July 18, 2024

Malathaat adds blinkers for Clairiere rematch in Shuvee

Clairiere edges Malathaat in the Ogden Phipps Stakes (Photo by Joe Labozzetta/Coglianese Photos)

Clairiere finally found a way to beat champion Malathaat in their fifth meeting, the June 11 Ogden Phipps (G1). The two Curlin bluebloods square off again in Sunday’s $200,000 Shuvee (G2) at Saratoga, where Malathaat bids to re-assert her superiority.

The added distance of the 1 1/8-mile Shuvee is right in Malathaat’s wheelhouse, compared to the 1 1/16-mile Phipps that arguably played more to Clairiere’s strengths. Their first four match-ups all came over longer than that, as Clairiere was fourth to Malathaat in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), second-best in the Alabama (G1), third when Malathaat was edged in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), and fourth when Malathaat was third in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1). Note that Clairiere has scored all of her wins at the Phipps trip, a resume highlighted by last season’s Cotillion (G1) and Rachel Alexandra (G2).

The new variable in the Shuvee is an equipment change. Malathaat adds first-time blinkers with a view toward helping her concentration. The Shadwell Stable runner appeared a bit disorganized in her comeback score in the Doubledogdare (G3) at Keeneland, and might have been idling late in the Phipps.

“We’ve thought about putting blinkers on her for a long time,” trainer Todd Pletcher said, “and it was hard to do last year because she was in the midst of such a good season. We’ve felt like in both starts this year she kind of lost focus at a certain stage of the race, so we decided to breeze her in blinkers and felt we got the desired effect that we were looking for.”

At the same time, Clairiere has given signs of improving with maturity, and the Steve Asmussen filly could simply be a different proposition at four. The homebred for Stonestreet, which also bred Malathaat (and sold her for $1.05 million as a yearling), was a terrific second in the Apple Blossom (G1) en route to the Phipps.

“That’s what I love about horse racing,” Asmussen said. “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.

“Malathaat beat her twice here last year (in the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama), 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.”

The cat-and-mouse game should commence early, with the familiar foes drawn right next to each other. Clairiere is just to the outside in post 4 with Joel Rosario, and Malathaat will break from post 3 with John Velazquez.

It will be fascinating to see if the Shuvee develops similarly to last summer’s Coaching Club American Oaks at the same track and trip. Malathaat took the initiative to set the pace, Clairiere pressed her early, and the ultimate beneficiary was the 14-1 Maracuja. But Rosario didn’t ride Clairiere that day.

The only two daring to oppose them on Sunday hope to play the Maracuja role. Exotic West landed on the rail, and Crazy Beautiful in post 2.

In a typical renewal of the Shuvee, Crazy Beautiful might have been the one to beat, as a multiple Grade 2-winning millionaire herself. But she’s got something to find here, having been unplaced behind the principals. The Ken McPeek pupil has alternated better efforts with forgettable ones this term, and her last-out second to Army Wife in the Lady Jacqueline S. at Thistledown was respectable. She also posted a sharp half-mile last Saturday in :48.66 over the Oklahoma training track.

“Crazy Beautiful has been an overachiever – she’s accomplished a lot,” McPeek said. “She’s doing exceptionally well here and she’s going to need to find another level to beat Malathaat and Clairiere. Even if she is third or better, I think it’s going to be worth the try.

“It was probably as nice of a work as she’s ever put in last weekend, so I see her running really well and she’s going to give it her all. Is she up to the level of the fillies that are running? She’s going to have to prove something.”

Exotic West, the Top Flight S. winner, was last seen placing a distant second to Super Quick in the Allaire DuPont (G3).

“That horse that beat her at Pimlico opened up like a freak,” trainer Gary Sciacca said. “She ran her race though and she’s doing well. We kicked her out a little bit and she looks fantastic. This is a stepping stone for the Personal Ensign (G1) on Travers Day. It’s tough, but it’s a small field.

“(Owner) Louis (Lazzinnaro) said let’s take a shot. She’s been great to us and she likes running fresh. If it comes up muddy, she loves the mud.”