His pulse would have quickened when Malathaat, purchased by his Shadwell Stable for $1.05 million as a yearling in a transaction he heartily endorsed, ranged up beside Search Results and the two undefeated fillies dug down for gears they never knew they had.
Hall of Famer John Velazquez drew on decades of experience as he allowed Malathaat to crowd her foe without fouling her. Irad Ortiz, Jr., winner of three successive Eclipse Awards, countered with all of the youthful vigor he could muster aboard Search Results.
Yes, Sheikh Hamdan would have relished every stride of that battle. And he would have swelled with understandable pride when Malathaat wore down her rival by a determined neck to remain perfect through five starts.
“He would have loved the race,” said Rick Nichols, who manages Shadwell Farm. “He really enjoyed seeing a horse come from behind and winning. He liked winning that way, not losing that way.”
When the tremendous duel was over and the rivals were galloping out, Ortiz reached over and patted Velazquez on the back, an acknowledgment that the all-time earnings leader has seemingly lost nothing to time. Velazquez had won the Oaks just once before, providing trainer Todd Pletcher with his first win in the nation’s premier race for 3-year-old fillies aboard Ashado in 2004. Pletcher, a certain choice to be inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame this summer when results of the vote are announced, also registered Oaks triumphs with eventual Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches (2007) and Princess of Sylmar (2013).
Malathaat, a gorgeous bay daughter of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, completed the mile and an eighth in 1:48.99. That represented the sixth-fastest clocking in Oaks history.
Will’s Secret snagged third despite going off at 26.50-1, the latest example of trainer Dallas Stewart’s ability to turn longshots into contenders in big spots.