Malathaat overcame both a long layoff and an early bid from rival Pass the Champagne to win the $400,000 Ashland S. (G1) at Keeneland on Saturday, stamping her ticket to the April 30 Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs for owner Shadwell Stable and trainer Todd Pletcher.
Unraced since winning the Demoiselle (G2) on Dec. 5, Malathaat nonetheless proved sufficiently fit to wear down in the final strides Pass the Champagne, who had made a bold move to the lead between rivals approaching the final turn and subsequently opened up a big advantage in the short stretch.
“It looked like (the leader) was getting away from me but I knew my filly would be there for me,” said jockey Joel Rosario, who was winning his third stakes of the card in succession and would later win a fourth aboard Kimari in the Madison (G1).
Pass the Champagne, coming off a maiden win in late February and making her two-turn debut, turned in a terrific performance to finish second by a head.
“I thought she was a winner when she came off the turn,” trainer George Weaver said of Pass the Champagne. “Todd’s filly has been training with me at Palm Beach Downs and I know he’s very high on her. There is no embarrassment getting beat by her today. First time two turns, I would look for a big improvement next time.”
Malathaat paid $5 as the slight 3-2 favorite after completing 1 1/16 miles over a fast track in 1:42.94. Pass the Champagne had 5 1/4 lengths on Will’s Secret, who was the same margin clear of Moon Swag. Curlin’s Catch and Simply Ravishing completed the order of finish.
Malathaat earned 100 Oaks qualifying points, increasing her total to 110. Pass the Champagne earned 40 points, Will’s Secret earned 20 points to boost her total to 80, and Moon Swag earned 10 points and now has a total of 22.
Malathaat will head to the Oaks undefeated in four starts. She preceded the Demoiselle, which she won by three parts of a length over a sloppy track, with a 1 3/4-length maiden win at Belmont going seven furlongs and a more comfortable 7 3/4-length triumph in the one-mile Tempted S. at Aqueduct. She’s now earned $412,150.
Bred in Kentucky by Stonestreet and sold for $1,050,000 at Keeneland September, Malathaat is by Curlin and out of Grade 1 winner Dreaming of Julia, who in turn is out of multiple Grade 1 winner Dream Rush. A daughter of A.P. Indy, Dreaming of Julie was fourth as the favorite in a salty renewal of the Kentucky Oaks in 2013 won by Princess of Sylmar with four-time champion Beholder in second.
Gazelle S. (G3)
Search Results will also enter the Kentucky Oaks undefeated after taking the $250,000 Gazelle S. (G3) at Aqueduct by 2 3/4 lengths as a heavy 2-5 favorite.
The third stakes winner of the day at Aqueduct for jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., Search Results rated in second behind pacesetter Alwayz Late before seizing control approaching the quarter pole. Owned by Klaravich Stables and trained by Chad Brown, Search Results completed 1 1/8 miles over a fast track in 1:54.14 and paid $2.80.
Finishing second was Maracuja, who had 3 3/4 lengths on Army Wife. The Grass Is Blue, a stablemate of Search Results, ran fourth.
“I thought she was very professional today,” Brown said. “She maybe lost focus when she surged to the front and there was no one around her in deep stretch. When she had a horse in front of her, I loved the way she was moving into the bit. I was relieved to see that she could handle the mile and an eighth. We were cautiously optimistic, but you always have to see them do it first to be sure.”
A four-length debut winner at Gulfstream on Jan. 3 going six furlongs, Search Results next captured the one-mile Busher S. at Aqueduct by a half-length in early March. She’s now earned 150 Oaks qualifying points. Maracuja has 40 points, Army Wife 20 points, and The Grass Is Blue 25 points.
“Although (Search Results) got her season started late, she seems to be catching up fast on this crop,” Brown said.
Bred in Kentucky by Machmer Hall and a $310,000 Keeneland September yearling, Search Results is by Flatter and out of Co Cola, by Candy Ride.
Fantasy S. (G3)
Pauline’s Pearl was yet another odds-on favorite winner of a Kentucky Oaks prep on Saturday when taking the $600,000 Fantasy S. (G3) at Oaklawn Park by one length as the 4-5 choice in a field of six.
Ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr., Pauline’s Pearl headed long-time leader Ava’s Grace at the eighth pole and edged clear to win in a time of 1:43.64 for 1 1/16 miles over a fast track. Ava’s Grace had three-quarters of a length on Coach, with Take Charge Lorin fourth.
Owned by breeder Stonestreet Stables, Pauline’s Pearl is trained by Steve Asmussen. Placed fourth in her debut at Fair Grounds in December, the gray daughter of Tapit subsequently ran third in another maiden at Fair Grounds before graduating impressively at the New Orleans track on Feb. 12. She preceded this win with a close second-place finish to Will’s Secret in the Honeybee (G3) at Oaklawn.
“She’s gotten better every day we’ve had her. Every race she’s run a little faster, and she’s getting extremely good at a perfect time,” Asmussen said.
Pauline’s Pearl earned 100 Oaks qualifying points and now has a total of 120. Ava’s Grace earned 40 points, Coach earned 20 points to boost her total to 26 points, and Take Charge Lorin earned 10 points.
The Kentucky-bred was produced by Grade 1 winner Hot Dixie Chick, a Dixie Union half-sister to 2017 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Always Dreaming and Grade 2 winner Positive Spirit, who unseated her rider at the start of the 2019 Kentucky Oaks.
Santa Anita Oaks (G2)
Soothsay made a bold, inside move to the lead around the far turn of the $392,000 Santa Anita Oaks (G2), and jockey Flavien Prat’s decision ultimately paid dividends as the relatively inexperienced filly maintained a half-length advantage over 9-10 favorite Beautiful Gift to the wire.
“It was pretty slow, so I thought twice and said let’s go,” Prat said. “We better go now. I asked her at the three furlong pole and she went so easy. She responded really great.”
The 4-1 third choice in a small field of four, Soothsay returned $10.40 after completing 1 1/16 miles over a fast track in 1:44.35. Beautiful Gift finished 5 1/4 lengths clear of Moraz, with Javanica the trailer more than eight lengths farther back.
Owned by Claiborne Farm, Adele Dilschneider, Perry Bass II, and Ramona Bass, the Richard Mandella-trained Soothsay belatedly debuted on Feb. 26, winning a six-furlong maiden race by 1 1/2 lengths.
“We expected a lot of her from the first start and from that start until now she just grew up. You kind of see it happening otherwise we wouldn’t do something like this,” Mandella said. “If you watched her last workout you could see how serious she was. I thought she was something special. I was hoping I was right.”
Soothsay earned 100 Oaks qualifying points, but is not a for-certain starter at Churchill Downs given her light record.
“We’ll see (about the Oaks), we asked a lot of her to do this, so we’ll make sure we pare back whatever we need. It’s a nice dream,” Mandella said.
Beautiful Gift earned 40 Oaks points and now has 90 in total, while Moraz increased her total from 22 to 42. Javanica earned 10 points.
Soothsay was bred in Kentucky by Raydelz Stable and is by Distorted Humor and out of Grade 2 heroine Spellbound, a Bernardini half-sister to multiple Grade 3 winner Kid Cruz. This female family is also responsible for 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify.