SARATOGA SPRINGS — It took a year, but Clairiere has caught up to Malathaat in size.
It took 1:39.32, and Malathaat couldn’t catch up to Clairiere in the Grade II Shuvee at Saratoga Race Course on Sunday.
The two 4-year-old fillies, both daughters of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, raced against each other for the sixth time, and for the second time in a row, Clairiere was better, using a move on the rail under Joel Rosario coming off the second turn to win by a length and a half over Malathaat.
For the second day in a row, a much-anticipated duel didn’t happen, and although this one was much closer, Clairiere won with authority on a day when trainer Todd Pletcher said Malathaat didn’t look her usual energetic self in the paddock before the race.
On Saturday, a duel between Nest and Secret Oath failed to materialize when Nest dominated the Coaching Club American Oaks by 12 1-4 lengths.
Trainer Steve Asmussen said Clairiere, who was coming off a win by a head over Malathaat in the Grade I Ogden Phipps, can compete better against her rival this year because she’s a much more physically mature filly.
“It’s really fun to see her physical development,” he said. “We were near Malathaat in the [2021 Kentucky] Oaks, in the paddock, and you could see how much bigger Malathaat was in the Kentucky Oaks. And then next to her today in the paddock here, you can see how much more comparable we are, physically.”
Pletcher added blinkers to Malathaat’s equipment for the first time in 11 career starts to eliminate some distractions for the stretch run, but equipment change or not, he was worried about her demeanor before the 2021 Eclipse Award winner even stepped on the track.
Shuvee Stakes (17 photos)
“I was very concerned leaving the paddock,” he said. “When she came in she was super-quiet. I don’t know if she reacted adversely to the heat. She’s normally a very classy mare, not real animated, but she was dull.
“And she seemed to stay dull in the post parade, and for a horse having first-time blinkers, it was just a very dull performance all the way around. So I don’t know. I’ve never seen her that quiet in the paddock before. I was concerned, leaving the paddock, maybe she wasn’t handling the heat well. Although she wasn’t sweating or anything, she was just showing no energy.”
The Shuvee drew just four horses, and long shot Exotic West kicked things off with a slow pace on the lead that allowed the other three to track her in a tight diamond formation before Crazy Beautiful took over heading into the second turn.
Rosario tried to get Clairiere to the outside for clear running room coming toward the top of the stretch, but was blocked by Malathaat, ridden by John Velazquez, then had to check on the heels of Crazy Beautiful in front of Clairiere.
Fortunately for Rosario, Exotic West had started to back up, which gave him an opening to the inside as they finished the turn.
“I tried to hold the horse in there, she’s the horse to beat,” Velazquez said. “I tried to hold it in … but I didn’t have enough down the lane.”
“I was always looking to see where there was room to go, and it looked like it opened up inside, and I just had to go with that,” Rosario said.
Clairiere and Malathaat passed Crazy Beautiful on either side of her and battled from the eighth pole to the sixteenth, but Malathaat couldn’t keep up.
“We got the trip we wanted,” Pletcher said. “We decided to come out and throw some initiative, but he [Velazquez] had to hustle her even to do that. And then we were hoping maybe Joel would tuck in, so we were in exactly the spot we wanted to be in, but Johnny said she put in one-tenth of her normal effort.”
“What a great race,” Asmussen said. “Moderate fractions, they came home in a very good time. She’s just a very fast mare right now.”
Clairiere closed out her 3-year-old season with a close fourth to 49-1 Marche Lorraine in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, as Malathaat was a head in front of Clairiere, the fourth time Malathaat had finished ahead of her.
Asmussen sent Clairiere to the Stonestreet Training and RehabilitationCenter in Ocala, Florida, for a short break, after which Stonestreet trainer Ian Brennan reported that she had shown improvement in her training.
“And he was spot-on,” Asmussen said. “She came back in breezing more impressively than when she finished her 3-year-old year, and I think her races have shone that.
“Joel said he felt very comfortable. He said she was very willing underneath him and loved how she felt.”
Clairiere finished behind Malathaat in both the CCA Oaks and Alabama last year (Malathaat won the Alabama and was second in the CCA Oaks), but has the upper hand so far this season.
So she’ll continue to be pointed toward the Grade I Personal Ensign on Travers Day Aug. 27.
“The Personal Ensign was the reason to be here, and she ran two solid races last year at Saratoga, and we expect better this year,” Asmussen said.