CCA Oaks winner Maracuja ready for Saturday’s Alabama

Trainer Rob Atras, left, greets Maracuja and jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. after they won the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga on July 24.
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Trainer Rob Atras, left, greets Maracuja and jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. after they won the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga on July 24.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Brittney Atras made a name for the energetic gray filly.

Then the filly made a name for herself.

Everyone knew who Malathaat was coming into the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks on July 24 at Saratoga Race Course, an undefeated two-time Grade I winner trained by recent National Racing Hall of Fame inductee Todd Pletcher. Far off that radar, Maracuja came into the CCA Oaks having finished 7 1/2 lengths behind Malathaat in seventh place in the Kentucky Oaks.

Then Maracuja shocked the CCA Oaks as the longest shot on the board, edging Malathaat in the final two strides to hand Rob Atras his first Grade I victory as a head trainer.

Named by Atras’ wife and assistant, Brittney, Maracuja won’t be under the radar in her next start, the Grade I Alabama for 3-year-old fillies on Saturday, when she’ll get a rematch with Malathaat.

“Once it sunk in, you realize, watching everybody, the whole team was celebrating together, and it was nice to see everyone kind of come together, and it was very positive for the barn,” Rob Atras said.

“It was so freakin’ cool. So cool,” Brittney said. “I still get goosebumps when I think about it. It was awesome. I’m pretty sure I broke the replay button. You still have your heart in your throat. We were like, ‘Hopefully we can be third here.’ We liked her going into that race and going into the Kentucky Oaks, she’s a nice filly. But we were running against nice fillies, too.

“Hopefully we get a good trip, hopefully we can break sharply like we did last time. I don’t feel like the pressure is on, just because we know we have a really nice horse, and we’ll see how it goes.”

The field for the Alabama, in post-position order with jockeys, will be: 1. Crazy Beautiful (Jose Ortiz); 2. Will’s Secret (Jon Court); 3. Clairiere (Irad Ortiz Jr.); 4. Maracuja (Ricardo Santana Jr.); 5. Played Hard (Luis Saez); 6. Malathaat (John Velazquez); 7. Army Wife (Tyler Gaffalione).

Maracuja is owned by John Sakkos and Ara Aprahamian of Beach Haven Thoroughbreds, a relatively new — and small — ownership group that has had some early success with horses like Uncle Benny, second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in 2018; three-time stakes winner Sassy Agnes; and Newly Minted, who won the Union Avenue at Saratoga last year.

Beach Haven bought a gray daughter of 2015 Whitney winner Honor Code out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Patti’s Regal Song for $200,000 at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Yearlings sale.

They left it to Brittney Atras to come up with a name.

“The owners were nice enough to let me name her,” she said. “They sent me a picture, they said they ran out of ideas. I was in Madeira last March with my mom, and we were doing some wine tours with a gal called Sofia, and she was explaining how everything is passion fruit-flavored there, basically.

“But the reason why the passion fruit was named maracuja is because it’s the zest for life. That’s the baseline of the name of the fruit, and I was like, the zest for life, that totally suits her. She’s very lively.”

It took awhile for Rob Atras to get a chance to demonstrate that on the track, though.

A variety of minor physical issues kept Maracuja from debuting until December at Aqueduct, and she needed three starts to break her maiden, which she did in February, just in time to start thinking about getting her into stakes company and perhaps on the trail to the Kentucky Oaks.

“She was just big and kind of gangly, a little bit soft,” he said. “We had to stop on her a few times, just minor baby issues. It seems like it paid off. They were very patient with her, so that was good, and they kind of let her develop and get bigger and stronger.”

Maracuja was second to Search Results in the Grade III Gazelle as the Aqueduct meet wound down in April, then didn’t quite get in the game when seventh in the Kentucky Oaks behind a duel between Malathaat and Search Results.

“It just wasn’t her day,” Rob Atras said. “She trained really good going into the race, and I thought maybe if she ran well that we could hit the board or better, but things just didn’t work out for us that day. She broke a little bit flat, got shuffled back and she kind of ran a decent race after that, actually. It just didn’t really set up for us that day.”

The CCA Oaks was a different story.

Maracuja and jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. pressured Malathaat on the first turn, then got a breather down the backstretch, as Clairiere took a turn putting the heat on Malathaat.

Maracuja got rolling again in the homestretch, as Clairiere fell off, and didn’t get a nostril in front of Malathaat until the penultimate stride before the wire.

“I’ve watched it a few times, but it probably didn’t sink in until a couple days later,” Rob Atras said. “It was thrilling. You went from having a little bit of confidence when she broke good, that she was going to run a good race. Then on the backside, you’re pulling back a little bit and you’re not sure what’s going on at first, right? Then making that run into the turn, so the race was kind of a rollercoaster.

“There was a lot of emotions.”

GOT STORMY’S NEXT START

Two-time Fourstardave winner Got Stormy will challenge males again in her next start, the six-furlong $1 million Turf Sprint at Kentucky Downs on Sept. 11.

She won the 6 1/2-furlong $600,000 Ladies Sprint on this card last year, but trainer Mark Casse is opting for the bigger purse in what will be Got Stormy’s bridge race from the Fourstardave to the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

“Obviously, she’s not afraid of colts,” Casse told the Kentucky Downs media office on Tuesday. “I really don’t think it matters if she runs six or 6 1/2 furlongs. We’ve never backed down from a challenge.

Got Stormy is the only female to win the Fourstardave; no filly or mare has won Kentucky Downs’ Turf Sprint, first run in 1998.

“Doing things that others haven’t done, I think we’re wanting to prove that she is one of the elite turf mares of this century,” Casse said. “Maybe with her Fourstardave, another [win against males] might get her into the Hall of Fame.”

NEW YORK-BRED SALES

The sale topper at the Fasig-Tipton New York Bred Yearlings sale, held Monday and Tuesday, was an Uncle Mo filly that was purchased by Dream Maker Racing for $495,000.

Sackatoga Stable bought another colt by Constitution, for $190,000, on the heels of Tiz the Law’s success in 2020, when he won the Belmont Stakes and Travers.

The average price for a yearling at the sale was $91,461, the second highest in the last 10 F-T New York Bred August sales in Saratoga (the sales were canceled last year because of the pandemic).

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