By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: Bob Baffert totally dominated the two divisions of the Arkansas Derby when his unbeaten pair Charlatan and Nadal both produced impressive displays to confirm their status as leading players in this year’s Classic crop.
Under normal circumstances, both horses would have gone to post on the first Saturday in May among leading fancies for the Kentucky Derby, a race Baffert has won five times already.
Now they are 5-1 joint favourites with British bookmakers Bet365 for America’s most celebrated race, postponed until September 5, after claiming G1 honours at Oaklawn Park where their signature contest was split in two owing to the surfeit of entries with limited opportunities elsewhere owing to coronavirus.
“Very exciting day, to say the least,” commented the west-coast legend. “I thought both horses were going to run really well.
“Charlatan, what a talent he is and how fast he is. I just loved the way, third out, to ship and to do that, what he did today – only the really good ones can do that. And Nadal … he’s a tough horse. There’s a lot to him and he’s a cool customer and I could see he’s getting better and better.”
First up was Charlatan, who broke alertly from his rail draw before a runaway six-length victory in the first of the two $500,000 divisions, both of which carried full Kentucky Derby qualifying points.
Sent off 2-5 favourite, he stopped the clock at 1m48.49 for the 1m1f as he scored from Basin and Gouverneur Morris. “They told me we were smoking,” said winning jockey Martin Garcia. “I went in 1:09, and he was just galloping. He did it all within himself. I felt someone coming at the three-eighths, and I let him go. He just took off. That’s a sign of a really good horse.”
The son of Speightstown had landed two races in minor grade at Santa Anita by a combined 16 lengths, in the process posting the two highest Beyer speed figures of 2020 by a three-year-old.
Given that Charlatan did not make his debut until February 16, thoughts of Baffert’s Triple Crown winner Justify are hard to avoid. That colt famously broke the ‘Curse of Apollo’ two years ago when he became the first horse since 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby without racing as a two-year-old.
Baffert had won the Arkansas Derby in 2015 with subsequent Triple Crown hero American Pharoah. He also saddled Nadal who served up a victory hardly less decisive in Div II, the stronger race on paper.
After chasing the pace, Nadal eased past front-running Wells Bayou on the far turn before repelling King Guillermo in the final furlong to win going away again by three lengths. His time of 1m48.34s was slightly faster than his stablemate; jockey Joel Rosario was completing a five-timer on Oaklawn’s 14-race card.
Baffert also has a potential star three-year-old filly on his hands in the shape of Gamine (Martin Garcia), who made all to score on her two-turn debut in allowance company earlier on the card.
Taking her career record to two-from-two, the $1.8 million daughter of Into Mischief made all before clocking a faster time than Friday’s Fantasy Stakes winner Swiss Skydiver.
The hot-looking renewal of the G2 Oaklawn Handicap for older horses went to New Orleans Classic winner By My Standards (Bret Calhoun/Gabriel Saez).
Kentucky Derby betting
Bet 365: 5 Charlatan, Nadal, 6 Tiz The Law, 15-2 Authentic, 12 Mischievous Alex, 18 Maxfield, 20 bar.
William Hill: 4 Charlatan, 5 Tiz The Law, 7 Authentic, Nadal, 12 Mischievous Alex, 14 Ete Indien, Maxfield, 20 bar.