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Kentucky Oaks International Scouting Report: Shahama

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

May 2nd, 2022

A half-sister to two-time champion Lookin At Lucky, UAE Oaks (G3) heroine Shahama brings a perfect record from Dubai. Can the Kentucky-bred make a winning homecoming in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs?

While the depth of her form is questionable, Shahama has displayed the panache of an above-average filly. Her works since joining trainer Todd Pletcher reinforce the idea of her class, and she picks up jockey Flavien Prat.

Shahama’s pedigree and sales history

Shahama is by successful sire Munnings, who has Louisiana Derby (G2) runner-up Zozos in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and the exciting Champagne (G1) romper Jack Christopher slated to reappear in the Pat Day Mile (G2). Munnings has had prominent fillies on the Oaks trail, including $2.3 million-earner I’m a Chatterbox (third in the 2015 Oaks) and Bonny South, both winners of the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2). Others, like Finite and Venetian Harbor, ended up cutting back in trip.

Shahama’s dam, Private Feeling, is by the Danzig stallion Belong to Me and from the immediate family of champion Wait a While. Although best known for her turf prowess, Wait a While captured the 2006 Davona Dale (G2), placed in the Ashland (G1), and found herself elevated to third in the Kentucky Oaks.

Private Feeling produced two major winners early in her broodmare career. The aforementioned Lookin at Lucky, hero of the 2010 Preakness (G1) and Haskell (G1) among his five Grade 1 tallies, was voted champion at both two and three. His older half-brother, Kensei, scored his signature wins in the 2009 Jim Dandy (G2) and Dwyer (G2).

But Private Feeling had lean years by the time she toured the sales ring at Keeneland November in 2018, then a 19-year-old mare. SF Bloodstock shrewdly purchased her for $40,000, and the foal she was carrying at the time turned out to be Shahama.

Shahama learned her lessons with Eddie Woods and sold under his banner at the 2021 Ocala Breeders' Sale Spring Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training. The blaze-faced bay, who sped a quarter-mile in :21 at the under tack show, went to Bahraini interests for $425,000. Trainer Fawzi Nass purchased her, and she sports the colors of KHK Racing.

Shahama’s first two starts

Trained by Nass throughout her Dubai career, Shahama made a splash in her Dec. 9 debut at Meydan. She took the overland route from post 9, kept in striking range early, circled the field, and drubbed them by nine lengths under a hand ride. Her time for about seven furlongs, 1:25.70, was comparable to that posted by older handicappers (1:25.71) later on the Meydan card.

Shahama got more of an education next time out, in a Jan. 1 conditions race dubbed the UAE 1000 Guineas Trial. On a rare sloppy track at Meydan, she was drawn in the midst of the field (post 5) and raced behind the wall of leaders. But regular pilot Adrie de Vries found a seam, and Shahama belied her inexperience to burst between foes and kick 2 1/2 lengths clear. She covered the same about seven-furlong trip in 1:25.93 on a night when future Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) star Switzerland clocked 1:11.24 in his about six-furlong Al Garhoud Sprint romp.

Off those efforts, I tabbed her as one to follow going into the Dubai Carnival. The May 9 foal looked like a leggy, unfinished type, suggesting that she had a lot more to offer as she grew into her frame.

UAE Guineas-Oaks double

The step up to a metric mile for the UAE 1000 Guineas figured to be no problem, and Shahama lived up to expectations in the Jan. 28 classic. Last early in the compact field of six, she cruised up on the bridle into a tracking second. De Vries gave her the cue down the lane, and Shahama drew off by 3 3/4 lengths in 1:39.08. That was much slower than the 1:37.80 by older males in a conditions race, but the Guineas pace (:25.28, :49.23, and 1:13.90 according to Trakus) was a crawl in comparison.

Shahama provided some drama in the Feb. 18 UAE Oaks, where she committed a few errors. Optimists will focus on the fact that she won despite it all, the sign of a superior animal. Pessimists will latch onto the fact she has no such margin for error against much better opponents in the Kentucky Oaks.

