Kentucky Derby: Echoes of Justify as Bob Baffert unveils Charlatan

A round-up of the main prep races – plus ante-post prices generally available in Britain

Charlatan (Drayden van Dyke), an impressive winner for Bob Baffert. Photo: Benoit

By Nicholas Godfrey

20-1 Charlatan (Bob Baffert/Drayden van Dyke)
Santa Anita (Feb 16): maiden special weight $55,000, 6f, dirt
Sire: Speightstown
Likely target: undecided

Bob Baffert shook up the way things were done with regard to the Kentucky Derby two years ago when Justify broke the so-called ‘Curse of Apollo’ in becoming the first horse to win America’s greatest race without having run at two since Apollo in 1882.

Justify made his career debut in a maiden special weight at Santa Anita on February 18, 2018, two days earlier than Charlatan’s debut on Sunday. The result was similar, too, inasmuch as both horses wowed onlookers: after breaking a step slowly on the outside of a four-runner field, Charlatan soon took control and ran right away to score by nearly six lengths as he stopped the clock at 1m08.85s.

Worth noting, maybe, is the Beyer speed figure: 105, the highest of the year by a three-year-old. Justify got a 104 on debut. That said, Justify started off over 7f, and given Charlatan’s abundant speed, and his pedigree, there may well be stamina questions. Even so, Baffert’s Derby hand just got even stronger.

Drayden van Dyke (jockey): “I gigged him just a little after the break, just to get him into the race. I really didn’t know that much about him. You could see he had a couple bullet works from the gate and that he’d been training well. He blew by those horses so easy and as you could see. He galloped out big.”

Mr. Monomoy (Florent Geroux) wins the Risen Star Stakes (Div 1).
Photo: Hodges Photography/Fair Grounds

20-1 Mr. Monomoy (Brad Cox/Florent Geroux)
Fair Grounds: (Feb 15): Risen Star Stakes Div 1 G2, $400,000, 1m1f, dirt
Sire: Palace Malice
Likely target: Louisiana Derby (Mar 21)

With the Risen Star oversubscribed and split into two divisions, there were a lot of Kentucky Derby qualifying points on offer at Fair Grounds.
Mr. Monomoy posted the better time of the two races in the first division, stopping the clock in 1m50.43s as he wired a strong-looking field, putting away a challenge from Blackberry Wine at the head of the stretch before galloping powerfully to hold Lecomte Stakes winner Enforceable by 2½ lengths.

Brad Cox (trainer): “He galloped out well last time and I thought he could get this distance. I thought the draw today gave him the opportunity to break and clear if he wanted, and obviously he was willing to do it. Florent put him in a great spot and he stepped up to the plate today and proved that he belongs. It will probably be one more race before the Derby, what race that will be we don’t know. We just have to see how he comes out of it and see what other horses run in the next few weeks and see how everything unfolds but we’re really happy with him.”

25-1 Modernist (Bill Mott/Junior Alvarado)
Fair Grounds: (Feb 15): Risen Star Stakes Div 2 G2, $400,000, 1m1f, dirt
Sire: Uncle Mo
Likely target: Louisiana Derby (Mar 21)

Probably the less competitive of the two divisions – especially when even-money favourite Anneau D’Or threw in a clunker and finished ninth, never able to land a blow. 

At the business end, 13-1 shot Modernist put Bill Mott back on the Kentucky Derby trail with a solid effort, breaking alertly from the inside post and sticking to the rail in a race where it paid to race close to the pace.

With a time of 1m51.28s, this was much the slower of the two divisions, though it is interesting to note that Mott used the Risen Star 12 months ago with subsequent Derby winner Country House, who was second in New Orleans.

Bill Mott (trainer): “He won at a mile and an eighth in New York and has progressed really well in this early part of his three-year-old year. He’s become more mature and has been more professional about everything. I couldn’t be more delighted with how he acted in the paddock and post parade. I told Junior to take advantage of the one hole. The horse handled everything really well.”

25-1 Silver Prospector (Steve Asmussen/Ricardo Santana)
Oaklawn Park: (Feb 17): Southwest Stakes G3, $750,000, 1m½f, dirt
Sire: Declaration Of War
Likely target: Rebel Stakes (Mar 14)

Likeable effort here from Silver Prospector, who beat Kentucky Derby favourite Tiz The Law last year in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Derby venue Churchill Downs.

Rated comfortably on the rail behind the pace, the grey was always moving smoothly and could be called the winner turning for home. He duly picked up front-runner Wells Bayou and scored by a length, the runner-up also digging in down the stretch. The Beyer comes up perfectly respectable at 97, too.

Steve Asmussen (trainer): “His position was by design. I thought he got a little too far behind in the Smarty Jones. He was in good position all the way. Absolutely, we’ll look at the Rebel and Arkansas Derby. This series is quite lucrative and the points are very important.”

25-1 Gouverneur Morris (Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez)
Tampa Bay Downs (Feb 14): allowance optional claimer, $27,500, 1m, dirt
Sire: Constitution
Likely target: Florida Derby (Mar 28) or Wood Memorial (Apr 4)

A satisfactory return to action for Team Valor’s Derby hopeful, who had to work a bit to overcome front-runner Untitled by a length and a quarter. Given that the winner was a 1-2 shot against only four rivals (in effect three when one lost his rider at the gate), the victory looked slightly laboured but the clock told a different story as the final time was only .02s off the track record. 

Moreover, Todd Pletcher likes to use these little Tampa races for some of his better three-year-olds: Vino Rosso and Always Dreaming both started here.

Barry Irwin (Team Valor president): “His last three works got progressively better, and I really think this race will move him forward in a big way, more than you might typically expect. His next race, he’ll be ready to roll.”

25-1 Azul Coast (Bob Baffert/Rafael Bejarano)
Golden Gate: (Feb 15): El Camino Real Derby, $100,000, 1m1f, AW (Tapeta)
Sire: Super Saver
Likely target: undecided

Santa Anita maiden winner Charlatan was the second Kentucky Derby contender unearthed over the weekend by Bob Baffert, who sent Azul Coast on a rare excursion upstate for a determined victory on the Tapeta. The son of 2010 Derby victor Super Saver stalked the pace before gamely holding on as the 7-5 market leader to win by a length and a quarter in a driving finish.

The form probably isn’t great, but with Nadal, Thousand Words and Authentic all massing towards the head of ante-post betting – plus Eight Rings and Charlatan not far beneath – Baffert is looking ominously well placed as he looks for his sixth Derby success.

Rafael Bejarano (jockey): “I figured he would get a good trip He was going well the entire time under me and he showed me a real nice kick when the other horse [American Farmer] tried to come get us at the sixteenth pole.”

World top 20 horses this week

USA: The feelgood story of New York champion Gander, living the good life at 24

USA: Kentucky Derby winner Country House retired