky Oaks will go as the 11th race with a 5:51 p.m. (all times Eastern) post time. First post Friday is 10:30 a.m.

Pletcher, a finalist for the 2021 Hall of Fame class, has won the Kentucky Oaks on three prior occasions with Ashado (2004), Rags to Riches (2007), and Princess of Sylmar (2013). In Malathaat, the seven-time Eclipse Award winner has a filly for whom he holds both deep affection and regard for as Pletcher trained her dam, Dreaming of Julia (4th in the 2013 Kentucky Oaks), and has seen a similar level of precocity from her elegant daughter.

Since debuting in a seven-furlong maiden special weight test as Belmont Park last Oct. 9, Malathaat has earned wins at eight furlongs, 1 1/8-miles, and 1 1/16-miles in the Tempted Stakes, Grade 2 Demoiselle, and Grade 1 Central Bank Ashland Stakes, respectively. Though the Ashland marks her lone start in 2021, Malathaat had her fitness sufficiently tested that day when she surged up on the outside to catch Pass the Champagne after that one had opened up a four-length advantage in the lane. 

“She’s just a star. She does everything right,” Pletcher said of his Oaks hopeful. “I think naturally she’s designed to go 1 1/8 miles. The further she goes the better she gets. And we have a good foundation with the 2-year-old races into her after her seven-furlong maiden race. In a perfect world, maybe we would have had two preps but I feel like we’ve arrived here in as good a shape as we could be. So maybe it was a blessing.”

In living up to the lofty billing she has carried since birth, Malathaat has also provided a bit of an emotional salve to her connections. Her win in the Ashland Stakes came less than a week and a half after the death of Shadwell owner Sheikh Hamdan and an Oaks win would give the global operation its first victory in the signature test for 3-year-old fillies.

“It’s something our whole operation needed,” Rick Nichols, vice president and GM of Shadwell, said after the Ashland. “We knew she had it in her. She had been off for five months, but I knew Todd knew how to get her here even with that layoff. We were pretty confident.”

Bred in Kentucky by Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings, Malathaat boasts a career bankroll of $412,150 from her four starts. She will break from post 10 in the Oaks with Hall of Famer John Velazquez in the irons.

Oaks glory has been dominated in recent years by the duo of trainer Brad Cox and jockey Florent Geroux as the two paired to win the race with eventual champion Monomoy Girl in 2018 and again last year with Shedaresthedevil. The pair are back this season with Travel Column, winner of the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks on March 30 and the 3-1 co-second choice on the morning line.

Owned by OXO Equine, Travel Column has enjoyed a rivalry with fellow Oaks entrant Clairiere and holds a 2-1 edge over that one in their meetings. Travel Column first got the best of Clairiere when they met over the Churchill Downs track in the Golden Rod Stakes (G2) last November, prevailing that day by a length. 

Clairiere would flip the tables in her favor when the two faced off in the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra Stakes at Fair Grounds on Feb. 13, but Travel Column responded with arguably her best run to date when she rated just off the pacesetter en route to a 2 ¾-length win in the Fair Grounds Oaks.

“I don’t think there is any doubt this filly will be effective at 1 1/8 miles,” Cox said after Travel Column drew post 6 for the Oaks. “First race off the layoff (in the Rachel Alexandra), she may have been a touch short but hopefully she’ll get a similar trip as last time. She appears to have more speed early than Clairiere and if we can get the jump, we should be in good shape”

Search Results, who shares 3-1 second-choice designation with Travel Column, is aiming to give four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown his first career Oaks victory. The daughter of Flatter is perfect in three starts with her most recent coming in Gazelle Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct on April 3 at the Oaks distance of 1 1/8 miles. Irad Ortiz Jr., who has been aboard for two of those three victories, has the mount Friday and will break from post 12. 

“The dynamics of the Oaks figure a lot different than the Gazelle (Search Results was just a length off a half-mile in 50.09),” Brown said. “This filly, much like our Derby horse Highly Motivated, has good early tactical speed. They have shown they can be on the lead at any point, but are probably a touch better with a target. So, with speed signed up in the Oaks—there looks like there are some horses and I’ve seen some quick breezes here too—if somebody goes out there and she can lay in close proximity, that’s my ideal trip.”

Jose Ortiz, who won the 2019 Kentucky Oaks on Serengeti Empress, will be aboard Crazy Beautiful (15-1) for trainer Kenny McPeek. Winner of the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) in her most recent start, Crazy Beautiful will break from post four.

The field for the Longines Kentucky Oaks, with riders and morning line odds from the rail out, is: Pauline’s Pearl (Ricardo Santana Jr., 20-1), Maracuja (Kendrick Carmouche, 20-1), Clairiere (Tyler Gaffalione, 5-1), Crazy Beautiful (Jose Ortiz, 15-1), Pass the Champagne (Javier Castellano, 15-1), Travel Column (Florent Geroux, 3-1), Ava’s Grace(David Cohen, 50-1), Moraz (Flavien Prat (30-1), Coach (Luis Saez, 50-1), Malathaat (John Velazquez, 5-2), Will’s Secret (Jon Court, 30-1), Search Results (Irad Ortiz Jr., 3-1), Competitive Speed (Chris Landeros, 50-1), Millefeuille(Joel Rosario, 20-1). All starters will carry 121 pounds.