Although Shahama was not too smartly away in prior starts, it never mattered as she was swift to get into the game. She broke her absolute worst in the UAE Oaks, a beat slow out of the gate and even hesitant in the opening strides. Another uncharacteristic wrinkle was her climbing at the rear, resenting the kickback and striding in ungainly fashion. Shahama regained herself once de Vries steered her into the clear on the outside, and it’s to her credit that she still punched home a decisive winner.

Yet there’s more to knock about the UAE Oaks. The about 1 3/16-mile distance likely stretched Shahama’s stamina, as she was arguably looking for the wire late. The Oaks elapsed in 2:02.25, a slow pace topped off by Shahama’s needing almost 21.5 seconds to negotiate the final 300 meters (about three-sixteenths of a mile). And the closing runner-up, the maiden Arabian Gazelles, came back to run 12th behind Crown Pride in the UAE Derby (G2).

De Vries’s postrace comments to the Dubai Racing Club put her behavior in context of the unusually festive atmosphere on the Carnival Friday night.

She was very upset today because of the screen, the music, (the start being in) the straight (in front of the stands). She jumped a bit awkward because she was sitting down in the gate.

It was a little bit awkward as there were a few horses who couldn’t bring me to the leader, so I had to go wide to get her out of the kickback, but she did it very easy.

Needless to say, that’s a concern for how Shahama might cope with Friday’s Kentucky Oaks Day festivities.

Shahama’s works

Shahama had the option of pressing on to the UAE Derby herself on Dubai World Cup night. But since she earned 50 points toward the Kentucky Oaks, connections opted to point for the first Friday in May. Although she’s coming off a 2 1/2-month layoff, she had been busy over the Dubai winter, and the freshening could serve her well.

It’s encouraging that Shahama has been training forwardly for Pletcher. After three moves at Palm Beach Downs, her two works over the Churchill strip are informative. She’s teamed up with fellow Oaks contender Goddess of Fire, runner-up in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) and Rachel Alexandra (G2). Goddess of Fire is some way below the standard set by Pletcher’s premier Oaks filly, Nest, but a useful yardstick nonetheless. In both drills, I thought Shahama traveled more readily and had her measure. If that translates to raceday, it puts Shahama in with a shot at a placing.

Shahama’s challenge

The UAE-to-Kentucky Oaks path is not as well trodden as the UAE Derby-to-Kentucky Derby route. Still, as you might expect, the Dubai fillies have had similar difficulties in transferring their form to Churchill.

The most recent to try, Rayya (2018), offers a broad parallel to Shahama: she too had raced exclusively at Meydan, and joined an American trainer (Bob Baffert) ahead of the Oaks. Yet there are a couple of key differences. Rayya was runner-up in the UAE 1000 Guineas before turning the tables in the UAE Oaks. Also unlike Shahama, Rayya advanced to the UAE Derby, where she was a remote second behind Mendelssohn. In the Kentucky Oaks, Rayya never recovered from an awkward start and trudged home 13th of 14 behind Monomoy Girl.

A troubled break in the 2002 Kentucky Oaks also proved costly for Imperial Gesture, who wound up eighth of nine behind Farda Amiga. Yet other than being a UAE Oaks winner, Imperial Gesture is not a true reference point for Shahama. The Godolphin filly started out her career stateside and proved top-class as the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) runner-up before transferring to Dubai.

To do herself justice on Friday, Shahama has to stay calm through the preliminaries and break cleanly. If she’s traveling well in a decent position, she’s good enough to factor. But it would be easier to back her in an average year. This renewal of the Kentucky Oaks is coming up pretty deep, and Shahama is best described as a wild card.

Nass deserves the final word. In early March, he told Jon Lees of thoroughbredracing.com:

It’s tough to know how good she is. I don’t think she has beaten much in Dubai, but she can only beat what there is. She did it the hard way last time as well by missing the start, which she needs to improve on. But she should definitely be a black type filly in America.

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