LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- It was a good day to get back to basics in Kentucky. Fast horses, fancy hats, and some fantastic fillies.
Malathaat, Todd Pletcher's unbeaten daughter of Curlin, and Search Results, an unbeaten filly trained by Chad Brown, put on a show as they pounded down the sun-splashed home stretch at Churchill Downs in Friday's Kentucky Oaks.
Malathaat won by a neck, hitting the wire just ahead of a challenger that did not back down, delivering a fourth Oaks win for Pletcher and a second for jockey John Velazquez.
But the even bigger story may have been in the Churchill Downs grandstand, where a crowd of 41,472, one of the nation's largest for a sporting event since pandemic restrictions were instituted last March, roared and celebrated the return of Kentucky's sacred weekend -- the first Saturday in May, and the preceding week.
Kentuckians had been waiting to get back to the races — and the party — and on Friday at Churchill Downs they did both.It was a beautiful day at the track, sunny skies welcoming fans back after a year away. Throughout the day, masks were mandated by Churchill Downs, but a quick glance at the crowds showed that masks were a secondary accessory.
The Oaks was held in September 2020 but without fans.
On Friday, fans packed near the paddock like they always do, and before the Oaks went off at just before 6 p.m., the main grandstand looked impressively pink, if not completely packed.
It was just more than a third of the 113,000-plus who attended the Oaks in 2018, but it delivered the message -- people are ready to get back into the game.
The infield was controlled chaos -- with groups fairly well spaced.
Pletcher watched Malathaat's victory from the Churchill Downs' paddock. When he realized the result of the race, he raised both hands in the air and yelled, "Yes!"
There was a lot of that Friday.
But amid the celebration, there was also sadness. Malathaat is owned by Shadwell Stable, whose owner, Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, died in late March at the age of 75.
"A million things have been going through my mind," said Rick Nichols, the vice president and general manage of Shadwell Farm said. "But the victory for Sheikh Hamdan's family and all of our operations in the United States, but also Derrinstown in Ireland, Shadwell Estate in England, and all of his horses in Dubai, all the stables. I know they were all watching it. We heard that there's several people in Dubai that stayed up late hours to watch. You know, losing the boss the way we did and him coming off a great year ‑‑ he was the leading owner in Europe last year. And we have many good horses in our stable this year. And having Malathaat to step up and give him an Oaks win is, you know, more than we could ask for."
For the past couple of weeks, Pletcher has called Malathaat the "star" of his barn. On Friday, she confirmed it.
"She is just such a professional. Not only is she a tremendously talented filly, but she's also a very kind filly around the barn. You just can't help but love her personality. You can literally do anything with her. So to have that type of personality around the barn and be as special as she is on the racetrack, it's just rare that you find too many like this."
Malathaat's time of 1:48.99 was the sixth-fastest Kentucky Oaks ever.
Search Results, who went off as third choice, lost for the first time in four races while Malathaat is now 5-for-5. Dallas Stewart's Will's Secret finished third after going off at 26-1.
Below is the full finish order:
- Malathaat $7.00 $4.60 $3.40
- Search Results $6.80 $5.60
- Will's Secret $9.60
- Travel Column
- Pauline's Peal
- Crazy Beautiful
- Pass The Champagne
- Competitive Speed
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