By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: Two Breeders’ Cup winners, a one-time Kentucky Derby favourite, the Pegasus World Cup winner and arguably the most exciting sprint talent in the country feature on a blockbuster card at Santa Anita on December 26.
Three G1 events feature among six stakes, headed by the G1 Malibu, in which potential superstar sprinter Nashville takes on Charlatan, unseen since passing the post first in a division of the Arkansas Derby in May.
Elsewhere on the card, Pegasus World Cup winner Mucho Gusto returns after a ten-month layoff in the G2 San Antonio, while Royal Ascot runner-up Sharing heads the G1 American Oaks. She won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at this venue in 2019, when Storm The Court was a shock winner of the Juvenile on dirt. Switched to dirt in the summer, he features in the G2 Mathis Brothers Mile.
Shall we talk about it?
Santa Anita: Malibu Stakes G1 $300,000 7f, dirt, 3yo (11.51pm GMT)
A Christmas showdown between two unbeaten sons of Speightstown as Charlatan (Bob Baffert/Mike Smith) meets Nashville (Steve Asmussen/Ricardo Santana). The world looked to be Charlatan’s oyster after he won the G1 Arkansas Derby and he headed betting on the Kentucky Derby – until he was disqualified in controversial circumstances for a positive dope test, for which his trainer cited cross-contamination. A subsequent ankle injury has kept him off the track.
Nashville, for his part, was a spectacular winner of a stakes race at Keeneland on the Breeders’ Cup undercard, breaking the track record in a faster time than Whitmore clocked in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. His three wins have been achieved by a cumulative margin of about 25 lengths.
Since neither Nashville nor Charlatan have ever been headed at any point of call, a pace tear-up could play to the strengths of their rivals. Independence Hall (Mike McCarthy/Joel Rosario) is four-for-four around one turn.
Charlatan: “Could use a race; his next race will be better. We know he’s brilliant – you just hope they pick up where they left off. I would feel better if Nashville wasn’t in there! He’s always shown more in the afternoon than he does in the morning but he’s doing really well. You can only do so much coming off a layoff going seven-eighths. I think he’s ready to go seven-eighths but is he ready to go seven-eighths against the likes of Nashville? (Bob Baffert)
Nashville: “As easy as he won the maiden race and his second race, the reason we didn’t want to run in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint was knowing we still had this opportunity for a G1 in the Malibu. Circumstances have put some extremely talented three-year-olds together.” (Steve Asmussen)
Thousand Words: “He’s been working well and there’s a lot of speed in the race. You never know what’s going to happen.” (Bob Baffert)
Santa Anita: La Brea Stakes G1 $300,000 7f, dirt, 3yo fillies (10.43pm GMT)
Steve Asmussen and Bob Baffert clash again as multiple stakes winner Finite (Ricardo Santana) attempts to thwart a Baffert quartet headed by Keeneland stakes winner Merneith (John Velazquez).
Finite: “I think her accomplishments speak for themselves. She’s run some very good races and the La Brea gives us a G1 opportunity. She’s an extremely accomplished three-year-old filly with multiple G2 and G3 victories and $700,000 in earnings. With her looks and remarkable pedigree, a G1 would raise her to a new status.” (Steve Asmussen)
Santa Anita: San Antonio Stakes G2 $200,000 1m ½f, dirt, 3yo+ (10.09pm GMT)
Pegasus World Cup hero Mucho Gusto (Bob Baffert/John Velazquez) returns after a ten-month layoff in the G2 San Antonio. The four-year-old hasn’t run since coming fourth in the inaugural Saudi Cup and the 2021 edition of that race in Riyadh is his main target. He faces potential stiff opposition here with the Native Diver 1-2-3 headed by Extra Hope (Richard Mandella/Juan Hernandez) and Sharp Samurai (Mark Glatt/Flavien Prat), third in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
Idol: “I think he’s a distance horse, very lightly raced and a late-developing three-year-old. He’s very talented and broke the track record at Churchill going a mile and three-sixteenths in 1:55.97 on November 8. He got a big number but it was in a one-other-than so I don’t know if it means anything.” (Richard Baltas)
Mucho Gusto: “I think the Saudi trip was hard on those horses; a lot weren’t the same after it so I gave him four months off. He looks healthy and great but he’ll need the race. He’s not in peak form but this should tighten him up.
“I was debating running him in the Pegasus – the owner wants him ready for the Saudi Cup so we’ll give him a race now and take it from there. I want to see how he runs and if he needs another one or not before the Saudi Cup. I won’t rule anything out.” (Bob Baffert)
Sharp Samurai: “He deserves to win a race; hopefully his time is coming on Saturday. We gave him a little bit of a break right after the Breeders’ Cup, a working vacation.” (Mark Glatt)
Santa Anita: American Oaks G1 $300,000 1m2f, turf, 3yo fillies (11.17pm GMT)
Back at the scene of her Breeders’ Cup triumph, Royal Ascot runner-up Sharing (Graham Motion/John Velazquez) steps up in trip for the G1 American Oaks; she was a close-up fourth three weeks ago after a break in the G1 Matriarch. Among chief rivals is former Johnny Murtagh-trained Del Mar Oaks winner Red Lark (Paddy Gallagher/Drayden van Dyke), who gives owners Eclipse Thoroughbreds a second string.
Neige Blanche: “She started her three-year-old season very early in Europe and this summer she traveled from California to New York and back, then we decided to give her a brief break. She’s been working steadily and she should be ready.” (Leonard Powell)
Red Lark: “We’re confident she can get the mile and a quarter. She’s proven at the G1 level over a mile and an eighth and this is her home course. We think she’ll will be relaxed at the back of the pack and then come flying home. I hate to use the term ‘overachiever’, but she’s really turned into a phenomenal filly.” (Aron Wellman of owners, Eclipse Thoroughbreds)
Sharing: “The big question mark for her is the mile and a quarter. We thought since we’d had trouble stringing together consecutive races this season, while we had her right this was a good opportunity for us to run in a Grade 1 on a course we know she likes and against her age group. The mile and a quarter distance should give us a good idea about how to structure her campaign for next season. We’re cautiously optimistic, but the most important thing is she’s doing exceptionally well.” (Aron Wellman)
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