SARATOGA SPRINGS — Wait, the race isn’t until next week.
Malathaat and jockey John Velazquez were working in company with stablemate Zaajel on Saturday morning in preparation for the Coaching Club American Oaks.
The Saratoga Race Course main track is always a beehive of activity for the first set of gallops and breezes following the 8 a.m. renovation break, since the track is in pristine condition and everybody wants to take advantage of that.
So it’s not unusual to encounter some traffic trouble when you’re trying to get your work done. Malathaat and Zaajel did just that, coming around the turn for a half-mile breeze and running up behind two horses from John Terranova’s barn.
Trainer Todd Pletcher served as ground traffic controller, issuing direction to Velazquez’s radio receiver, and Malathaat and Zaajel angled out to the middle of the track to get clear of the Terranova horses and finish the breeze in a snappy 48.05 each, the last serious work before the undefeated Malathaat runs in the CCA Oaks next Saturday.
“I tried to go for a nice easy work, and all of a sudden it was a race,” Velazquez said.
“I didn’t design it that way,” Pletcher said dryly. “Of course you don’t want it to happen, but it did. Sometimes there’s heavy traffic situations, but it didn’t seem to bother her at all. I thought she worked very well.”
Nothing much has bothered Malathaat in assembling a 5-for-5 record that includes tight victories in the Grade I Ashland and Grade I Kentucky Oaks this season to propel her to the top of the 3-year-old filly division.
On Saturday, she worked on the outside of Zaajel, who upset the Grade II Mother Goose as the longest shot on the board last time out, and they moved in tandem to the outside of the Terranova horses at the three-sixteenths pole. Malathaat and Zaajel were each credited with the fifth-fastest time out of 139 four-furlong works on the main track.
“Nothing we could do,” Velazquez said. “We were there, kind of waited a bit, and Todd said, ‘OK, pull it to the outside and let her finish a little bit.’ Then he said, ‘Sit tight,’ because we were going a little quicker than we wanted to.
“I put her behind them for a reason, because now she gets competitive. Can’t ask for anything else than what she did today.”
“I just told him to stay outside of those horses,” Pletcher said. “You don’t know for sure what those horses are going to do, but I didn’t want him to try to go inside them or anything.
“She worked great. It actually engaged her, put her in the bridle and it looked like she was full of run throughout. She’s sharp. She’s ready.”
Besides Malathaat, Clairiere, Maracuja and Rockpaperscissors are expected to run in the CCA Oaks, but Army Wife and Town Avenger possible.
Trainer Kenny McPeek was targeting the race for Crazy Beautiful and Tabor Hall, but his horses are under a precautionary quarantine due to a positive case of Equine Herpesvirus-1 in barn 86 on 5th Avenue.
Maracuja, the Gazelle runner-up to Search Results who was seventh to Malathaat in the Kentucky Oaks, breezed a half-mile in 49.98 in company with the unraced 2-year-old Silipo.
“She’s going into the race good,” trainer Rob Atras said. “I know it’s going to be a tough race. I don’t know if she can mess with that filly [Malathaat], she’s pretty impressive. I’ve watched all of her races, and she’s a fighter, too.
“I’m not saying we can beta her, but if we run a good race, even if she comes in second it would be a big accomplishment for her.”
ESSENTIAL QUALITY WORKS
Trainer Brad Cox stepped up Essential Quality’s preparation for the July 31 Jim Dandy by working his colt in company , breezing five furlongs in 1:01.81 on the main track.
Ridden by regular jockey Luis Saez, Essential Quality worked from the half-mile with 3-year-old New York-bred maiden winner Bingo John.
“It was a solid move,” Cox said. “It looked like he stayed on well. We wanted to let him get a little blow out of this. He had a nice gallop-out.”
Sunday’s feature is the $120,000 Coronation Cup for 3-year-old fillies going 5 1/2 furlongs on the Mellon Turf Course.
Goin’ Good is the 5-2 morning-line favorite off an allowance win on firm turf at Churchill Downs on June 12.
She’s won three times with a second in five starts at the Coronation Cup distance.
“Having a little more than five-eighths helps her a little bit,” trainer Brad Cox said. “She’s not the quickest thing in the world. Sometimes it can take her a couple of jumps to really get in position, but once she gets away from there, she’s capable of putting herself in a nice tactical spot.”
Besides the CCA Oaks, there are two other graded stakes next weekend, the Grade III Lake George for 3-year-old fillies on the turf and the Grade II Shuvee for older fillies and mares on the dirt.
The Lake George field is shaping up to include Alda, Amy C, Demodog, Fluffy Socks, I Get It, Jouster, Minaun, Navratilova, Nevisian Sunrise and Tobys Heart.
Antoinette, Crystal Ball, Dunbar Road, Liberty M D, Point of Honor, Royal Flag and Water White are pointing toward the Shuvee.
Swiss Skydiver had been shooting for the Shuvee, but like the rest of McPeek’s barn, is subject to the EHV-1 quarantine.
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