February 27, 2024

Nest launches comeback versus red-hot Clairiere in Shuvee

Clairiere made it two straight over Malathaat in the 2022 Shuvee (Photo by Chelsea Durand/Coglianese Photos)

Sunday’s $200,000 Shuvee (G2) at Saratoga shapes up as a virtual match race between two superstar daughters of Curlin. Reigning titleholder Clairiere enters off back-to-back Grade 1 tallies, giving her a recency advantage over Nest, last year’s champion three-year-old filly who makes her belated 2023 debut.

Since only two others dared to enter, the 1 1/8-mile Shuvee is set for relatively early on the card, with no show wagering.

Shuvee (G2) – Race 4 (2:52 p.m. ET)

Nest delivered show-stopping performances in both of her Spa appearances last summer, crushing the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) by 12 1/4 lengths and adding the Alabama (G1). Those victories avenged her second to Secret Oath in the Kentucky Oaks (G1). Combined with a runner-up effort versus males in the Belmont (G1), and a romp over elders in the Beldame (G2), Nest clinched the divisional Eclipse Award.

But the Todd Pletcher pupil has not raced since finishing fourth as the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), where Clairiere missed by all of a head in third. Nest has to erase about a three-length deficit with the older Clairiere while reappearing a bit later than expected.

A lung infection cost Nest training time that pushed her timetable further into the summer, but she’s training forwardly. She polished off her preparations with a half-mile move in :50 over Saratoga’s Oklahoma training track, earning extra marks for her gallop-out.

“It was a good work and a nice, strong gallop-out,” Pletcher said. “I feel like we’ve got a good foundation into her, but there’s no substitute for having some races under your belt.

“Obviously, we’re giving up some recency to some really nice fillies, but it’s kind of the hand we were dealt when she got sick when she first shipped in. We got behind schedule, and hopefully we can run well here.”

Nest, drawn in post 2, will reunite with Irad Ortiz Jr.

“I think the main thing,” Pletcher added, “is she’s filled out a bit and maybe is carrying a little more condition than last year. You just want them to stay there (in that good form).”

Defending champion Clairiere arrives in superb form. The $3.1 million-earner is arguably ahead of where she was at this time a year ago. Rallying to nail Secret Oath in the Apple Blossom H. (G1) (that had eluded her in 2022), Clairiere just scored a repeat in the Ogden Phipps (G1), despite an unhelpful race shape at Belmont Park. Stretching back out to two turns at Saratoga puts the Steve Asmussen mare back in her wheelhouse.

“She’s as good as it gets,” Asmussen said of Clairiere, who toppled champion Malathaat in last year’s Ogden Phipps and in the Shuvee.

“We’ve got two Grade 1s in a row in extremely dramatic fashion and, if anything, it seems it’s going to be the same way this time – very few participants with a soft pace, but she still can do it.”

Now a four-time Grade 1 winner, Clairiere will break from the outside of the quartet with Joel Rosario. The daughter of three-time Grade 1 vixen and $2 million-earner Cavorting will tote the top weight of 124 pounds, two more than Nest and six more than the others.

“I think she’s who she’s supposed to be for a Curlin out of Cavorting,” Asmussen said. “I thought it was extremely significant that she went by her mother in earnings, and what an elite level that is, and for Stonestreet and their breeding program to have her. The only thing better than Cavorting is her daughter, and that’s very special.”

Played Hard was expected to make it a trio of Grade 1 heroines in the Shuvee, only to come down with a fever. Her connections, Rigney Racing and trainer Phil Bauer, have pitched in Skratch Kat in her stead, in hopes of snaring a Grade 2 placing.

Skratch Kat wheels back one week after finishing second in an off-the-turf allowance at the Spa. Last term, she was fourth behind Nest in the Alabama and third in the Seneca Overnight S. at Churchill Downs. Tyler Gaffalione will guide the Arrogate filly from the rail.

“It’s an opportunity to get some graded black type,” Bauer said. “We’re swinging to try and hit a home run with our eyes closed, but stranger things have happened. I don’t think we can beat the two big ones in there, but it’s horse racing and anything can happen.”

Similar logic applies to Parx shipper Pistol Liz Ablazen. The Butch Reid trainee was third in the Nellie Morse S. at Laurel in her latest stakes attempt back in February, and most recently dominated a second-level allowance at her home track. Kendrick Carmouche picks up the mount on the possible pacesetter.