The flower blanket outside of trainer Rob Atras’ barn the morning of July 25 served as a welcome reminder of what Maracuja accomplished a day prior, when the sophomore filly outdueled 1-5 favorite Malathaat in deep stretch to win the Grade 1, $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga Race Course.
Beach Haven Thoroughbreds’ Maracuja earned a 96 Beyer Speed Figure for her first stakes win, which came when she was the longest shot on the board in the four-horse field at 14-1. It also marked the first career Grade 1 win for Atras, who has been on his own as a trainer since 2009.
Atras said the races earlier on Saturday’s card kept him from thinking too much about the CCA Oaks.
“I was busy the first couple of races; we were looking at a couple of horses to claim, so it kind of kept my mind off it,” Atras said. “I didn’t get too much time to get worked up. But it’s unbelievable; in Saratoga to win a Grade 1, I had so many messages from friends and well-wishers after the race. It felt like everyone was watching.”
Since running second in her debut in December at Aqueduct, Maracuja has finished on the board in four of her five starts in her 3-year-old campaign, including a maiden-breaking win at third asking in February at Aqueduct and a second-place effort going 1 1/8 miles in the Grade 3 Gazelle in April at the Ozone Park-based track.
After taking the step up in class in a seventh-place Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks finish, Maracuja handled the competition that included Kentucky Oaks-winner Malathaat in a race that traditionally attracts the top talent in the division.
“She’s just developed and every race, it seems like she’s moving forward,” Atras said. “Her first couple of races, she was a bit green. After she got her wind, she really just blossomed. She’s come a long way in a short time. I was really proud of her and really impressed how she bore down and got up like that in the end. To run against a filly as accomplished as Malathaat, it was incredible, really.”
Maracuja could make another summer-meet appearance at the Spa in the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama on Aug. 21 in a 1 1/4-mile contest.
“If she continues to come out of the race good then I definitely would like to consider that race,” Atras said. “She ate everything up and cooled out good after the race and she was good this morning. It’s always a concern when they put in a big effort like that, but so far, we look good.”
The red-and-white floral arrangement, which saw a few pedals hit the Saratoga main track on the way to the winner’s circle from jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr.’s jubilant celebration, reinforced to the connections that the CCA Oaks was indeed a milestone for the daughter of Honor Code.
“You come in the barn and you realize it wasn’t a dream,” Atras said with a laugh. “It was pretty cool to see because everyone was celebrating and it’s a team thing. To celebrate with everyone and to see the grooms and hot walkers and exercise riders so happy, it meant a lot.”
The Alabama could serve as a rematch between yesterday’s top two finishers as Shadwell Stable’s Malathaat garnered a career-best 96 Beyer for her game runner-up effort as well and could also be pointed the 10-furlong test next month.
Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher and piloted by fellow Hall of Famer John Velazquez, the regally bred Curlin bay was pressured throughout the nine-furlong journey, first by Maracuja and later by Clairiere, after exiting the inside post in a compact field of four.
Malathaat, out of the Grade 1-winning A.P. Indy mare Dreaming of Julia, maintained a precarious advantage at the stretch call but could not repel the rallying Maracuja, who prevailed by a head.
Pletcher said he concurred with the Daily Racing Form running line comment, which read, in part, “hounded.”
“Hounded is an accurate description,” Pletcher said. “We had a difficult time analyzing the race beforehand and how we thought it might unfold. There wasn’t a lot of speed on paper and we were in the one post with a target on our backs, so our strategy was to let her run away from the gate and try to establish a position into the first turn or if someone was to clear us, hopefully move out into the clear.
“Everyone left there with the same intention and by the time we got to the first quarter we’d gone 23 and 1, which is fine if we could have a little breather along the way,” Pletcher continued. “But as soon as we got on the backside, Irad (Ortiz, Jr. aboard Clairiere) made a move and put pressure on her. She kind of had to fight off the whole field. When you’re a heavy favorite in a race like that with a short field, those things can happen. I’m not disappointed with the filly at all. I thought she ran bravely considering everything that was thrown at her off the layoff. If she comes back well, we’ll point towards the Alabama.”