SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga Race Course brings its ‘A’ game — as in Alabama — to the 3-year-old filly division on Saturday.
Trainer Todd Pletcher is expecting Malathaat to do the same.
His star filly is coming off her first career loss, but is nevertheless the even-money favorite on the morning line for the 141st running of the Grade I Alabama at a mile and a quarter on the main track.
And rightfully so, not only based on her overall resume, but on the fact that her loss in the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks on July 24 was very nearly a victory despite the fact that she was “hounded” by the competition all the way around the track, as the official Equibase chart characterized her trip.
Malathaat gets a rematch against Maracuja, who won the CCA Oaks by a head and comes right back in the Alabama; Malathaat remains the one to beat.
“At this level, I think you have something to prove every time you go out there,” Pletcher said. “You’re as good as your last race. No matter what your body of work looks like, everyone looks at the last one.
“Does she need to win? In my opinion, they all need to win. She’s a top-level talent, so hopefully tomorrow she gets to prove it.”
“The way Malathaat had to run last time compromised her, I thought,” said Maracuja’s trainer, Rob Atras. “It won’t be an easy task to run against her again. Ultimately, I’ll leave it up to [jockey] Ricardo [Santana Jr.]. Hopefully, she will get the same kind of break and see how the race sets up. You never know how tricky it can be with a short field and not much pace.”
The Alabama field won’t be as short as the CCA Oaks field.
Malathaat will break from post No. 6 in the seven-horse Alabama, and Maracuja, the 7-2 second choice after winning the CCA Oaks with the longest odds on the toteboard at almost 15-1, has the No. 4 post.
There were just four horses in the CCA Oaks, and it was primarily Maracuja and Clairiere who took turns putting pressure on Malathaat over the course of the nine furlongs, until Maracuja finally got ahead just two steps from the wire.
“I’m hoping that we get on the outside and stay clear,” Shadwell Stables general manager Rick Nichols told the New York Racing Association. “Those other two fillies just kept tag-teaming her, and she never had a chance to take a breath. I think the additional distance will be a benefit to her as well. Her pedigree certainly points towards that direction.”
“She ran hard,” Pletcher said. “She fought off everybody in the field at least once. It was a bit of a layoff, and from the 1 hole and under pressure the whole way, I thought she ran courageously. We get a better post position this time, and I always thought a mile and a quarter would suit her. And I was happy with the way she galloped this morning, and we’re looking forward to a mile and a quarter.
“It should be an honest set-up, and we can let her run her race. From the 6 post, we should be able to let her find her comfort zone.”
The mile and a quarter distance will be new ground for all of the Alabama fillies.
They all have at least a little bit of experience at a mile and an eighth.
Pletcher believes Malathaat will relish the extra furlong, and in fact he and Shadwell had seriously considered running Malathaat against males in the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes before pulling back and giving her a little bit of a breather on the schedule.
She came into the CCA Oaks not having run since a victory in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks on April 30.
“Her pedigree suggests that she would [like a mile and a quarter],” Pletcher said. “She’s a Curlin out of an A.P. Indy mare, so she’s pretty stoutly bred that way. And she’s always been a big galloper, always galloped out strongly and was able to win the Demoiselle at a mile and an eighth as a 2-year-old. All those things indicate to me that she should handle it.
“We gave her the time, and I think it paid off in terms of putting some condition back on her. She looks good, and hopefully she runs her ‘A’ race tomorrow and we move forward from there.”
Atras is also confident that his filly will handle the Alabama distance.
Maracuja was seventh in the Kentucky Oaks while ridden by Kendrick Carmouche, who subsequently broke his ankle on Belmont Stakes Day, opening the door for Santana to ride in the CCA Oaks. Carmouche was on Maracuja when she broke her maiden at Aqueduct in February, after which she was second to Search Results in the Gazelle.
“When Kendrick got off her the first time she won, he said that he couldn’t wait for us to stretch her out in distance. He knew right away,” Atras said. “You always hope for the best, but our goal was always to target the Coaching Club and the Alabama, so it’s nice that things are coming together.
“It looks like there’s going to be a couple new shooters in there that could be tough. So I just try not to worry about anything else but making sure she’s right and that she runs her race. That’s all we can really do.”
The Alabama card also includes the Grade II Lake Placid for 3-year-old fillies going a mile and a sixteenth on the turf.
Trainer Chad Brown will saddle the 6-5 favorite, Technical Analysis, off a victory in the Grade III Lake George.
“We’re going in there getting her back to a mile and a sixteenth,” Brown said. “She seems to be doing well. We’ve always thought a lot of her.”
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