Smarts pay off again for Malathaat at Breeders’ Cup

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Todd Pletcher (right) and his team meet Malathaat and jockey John Velazquez after their victory in Saturday’s $2 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Keeneland. Breeders’ Cup/Eclipse Sportswire Photo.

Todd Pletcher walked away from a small group of reporters covering last month’s Juddmonte Spinster Stakes on FallStars Weekend at Keeneland and made his way through the tunnel to the Trustees Room for a champagne toast honoring Malathaat.

Pletcher walked like he always does, shoulders square, head high, eyes forward. And perhaps with a little more pep in his step.

“She’s so smart,” Pletcher said of Malathaat, who won the Spinster that day for her third win at Keeneland in as many starts. Shadwell Stable’s 4-year-old daughter of Curlin would add a fourth Keeneland victory 27 days later when she got up in time to win a three-way photo in the $2 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

Malathaat capped her brilliant career in the 9-furlong Distaff, edging the gutsy California-based Argentinean-bred invader Blue Stripe and familiar rival Clairiere in the race of the day. All-but-retired Sunday by her owners, Malathaat heads to the breeding shed as last year’s champion 3-year-old filly and this year’s surefire champion older dirt female.

Pletcher celebrated a bit more than usual watching the filly he counts among his all-time favorites – like in a similar realm More Than Ready and Jersey Girl, the two he credits for taking his career to the next level. Sitting in a box with his family and away from members of the Shadwell team and the connections of his other Distaff entrant Nest – Repole Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Michael House – Pletcher pumped his fist a few times as Malathaat and John Velazquez edged past Blue Stripe and Clairiere at the finish. Then he worried it might have been a bit exuberant and premature.

Malathaat (outside) edges Blue Stripe (center) and Clairiere in a thrilling Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff Saturday at Keeneland. Breeders’ Cup/Eclipse Sportswire Photo.

“I could see it was going to be close,” he said. “Then, I got a little worried that I might have celebrated a little too much when they kept showing the replay and I thought it was going to be embarrassing if she didn’t win this photo. I thought she had won, but I wasn’t a million percent sure.”

Pletcher still wasn’t certain the day after the Distaff if Malathaat was retired. Her record stands at 10 wins in 14 starts with three seconds and a third, earnings of $3,790,825, that probable second Eclipse Award and a serious shot at a spot in the Hall of Fame in five years’ time.

“She’s always given us confidence,” Pletcher said. “She’s been a lovely filly from Day 1. And I thought she was training super coming into the race. She obviously likes Keeneland now; she’s 4-for-4 here. She was giving us every indication she would show up and run her ‘A’ race like she almost always does.”

Malathaat added the Distaff to her win the Spinster and Grade 1 Personal Ensign before that at Saratoga Race Course. She won the Grade 3 Doubledogdare late in Keeneland’s spring meet to start her 4-year-old campaign before back-to-back seconds to Clairiere in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park and Grade 2 Shuvee at Saratoga.

Velazquez was aboard for her six starts this year and 12 of her 14 career runs – only missing her win in the 2020 Tempted Stakes that came the same day as Future Stars Friday at Keeneland and her win in the Grade 1 Ashland in 2021 at Keeneland the same day he rode Medina Spirit to victory in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.

“I’ve been around her for a couple years now and I love her,” Velazquez said on his way to the jocks’ room after the Distaff. “She has her quirks and everything else, but she’s been so good to us and I’m glad she got it done.”

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