An undefeated winner of the Grade 1 Longines Kentucky Oaks.
Odds of 3-10.
Just three rivals in the starting gate.
Everything was in place at Saratoga Race Course for ... another stunning upset at the Spa.
Whether you call it the Graveyard of Favorites or Graveyard of Champions, either way it was Saratoga racing at its demanding best as 14-1 shot Maracuja edged past the undefeated odds-on choice Malathaat to prevail by a head in a startling 105th edition of the $465,000 Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies at the Spa.
True to Saratoga's reputation for tripping up favorites in major races, Beach Haven Thoroughbreds' Maracuja was seventh behind Malathaat when Shadwell Stable's daughter of Curlin won the Grade 1 Longines Kentucky Oaks for her fifth victory in as many career starts.
But when the scene shifted to the mountain air of the Spa, fate turned that pecking order upside down.
"All week I heard about the Graveyard of Favorites and I tried not to pay any attention to it. I just wanted my filly to run her race and finish second or third and get a nice race into her," trainer Rob Atras said after his initial grade 1 win. "I was thrilled turning for home when it looked like she might be second but as the wire got closer she bore down and got up. It's really thrilling. It still hasn't set in that I won a grade 1 stakes. To beat a filly as accomplished as Malathaat is special."
The CCAO was just the third graded stakes win for the 37-year-old Atras, one of New York's best practitioners of the claiming game, and he dressed for the famed stakes just like he would for the early half of the daily double on a Wednesday afternoon with an open collar and his trademark New York Yankees cap on his head.
"I put a suit on for the Kentucky Oaks and Belmont Stakes Day and didn't have any luck, so I decided to put on a casual shirt like an underdog," Atras said.
Maracuja was surely an underdog in the CCAO where Malathaat seemed destined to collect a third-straight grade 1 win and improve her record to 6-for-6.
The leader of the 3-year-old filly division, Malathaat broke quickly from the rail under John Velazquez in the small field of four and was on the lead by the time the field hit the first turn in the 1 1/8-mile test.
WinStar Stablemates Racing's Rockpaperscissors pressed her initially but then jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. made an aggressive move with Stonestreet Stables' 5-2 second choice Clairiere on the backstretch and drew alongside Malathaat after a half-mile in :47.13.
Clairiere could not get by the favorite, but the pressure she supplied through six furlongs in 1:11.02 caught up with both fillies as jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. moved Maracuja into contention three-wide on the turn. Though Malathaat led by a half-length in midstretch, Maracuja slowly cut into the gap and grabbed the lead in the final strides to post a narrow victory and give her owners their first graded stakes win.
Final time was 1:49.29 as Maracuja paid $31.40 to win.
For Malathaat, it was a disappointing result though she ran courageously in her first start since the April 30 Kentucky Oaks.
"She fought," trainer Todd Pletcher said about the million-dollar yearling buy. "She fought off everyone in the field and that's what we were concerned about when she drew the one hole. It was a race on paper that didn't have much speed and you have a target on your back so we elected to go ahead and put her in the race and they went a little quick. Just when I thought she would get a breather, Irad was on top of her and she had to keep fighting. I thought she put in a game effort and hadn't run in a while so hopefully this will move her forward."
A winner of two of six starts, Maracuja made her stakes debut prior to the Kentucky Oaks, finishing second in the Grade 2 Gazelle Stakes.
Bred in Kentucky by River Bend Farm and Austin and Janie Musselman, the daughter of the Unbridled's Song mare Patti's Regal Song was bought by Jason Servis, agent, for $200,000 from the Buck Pond Farm consignment at The Saratoga Sale, Fasig-Tipton's New York Sale of Select Yearlings.
Maracuja is the sixth of eighth foals from Patti's Regal Song. She's the fifth winner and first stakes victor for a mare who also has a yearling filly by Twirling Candy and a weanling filly by Sir Prancealot.
Atras said his filly would likely target Saratoga's Aug. 21 Grade 1 Alabama Stakes at a 1 1/4-distance that should suit her late kick.
"The ideal spot would seem to be the Alabama," Atras said. "She appreciates two turns and keeps coming."
Which is something those who wagered on an odds-on favorite at Saratoga found out the hard way.
2021 Coaching Club American Oaks
July 24th, 2021
- Owner / Beach Haven Thoroughbreds LLC
- Breeder / River Bend Farm Inc., Austin Musselman & Janie Musselman
- Owner / Shadwell Stable
- Breeder / Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings LLC
- Owner / Stonestreet Stables LLC
- Breeder / Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings LLC