Saratoga Race Course

Another big rematch looms on Sunday in the Shuvee

Malathaat schools in the Saratoga Race Course paddock on Thursday morning.

Malathaat schools in the Saratoga Race Course paddock on Thursday morning.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Round 2 of the filly/mare rematch weekend at Saratoga Race Course takes place on Sunday, when Clairiere and Malathaat will hook up in the Grade II Shuvee, a steppingstone to the Grade I Personal Ensign on Travers Day.

The two 4-year-old daughters of Curlin have raced against each other five times – which represents half of Malathaat’s career starts – and Clairiere has finished ahead of Malathaat just once.

But it was the most recent one.

They dueled down the stretch in the Grade I Ogden Phipps on Belmont Stakes Day, after Search Results and Letruska had blasted away from the field early before being overtaken by the top two.

Round 1 of rematch weekend takes place on Saturday, as the Shuvee follows on the heels of the Coaching Club American Oaks and its highly anticipated matchup between the top two 3-year-old fillies in the country, Secret Oath and Nest.

In an echo to the 2021 CCA Oaks, the Shuvee has drawn just four horses.

In a new development, Malathaat, trained by Todd Pletcher, will wear blinkers for the first time in her career, after losing in a head bob to Clairiere (Steve Asmussen) in the Ogden Phipps.

“That was a weird-run race,” Pletcher said Thursday morning. “They [Search Results and Letruska] opened a large margin on those two, her and Clairiere, and hooked up down the lane. I think getting back around two turns, she probably appreciates that a little more. Then I’m thinking the blinkers will give her that added focus.”

“It was a huge win for her to finally come out on the right end of Malathaat, a mare that I have the greatest respect for and last year’s deserving 3-year-old champion filly,” Asmussen told the New York Racing Association. “We always believed that Clairiere could get it done, and last time out she did and that meant a lot to all of us.”

Races like the Ogden Phipps at a mile and an eighth on the dirt at Belmont, where the main track is a mile and a half, only travel around one turn after coming out of the nine-furlong chute. At Saratoga, the nine-furlong races complete a full lap of the main track.

The careers of Malathaat and Clairiere have been intertwined since last year’s Kentucky Oaks (Secret Oath and Nest finished 1-2, respectively, in this year’s edition).

Malathaat won the 2021 Kentucky Oaks, and Clairiere was fourth, but only three lengths back.

They both followed that up by racing in Saratoga’s Grade I route stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the dirt, the CCA Oaks and Alabama, with long shot Maracuja upsetting both in a four-horse field for the CCA Oaks.

Malathaat rebounded from her first career loss to win the Alabama with authority, a length and a half ahead of Clairiere in second. They both made strong late bids in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, finishing less than a length from the winner, but couldn’t get past 49-1 Marche Lorraine. Malathaat went on to win the Eclipse Award as top-3year-old filly, and Clairiere was also one of the three finalists.

“I take the blame for that,” Pletcher said off the CCA Oaks loss. “We drew the one-hole in a four-horse field, and it didn’t look like there was any speed on paper, and we decided to go ahead and try to put her on the lead.

“Clairiere made this premature move, and the eventual winner [Maracuja] backed out. It was one of those bizarre races that, if we had done it over again, we would’ve let her break and just find her rhythm and not worry about a paceless race scenario. She had time to re-engage, it was just the wrong tactics that day.”

The disappointment was so acute in the Malathaat camp that winning the Alabama took on even more urgency.

Malathaat won in convincing fashion despite stumbling at the start.

“Very much,” Pletcher said, when asked how badly he wanted to win that Alabama. “That was such a disappointing loss, and we wanted to make amends for it. We always felt like the Alabama, the mile and a quarter, was the ideal race for her.”

He had been considering blinkers for Malathaat early in her 3-year-old campaign, but didn’t want to make a sudden equipment change in the midst of what was developing into a highly successful season.

Pletcher decided the time was right after the loss to Clairiere in the Ogden Phipps, and experimented with the blinkers during a few breezes leading into the Shuvee.

“She’s always been a very curious filly,” he said. “She’s always looked around a little bit. She’s always had a tendency to idle when she makes the lead.

“When she came back in the Doubledogdare [at Keeneland] this year, as soon as she made the lead, she kind of pulled herself up. It wasn’t quite as visible in the Ogden Phipps, but [jockey] Johnny [Velazquez] said at a critical moment late in the race she saw something and sort of tapped on the brakes a little bit.

“And we got the desired effect [in the breezes]. We got more focus, but not headstrong. She’s worked with them a couple times, and we’ve liked what we’ve seen.”

Likewise, Asmussen has been pleased with Clairiere, who breezed four furlongs in 48.96 on the Oklahoma Training Track last Sunday.

“She loved it up here last summer, and we were anxious to get her back up here again,” he said. “She’s settled in beautifully and she’s just all class. She’s enjoying the cool mornings and has trained very impressively since she’s been here. We expect a huge run from her on Sunday.”

Malathaat is the 4-5 favorite on the morning line, and Clairiere is even money.

Besides the Ogden Phipps, Clairiere’s other Grade I victory came in the Cotillion at Parx last year.

She has banked just shy of $1.8 million in career purses and has finished out of the money just twice in 11 graded stakes, her fourth to Malathaat by three lengths in last year’s Kentucky Oaks and her fourth by three-quarters of a length to Marche Lorraine in the BC Distaff.

“That’s what I love about horse racing. The last race is an indication of what you’re capable of, but it will not give you a head start on the next one. You have to do it again,” Asmussen said. “Malathaat beat her twice here last year and I expect to have two more runs against her here this year, with the ultimate goal being the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. We’re at a very good level right now, but we’ll keep our eye on the prize, and that’s year-end honors.”

Two of the five who ran in the Ogden Phipps have opted to run in the Grade III Molly Pitcher on Haskell Day at Monmouth on Saturday instead of the Shuvee.

Search Results is the 3-2 favorite, and Bonny South, who was second to Malathaat in the Doubledogdare on April 22, is 3-1 in the seven-horse Molly Pitcher field.

Categories: At The Track, Sports

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