“Big-hearted and brave” is what Shahama loosely translates into in Arabic, per Fawzi Nass, the Bahraini businessman, owner, and trainer who manages the striking Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1)-bound daughter of Munnings . The $425,000 2021 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Spring Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training buy with an eye-catching bald face has lived up to such characteristics in her mere four starts in Dubai and now takes her pluck on parade to clash with the world’s top dirt girls in the Kentucky Oaks.
Trained by Nass during her Dubai tenure, the KHK Racing-owned filly garnered a quartet of one-sided wins while overcoming adversity, including a wide trip in her seven-furlong debut in December, traffic issues and a muddy track in the UAE One Thousand Guineas Trial Presented by Burj Al Arab on New Year’s Day, and slow breaks in both the UAE One Thousand Guineas Presented by Dubai Marina by Emaar in late January and UAE Oaks Presented by Jafza (G3) on Feb. 18. Her combined margin of victory was 17 1/4 lengths.
In lieu of staying home and tackling Dubai World Cup Day’s $1 million UAE Derby (G2) five weeks later over the same 1 1/8-mile trip, connections decided the SF Bloodstock-bred half sister to dual champion Lookin At Lucky deserved a trip to the big fight—a sporting gesture not uncommon for owner Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who is known nearly as much for his prowess as a mixed martial artist—currently heads the national MMA team—as being son of the king .
Shahama wins the UAE Oaks at Meydan
“(Shahama is) a very special filly who is straightforward and takes everything you throw at her amazingly well,” Nass said. “She’s not a flashy worker and I always knew that racing would bring the best out of her—and it has. We were also always confident she would stay longer and she showed that in the UAE Oaks where she missed the break and took some proper kickback before doing it the hard way wide. Since we got her, she has always looked the part: conformation, pedigree, balance, that big white blaze, and a very good temperament. She is just lovely, to be honest.
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“She is very easy on herself and will only do enough in her works, so it was nice to see her working well for Todd Pletcher since arriving there,” Nass continued. “Watching her work with (Goddess of Fire ) you could tell she had plenty in the tank. I know the Kentucky Oaks is not just any race—it’s going to be tough for her—but she will be racing against the best and we will see how she stacks up.”
“She’s really developed nicely and she belongs with these fillies,” Ryan said. “She’s always been a lovely horse. We bought her 19-year-old dam for $40,000 (at the 2018 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale) to make sure she had a good home and she repaid us in spades. She had two foals for us who sold for $425,000 and $200,000 and was a beautiful, sweet, kind mare who was always happiest with a foal at her side.
“Shahama had some issues as a yearling and we had to withdraw her from the (Keeneland) September Sale,” Ryan continued. “We then and there decided we would put her into training and see how she developed over the winter. I asked Eddie Woods in February (2021) how he felt she was traveling and looked and he said there’s nothing wrong with her and she’s a talented filly, so we made a snap decision to enter her in the OBS and the rest is history. Love that filly.”
Transferred from Nass to Pletcher in mid-March to put the finishing touches on her preparation, Shahama has quickly and quietly acclimatized, something that has impressed the three-time Kentucky Oaks-winning conditioner. She has had five breezes—three at Palm Beach Downs Training Center and two at Churchill Downs—with her last four all at five furlongs.
Shahama being led out to the track before training April 28 at Churchill Downs
“To be honest, she’s fairly uncomplicated,” Pletcher said. “She had experience racing on the dirt in Dubai and came from an Ocala 2-year-olds in training sale with an American pedigree, so she had a really good foundation. Once we got her, it was just a matter of getting to know her and having her get comfortable in our routine.
“We didn’t know what to expect until we breezed her,” Pletcher continued. “She has certainly trained very competitively and been with some of our other top fillies. Humberto Zamora has been on her in the mornings, but Flavien Prat, who will ride her in the Oaks, was aboard for her past couple works and he seems to really like her.
“In some of her replays, she climbed a bit from the kickback if she was really far back but didn’t mind it hitting her chest when if she was in the vanguard, which is why the draw in post 13 might not be as much a disadvantage for her as others.”
Prat, who seeks his first Oaks victory Friday and rides Derby morning-line favorite Zandon on Saturday, has been impressed. He will have to navigate from the aforementioned 13-hole in a 14-filly field.
“I thought she did everything very well in her breezes and in good company,” Prat said. “She’s adapts to the track really well and is a great-moving filly. It’s a big question mark what she beat in Dubai, but to go 4-for-4 is never easy and she did everything pretty much right so far with me. She’s very straightforward.
“As far as the 13 post, it all depends on how she jumps. I might have to be a bit off the pace, regardless, but if she jumps well, we can use her a little to get position. If not, I can drop myself hopefully back and inside. I’m pleased with how she trains, and I think she will have a nice run.”
It will indeed take a big, brave heart to win what appears a vintage Kentucky Oaks battle. Luckily, for those connected with Shahama, she has given every indication that she’s ready to step into the ring.