‘Stars’ Align for Shadwell, Pletcher

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Todd Pletcher | Adam Coglianese

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When Kiaran McLaughlin announced his retirement earlier this spring, Shadwell Stable’s Vice President and General Manager Rick Nichols already had a trainer’s name in the back of his mind who could potentially fill the void.

“Actually, it was kind of a no-brainer,” Nichols said. “Through Kiaran, I got to know Todd [Pletcher] quite well and always had tremendous respect for him. I would have always liked for him to train for us, but since Todd and Kiaran were such good friends, it was a line that I didn’t want to cross, and Todd had similar feelings.”

Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum’s high-powered global operation and McLaughlin enjoyed a tremendous run together through the years campaigning standouts such as Horse of the Year Invasor (Arg) (Candy Stripes), GI Belmont S. winner Jazil (Seeking the Gold), GI Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Tamarkuz (Speightstown), GI Hill ‘n’ Dale Cigar Mile H. winner Daaher (Awesome Again), GI Donn H. winner Albertus Maximus (Albert the Great), et al.

With McLaughlin exiting the training ranks to take the book of leading rider Luis Saez in April, the Shadwell/Pletcher era was officially underway.

“When Kiaran announced his retirement, Todd was one of the first ones to reach out to me and I jumped at the chance,” Nichols said. “We’re very happy for Kiaran–he’s doing well–and we’re very excited to have Todd as one of our trainers. We’re looking forward to a lot of great things.”

Pletcher added, “Kiaran was always very excited about training for Shadwell and holds the whole team and Sheikh Hamdan in the highest regard. I was fortunate enough to get a positive endorsement from Kiaran and touched base with Rick Nichols when Kiaran decided to pursue another career. It’s a great organization and they have nothing but the highest quality of horses.”

High quality, indeed.

The seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer has hit the ground running for his new client, led by the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf-bound ‘TDN Rising Star’ Mutasaabeq (Into Mischief).

The $425,000 KEENOV graduate, the first foal from Downside Scenario (Scat Daddy), earned his ‘Rising Star’ badge with a flashy debut victory going 5 1/2 furlongs at Saratoga Aug. 8, good for a very strong 84 Beyer Speed Figure.

He had already tipped his hand in the mornings.

“One of his gate works (Click for XBTV video of Mustasaabeq’s July 19 gate breeze) in particular was one of the best I’ve seen from any of our 2-year-olds,” Pletcher said. “We were anticipating a good debut.”

Following a well-beaten third behind the unbeaten division leader Jackie’s Warrior (Maclean’s Music) in the GI Runhappy Hopeful S. Sept. 7, however, Pletcher decided to call an audible.

“We were a little bit frustrated with the Hopeful result,” Pletcher said. “Not that finishing third is bad, but we felt like maybe he wasn’t quite to that level on the dirt. So I said, ‘You know what? He’s out of a Scat Daddy mare who won on the turf. Why don’t we breeze him on the turf and see how that goes?'”

Spoiler alert: it went quite well.

Mutasaabeq shared the bullet for five furlongs over Saratoga’s Oklahoma training turf course with the 3-year-old No Word (Silent Name {Jpn}), who subsequently posted a game runner-up finish in the GI Belmont Derby Invitational S.

“He worked head and head with him,” Pletcher said. “I said, ‘OK, I think we know what to do now.'”

Mutasaabeq handled the surface switch with aplomb and punched his ticket to ‘Future Stars Friday’ in style, slingshotting his way from last to first after missing the break in Keeneland’s GII Dixiana Bourbon S. Oct. 4. He was the 2-1 favorite that day and was piloted by McLaughlin’s aforementioned jockey, Luis Saez.

“I’ve watched [the Bourbon] about 20 times already,” Nichols said with a laugh. “We’re extremely excited. He’s such a nice horse.”

“I was a little worried when he was out the back door early on,” Pletcher said. “He turned in a very impressive turn of foot to really inhale the field in a hurry. He’s come out of it really well and it’s great that he has a win over the course. He’s a gentleman around the barn and is a pleasure to train.”

Mutasaabeq, bred in Kentucky by BlackRidge Stables LLC, returned to the worktab for his Breeders’ Cup preparations with a four-furlong breeze in :48.75 (4/63) over the Belmont training track Thursday.

The regally bred $1.05-million Keeneland September graduate Malathaat (Curlin), meanwhile, also carried the royal blue and white epaulets to a ‘Rising Star’ nod on debut going seven furlongs for Pletcher at Belmont Park Oct. 9.

Favored at 4-5, the 2-year-old filly was ridden early to secure a good spot on the outside in second, gained a narrow advantage as they bunched up rounding the far turn, and responded well to some left-handed encouragement by Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez in the stretch to kick off her career with a promising victory. A race like the $100,000 Tempted S. going a one-turn mile at Aqueduct Nov. 6 could be a potential landing spot for her next start.

Malathaat’s ultra-talented dam Dreaming of Julia (A.P. Indy), a Stonestreet homebred and Pletcher-trained ‘TDN Rising Star’ herself, registered a career high in Belmont’s GI Frizette S. at two. Her resume also includes a 21 3/4-length victory in the GII Gulfstream Oaks, good for an astronomical 114 Beyer Speed Figure, a runner-up finish in the GI Mother Goose S. and a third-place finish in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. The daughter of MGISW Dream Rush (Wild Rush) was an unlucky fourth in the GI Kentucky Oaks.

This is also the same female family of MGSW Dream Pauline (Tapit) and stakes-winning young sire Atreides (Medaglia d’Oro).

Recent GI Woodward H. winner and ‘TDN Rising Star’ Global Campaign is bred on the same Curlin over A.P. Indy cross as Malathaat.

“I was really excited that we got the opportunity to train her because she was my first-round draft choice of the [2019] Keeneland September Sale,” Pletcher said of Malathaat.

“I loved that filly as a yearling. We put together a group to try to buy her and we were in the hunt, but we didn’t quite get it done. Her mother was a special talent, a very gifted filly. This filly is a slightly bigger and slightly stronger version of her mother. It’s exciting that she was able to break her maiden going seven furlongs and you would certainly anticipate that she’ll get even better stretching out. She’s all class.”

Other Pletcher-trained Shadwell runners to get their picture taken thus far include:

Prairie Wings (f, 3, by Tapit) ($800,000 KEESEP yearling), a Saratoga maiden winner in an off-the-turfer Aug. 27 and grassy Keeneland allowance runner-up Oct. 2; and Ashiham (c, 3, by Tapit) ($800,000 KEESEP yearling), a Saratoga maiden winner going 1 1/8 miles Aug. 21.

The streaking Tatweej (c, 4, by Tapit) ($2.5-million KEESEP yearling) graduated for Shadwell and Pletcher at Gulfstream July 25 and has since added a pair of allowance tallies in South Florida for owner Alshareef Hazzaa Shaker Alabdali while remaining under Pletcher’s shedrow.

Shadwell, a perennial leading buyer at Keeneland September, picked up nine yearlings, led by a $1.6-million daughter of Medaglia d’Oro, for a total of $5.42 million at last month’s sale.

Pletcher currently has 12 horses in training for Shadwell and another six residing at his father J.J. Pletcher’s Payton Training Center in Ocala, Florida. Shadwell has allocated 15 yearlings of 2020, including “some really nice homebred colts,” for Pletcher to train as well.

Shadwell splits its best stock in the U.S. between Pletcher and Chad Brown, per Nichols.

“I’m really fortunate to be able to train for them–it’s really fun to be a part of the team,” Pletcher concluded.

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