• Prep race news plus ante-post prices generally available in Britain
By Nicholas Godfrey
10-1 Nadal (Bob Baffert/Joel Rosario)
Oaklawn Park (March 14): Rebel Stakes G2, $1m, 1m½f, dirt
Likely target: Arkansas Derby (Oaklawn, April 11)
Much better than the bare result might suggest, Okay, on paper a three-quarter-length victory over an 82-1 shot may not appear the stuff of legend but that conceals a multitude after Nadal strengthened Bob Baffert’s formidable Kentucky Derby hand with his seventh Rebel success in 11 years (including American Pharoah in 2015).
Having had his first race only on January 19, the son of Blame took his unbeaten record to three starts with a gutsy performance that will have done him the world of good in terms of experience.
Stepping up in trip for his first start around two turns, Nadal also encountered a sloppy track – and then the front-runner was pressured right from the off, first by No Parole, then by American Theorem, then by Three Technique on the far turn. Fast fractions were the predictable result – and then he somehow had the reserves to pull away before holding the dead-late closer Excession.
Bob Baffert (trainer): “We knew he was a good horse, but until they go two turns, and then the way it set up, the speed duel and all…pretty impressive when they can just keep going like that. Only the really good ones can do that. I was just fortunate that you guys even ran the race, right now with the way things are. Crazy.”
6-1 Charlatan (Bob Baffert/Drayden van Dyke)
Santa Anita (March 14): allowance race $57,000, 1m, dirt
Likely target: undecided
While much of Bob Baffert’s post-race thoughts understandably focused on when – or if – the Kentucky Derby would take place, the trainer is in an enviable position as he contemplates his search for a sixth winner of America’s most celebrated race.
With Charlatan, Nadal and Authentic, Baffert has three of the four horses vying for favouritism in British ante-post betting. As short as 4-1 market leader with bookmakers William Hill, Charlatan is the one that comes with most hype attached – not least because of his similarities with Baffert’s 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, who bucked a longstanding trend in becoming the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win at Churchill Downs despite not having run as a two-year-old.
Likewise Charlatan, whose career started out last month with a runaway maiden victory. On Saturday he returned to action with another totally dominant display as he overwhelmed a small field, making every yard for a 10¼-length victory in a time of 1m36.24s – significantly faster than G1 fillies achieved one race later in the Beholder Mile (1m37.33s).
So that’s two runs, two wins, by a cumulative margin of 16 lengths. Next time he’ll be running in a recognised Derby prep.
Bob Baffert (trainer): “This track is getting heavier — you can tell it’s got a lot of moisture in it — so that time’s pretty good. He got a lot out of that. He’s a big, strong horse. He just kept galloping out strong. We know the talent is there.”
??? (unquoted) Field Pass (Mike Maker/Irad Ortiz)
Turfway Park (March 14): Jeff Ruby Steaks G3, $250,000, 1m1f, AW
Sire: Lemon Drop Kid
Likely target: American Turf (Churchill Downs, May 2)
Owing to the synthetic surface at Turfway Park, the Derby prep with the punning homophone title (for commercial reasons) is not necessarily the best guide to future success at Churchill Downs, although the versatile Animal Kingdom went on to triumph beneath the Twin Spires in 2011. This was called the Spiral Stakes back then.
Field Pass ran past duelling Invader and Fancy Liquor in the final furlong to give trainer Mike Maker his sixth victory in this event, which carries Kentucky Derby qualifying points. Whether Field Pass takes his chance is a moot point, though, as all his work had been done on turf previously and he is not Triple Crown-nominated.
Mike Maker (trainer): “He’s a good-sized horse. His conformation’s great. Great mind on him. I was getting worried right down to the wire. I try to bring some of my better turf horses for the Ruby. It’s paid off over the years.”