Of the 2,850 horses that sold inside the Keeneland pavilion at the 2019 September yearling auction, 22 hit the seven-figure threshold including seven that brought a final bid of $2 million or more. It was a typical exercise where the bellwether sale is concerned, one that featured no shortage of regally-bred youngsters whose quality was obvious both on the catalog page and when presented for physical inspection.
One of the sharpest set of eyes walking the grounds that week belonged to Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum, deputy ruler of Dubai and owner of the Shadwell Stud. While there were ample candidates for his short list, he and his team found themselves particularly taken by a bay daughter of Curlin out of multiple Grade 1 winner Dreaming of Julia – so much so that they went to $1,050,000 to take her home, the co-highest priced Shadwell paid for the 18 yearlings they secured during the sale.
“Sheikh Hamdan loved her as a yearling and he knew she was going to be special,” Rick Nichols, vice president and general manager of Shadwell Stud, recalled about the filly now known to the racing community as undefeated, multiple Grade 1 winner Malathaat. “The ones he really liked, he would fold his (catalog) page over but he would always lick his thumb before he did it. We would always kid around as we were looking at yearlings and picking out the ones we wanted to show to the boss, one would come out and we’d say ‘Yeah, this is going to a thumb licker’.”
The list of high-dollar horses who never make an impact on the track is far greater than the ones who do, which only adds to the significance of what Malathaat has already achieved. In addition to providing an emotional salve for her team when Sheikh Hamdan passed away on March 24, she has validated every gut instinct that was triggered when she first crossed her late owner’s path.
Every moment of Malathaat’s young career has been draped in quality and no rival yet has found a way to inflict her with a blemish. The latest test – and possible showcase – of the filly’s superiority over her division comes on July 24 in the $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) at Saratoga Race Course where she will face just three challengers going 1 1/8-miles.
Early indicators of talent aren’t always telltale signs that a horse has what it takes to succeed at the sport’s top level. In the case of Malathaat, however, the fact she did everything with ease from the first time she had a saddle on her proved dead-on accurate foreshadowing.
Since breaking her maiden at Belmont Park last Oct. 9, the Todd Pletcher-trainee has continued to take steps forward even as she waded into increasingly deep waters. She closed out her juvenile campaign with a three-quarter length triumph in the Demoiselle Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct last December and in her seasonal bow this April, she flaunted the ferocious will housed under her sweet demeanor when she fought by Pass the Champagne to take the Ashland Stakes (G1) at Keeneland.
The mettle Malathaat showed that day was further amplified when she stepped into the starting gate for the nation’s premier race for 3-year-old fillies, the Kentucky Oaks (G1) on April 30. After launching a three-wide bid down the lane, she proceeded to knock heads with future Grade 1 winner Search Results before prevailing by a neck.
“She’s always been full of class and so elegant and when they were breaking her, she just did everything perfectly,” Nichols said. “When she started galloping on the main track, she had such a beautiful, effortless stride and you could just tell she was going to be something pretty special.”
“She’s a very gifted filly,” Pletcher added. “She’s just been perfect so far and she’s a pleasure to train, and just does everything right. When you have one that’s undefeated you just want to keep that intact and hope that everything goes smoothly and that she’s able to show her capabilities once more.”
In the immediate aftermath of the Oaks, Nichols was bullish on the idea of giving Malathaat a possible chance to take on males in the Belmont Stakes (G1). When her refined frame got lighter after that effort at Churchill Downs, he and Pletcher opted to give her time to put on more mass and refill the tank for the second half of the season.
“She just hadn’t matured enough to really put on some extra weight and she was a little bit light at Keeneland and just a hair lighter for the Oaks,” Nichols said. “We just wanted to give her that time to let her beef up a little bit and relax. The boys are yet to come.”
Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who has guided Malathaat to three of her five wins, retains the mount from post 1. A five-time winner of the CCA Oaks, Velazquez seeks to become the standalone winningest jockey in the race’s history.
Bred by Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings, Malathaat has a bankroll of $1,125,150 from her five victories – and her connections are already entertaining what she could do as an older filly.
“(Sheikh Hamdan’s daughter) Sheikha Hissa (Hamdan al Maktoum) mentioned when we were trying to plan out her schedule after the Oaks….possibly about leaving her in training as a 4-year-old,” Nichols said. “We’ll have to see if we want to take on the boys in the Breeders’ Cup or wait until next year to take them on.”
Among Malathaat’s few rivals Saturday is a another regally-bred product of the Stonestreet operation. The Steve Asmussen-trained Clairiere also boasts bloodlines that are cerulean in nature, as she too is a daughter of Curlin and is out of multiple Grade 1 winner Cavorting. The bay filly won the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2) at the Fair Grounds in February and went on to finish fourth in the Kentucky Oaks.
Clairiere comes into the Coaching Club American Oaks off a third-place finish in the June 26 Mother Goose Stakes (G2) where she stumbled at the break.
Maracuja, seventh in the Kentucky Oaks, and Rockpaperscissors, who is making her stakes debut, round out the field for Saturday.