Shadwell’s well-regarded Ajaaweed enters the toughest test of his career, Saturday’s prestigious
Initially in the care of now-retired Kiaran McLaughlin, the sizable bay charge broke his maiden at second asking at age two (replay below) over the same Belmont dirt he will compete upon this weekend. Impressing onlookers and connections, alike, it was evident that he had plenty of stamina within his grinding action.
Said class would lead him to a good fourth-place effort in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland and then a closing runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Remsen. He was injured following a disappointing third in Tampa Bay’s Grade 3 Sam F. Davis, his 3-year-old debut in 2020, which was his fifth and final start for McLaughlin before being turned over to Todd Pletcher.
“Ajaaweed returned to Shadwell in April 2020 with a suspensory injury in his left rear,” said Rick Nichols, vice president and general manager of Shadwell Farm. “It wasn’t too bad and it healed nicely. He returned to training in September 2020 and has been good so far. He has been training well and Todd expects him to run a big race on Saturday.”
Brought back to fitness mindfully, the son of Curlin resurfaced in a one-turn mile at Gulfstream Park in January–a race he obviously desperately needed. Racing three-wide toward the rear, he ambled home at the tail of the field and got a good air-opener in the process. Returning in March at Aqueduct in a nine-furlong allowance, he came home third in grinding, deliberate fashion that hinted that additional ground would be to his favour.
Taking the cue, Pletcher tried him in the 11-furlong, $100,000 Flat Out Stakes (Listed), where he closed impressively to be second, despite failing to change leads in the stretch. He earned career-high speed figures of 99 (Beyer) and 106 (Equibase) in the process. He now ascends in both trip and class, but appears to have concurrently found his niche. He put an exclamation on that with a bullet five-furlong breeze in 59.44 on May 28.
“We felt like we would handle the added distance and in the Flat Out at a mile and three-eighths, he was still coming at the end,” Pletcher said. “While this is going to be a little more competitive of a race in the Brooklyn, I think the mile and a half will suit him really well.
“I think he’s really improved in the last six weeks or so,” Pletcher continued. “His training has become a lot more willing. He was a little lethargic beforehand, but it seems he’s woken up a lot recently.”
A homebred, Ajaaweed is out of Shadwell’s multiple stakes-placed mare Asiya, a daughter of the late His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s brilliant Grade 1 Cigar Mile winner Daaher. All four of Asiya’s offspring to race have been winners, including Pletcher-trained Zaajel (Street Sense), winner of the Grade 3 Forward Gal at Gulfstream this winter.
The Hall of Fame conditioner is hoping that there is more progress to come from the long-striding 4-year-old colt. Winning the Brooklyn could lead to a plethora of opportunities down the road in New York, especially.
“If he were to run well in here, we have the (Grade 2, $400,000) Suburban (Handicap, July 3) at a mile and a quarter as an option for him,” Pletcher said. “There’s also the (Listed, $120,000) Birdstone (Stakes, Aug. 5) at a mile and three-quarters at Saratoga. We do have some options with him. We’ll see how he goes in here, but at least we do have some races to keep us occupied.”
In what will be just his ninth lifetime start, Ajaaweed breaks from post 7 of nine declared for the complete circuit of Belmont Park. At odds of 5/1, he is the fifth choice on the morning line and has the riding services of Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez.