Saratoga race track 2021: Malathaat looks for redemption in Alabama at Saratoga

Malathaat looks for redemption in Alabama at Saratoga

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Todd Pletcher was back to work on Friday. A doctor's clearance enabled him to return to his second summer home on the Saratoga backstretch following a bout with COVID-19.

The 54-year-old Pletcher, who is vaccinated, was diagnosed last week.

He spoke a little bit about his illness — he feels fine — but wanted more to talk about his horses, especially the brilliant 3-year-old filly Malathaat, who is the even-money morning-line favorite for Saturday's Grade I, $600,000 Alabama at Saratoga Race Course.

Malathaat came to Saratoga for the summer with a glistening resume and a boatload of expectations. She took a hit in the Coaching Club American Oaks on July 24 when she unexpectedly got beat in the four-horse field in the biggest upset of the Saratoga meet so far this summer.

Malathaat will look to make amends on Saturday.

Six other rivals are lining up against her in the 1 1/4-mile Alabama. It's the first time any of them have tried this distance.

Pletcher felt for his star filly after she lost by a head to Maracuja as the 1-5 favorite in the CCA Oaks. It was her first loss after five impressive starts, including one in the prestigious Kentucky Oaks, run on the day before the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Maracuja was 14-1, the longest shot in the CCA Oaks, and she'll be in the starting gate in the Alabama.

Is the Alabama the start of the redemption tour for Malathaat? You betcha.

"I think, at this level, you have something to prove every time you go out there," Pletcher, wearing a mask, said Friday morning. "You are only as good as your last race. No matter what your body of work looks like, everyone kind of looks at the last one. Does she need to win? In my opinion, they all need to win."

Malathaat, owned by Shadwell Stable, had won a pair of Grade I races to start the year in the Ashland at Keeneland and then the Kentucky Oaks. Neither race was a runaway as she won the Ashland by a head and the Oaks by a neck. She did what she had to do in both races and moved on.

Now, with the air of invincibility not as certain, Malathaat will have to show her class once more. Pletcher is confident she can do that.

"I think she is a top-level talent, and, hopefully, she gets to prove it," he said.

Malathaat is a daughter of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, and Pletcher and Rick Nichols, the general manager of Shadwell, say she should be able to handle the Alabama distance.

"Even though she got beat last time, she's never had a bad race," Nichols said. "She doesn't know she got beat."

In the CCA Oaks, Malathaat never got a rest as rivals Maracuja and Clairiere — who is also in the Alabama — made her work for every second of the 1 1/8-mile race. And she still almost won it. Maracuja's win came after she finished seventh in the Kentucky Oaks, beaten 7 1/2 lengths by Malathaat.

"She ran hard (in the CCA Oaks) and she fought off everyone in the field at least once," Pletcher said. "From the layoff (from the Kentucky Oaks) and from the one hole (post) and under pressure the whole way, I thought she ran courageously. I'm looking forward to this."

So too is Maracuja's trainer Rob Atras, who is hoping for another upset. Maracuja's morning-line odds for the Alabama are 6-1, the same as Crazy Beautiful, Clairiere and Army Wife.

"You always hope for the best," Atras said. "Our goal was always to target the Coaching Club and the Alabama, so it's nice that things are coming together."