The level of affection Malathaat inspires is obvious.
Mention her name to her supposedly stoic seven-time Eclipse Award winning trainer and his tone takes on that of proud parent describing their offspring’s latest achievement. Stunning in looks and docile in demeanor, the daughter of Curlin spends much of her time on the receiving end of expressions of appreciation for how special she is and the joy she never fails to provide.
Whether holding court in her stall or flaunting her strides on the track, the bay filly has a knack for eliciting outward displays of emotion from those who normally keep such things close to the vest. She did it again on Friday, this time using her division’s most prestigious race to provide both a touchstone moment for herself and tribute to the man who knew what she was capable of the minute he laid eyes on her.
The 147th edition of the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) was one Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum would have loved. The late owner of Shadwell Farm took particular delight in not just watching his charges prevail, but seeing them do so in manner that showcased the grit housed in their regal frames. After getting a less than ideal start, then facing a rival with her own hefty dose of mettle in the stretch, Malathaat delivered a masterclass in determination when she turned back Search Results in the lane to win the premier race for 3-year-old fillies by a neck at Churchill Downs on April 30.
Ebullient celebrations may be the norm when career-defining accolades are on the line, but what spilled forth from the Malathaat crew came from a place of both heartache and elation. On March 24, Sheikh Hamdan passed away at the age of 75, leaving behind an operation synonymous with global success. At the conclusion of the family’s 10-day period of mourning, Malathaat made the first start of her sophomore season when she threw down with Pass the Champagne in the Keeneland stretch en route to capturing the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (G1) on April 3.
That triumph ensured the filly would head to the Kentucky Oaks with some pretty weighty expectations in tow, but delivering on aspirations are kind of Malathaat’s thing. Since prompting Sheikh Hamdan to spend $1.05 million to secure her at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling sale, the filly out of Grade 1 winner Dreaming of Julia has been flawless in her five career starts including her victory as a juvenile in the Demoiselle Stakes (G2).
“It’s just fantastic for our whole operation, such a big lift,” said an emotional Rick Nichols, vice president and general manager of Shadwell Farm. “Losing the boss the way we did and him coming off a great year last year…. having Malathaat step up and give him an Oaks win, is more than we could ask for.”
“It’s been a long four weeks and I know in my heart (Sheikh Hamdan) saw her win. He loved racing too much to miss this one.”
Ironically, the day Shadwell prevailed in the bidding for Malathaat, her trainer Todd Pletcher resigned himself to the fact he had just been on the receiving end of a missed opportunity.
Like many who cross her path, Pletcher was taken by the daughter of his former trainee Dreaming of Julia – who finished fourth as the favorite in the 2013 Kentucky Oaks – but couldn’t get his clients to extend themselves deep enough to take her home. He told his old friend and longtime Shadwell conditioner, Kiaran McLaughlin, that he was about to get a heck of prospect added to his barn but, when McLaughlin retired from training in the first half of 2020, Malathaat ended up heading Pletcher’s way afterall.
“I loved the filly at the sale. I was having trouble ‑‑ it’s a lot easier to get someone on a colt than a filly sometimes, even with one that has as great a pedigree as she does,” Pletcher recalled. “And I kept trying different owners: This filly is going to be expensive, but I really would like to try and buy her. Ultimately, we put together a partnership that wasn’t quite able to get there.
“When I met with Rick and his team at Shadwell before we started training, I saw the filly was on the roster. I was really hoping she would come our way.”
Since debuting at Belmont Park last October, Malathaat has lived up to every bit of her billing, winning both on the lead – as she did during her 7 ¾-length triumph in the Tempted Stakes – and by coming from off the early running. After getting bumped at the start out of post 9 and losing position going by the stands for the first time in the Oaks, however, the filly had her Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez concerned that family history was about to repeat itself.
“I was having nightmares when that happened out of the gate today. I had the same thoughts of what happened in the Oaks with her mom,” said Velazquez, who rode Dreaming of Julia in the Oaks when she got wiped out at the start. “And I couldn’t get the position that I wanted. And, obviously, the outcome was not the same. Today we got the position we wanted and she responded to things that we wanted to do.
“I didn’t want to do what I needed to do, but she actually took it really well. When I saw the two horses that ‑ the two horses to beat in front of me, I had to make a decision. And I had to get as close as I can to the horses in front where she didn’t have to make too much ground. She allowed me to do it.”
As Travel Column and Moraz led the field of 13 through opening fractions of :23.60 and :47.47 and 1:11.21, Search Results with Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard tracked in third with Malathaat, the 5-2 betting favorite, a bit further back in fifth.
Nearing the final turn, Travel Column disposed of Moraz but was soon joined by Search Results to her outside and Malathaat three-wide. By the three-sixteenths pole, the battle was down to Search Results with her perfect 3-for-3 mark on the line against Malathaat. When Malathaat struck the front, however, her old tendency to idle nearly came back to bite her as Search Results fought on before falling just short at the wire.
“One of the things we talked about before the race is this filly loves a target,” Pletcher said. “She’ll identify that target and go get it. Once she gets there, then to her the game is complete. But…when she got there, there was still another eighth of a mile or so to go. As long as that filly kept engaging her, she was going to find a little more. But I think…there was more in the tank. She was just sort of waiting on her competition.”
Bred by Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings, Malathaat covered the distance in 1:48.99 over a track rated fast giving Shadwell its first Oaks triumph, Pletcher his fourth, and Velazquez his second. Search Results, winner of the Gazelle Stakes (G3) on April 3, was 2 ¾ lengths clear of third-place finisher Will’s Secret.
“I’m so proud of the filly and the way she ran,” said Chad Brown, trainer of Search Results. “She put it all out there on the track for us and you can’t ask for anything more than that. She ran her eyeballs out, she really did. She battled all the way to the end and we got beat by a really good filly. She delivered and hopefully we’ll get one of these one day.”
Sent off as the favorite in the field of 13, Malathaat returned $7, $4.60 and $3.40. Search Results returned $6.80 and $5.60 with Will’s Secret finishing another 2 ¾ lengths back in third and returning $9.60 to show under Jon Court.
Completing the field in order were Clairiere, who was a nose back in fourth, Travel Column, Millefeuille, Maracuja, Pauline’s Pearl, Coach, Crazy Beautiful, Moraz, Pass the Champagne and Competitive Speed.
Nichols stated that, if he had his way and if she had the qualifying points, Malathaat might have bypassed the lilies to try her hand against males in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (G1).
“I realize that you set up the Derby to find out who’s the best colt for breeding purposes,” Nichols said. “But at the same time, if you got a really nice filly, it’s kind of nice to rub their faces in it, if you can. And I think she probably could have.”
As Nichols spoke in the post-race press conference, Pletcher would glance up at the race replay playing on a loop and break into a grin with each viewing. There is no hiding the regard Malathaat is held in, only wonderment at the heights she is able to elevate all around her to.
“She is just such a professional. Not only is she a tremendously talented filly, but she’s also a very kind filly around the barn,” Pletcher said. “You just can’t help but love her personality. You can literally do anything with her. So to have that type of personality around the barn and be as special as she is on the racetrack, it’s just rare that you find too many like this.”