By Nicholas Godfrey
Santa Anita: Malibu Stakes G1 $300,000 7f, dirt, 3yo
One-time Kentucky Derby favourite Charlatan (Bob Baffert/Mike Smith) lit up Santa Anita with an electrifying performance to demolish a high-class field with a stunning runaway victory in the final US G1 event of 2020.
The winning margin was 4½ lengths over late-running Express Train but it could have been more as the winner was eased down in the last 100 yards.
The race was billed as a showdown between Charlatan and much-vaunted Nashville, two sons of Speightstown, neither of whom had been headed in any of their respective three races.
With Charlatan thought likely to need the race after an eight-month layoff following an ankle issue, his rival was sent off favourite and seemingly had the run of the race up front, only to be brushed aside on the turn before Charlatan cleared away.
Nashville faded to fourth as Charlatan stopped the clock in 1m21.50s for what was officially his first G1 win after his controversial DQ in the Arkansas Derby for a positive post-race test blamed on cross-contamination by his trainer.
Bob Baffert: “I told Mike, ‘you know I can only get him so ready, I didn’t want to overdo it with him, it is early in the year and all, so I’m counting on his class to get him there – he’s probably gonna need this race’.
“You know but those really good ones like him, they just make my job a whole lot easier. You get them ready to a certain point and then he just took over himself, that was just pure pure brilliance that we witnessed today.
“They were rolling early, there was a really good horse he was chasing. He is a really special horse. Hopefully we will have a good year with him. What he did today was incredible.”
Mike Smith: “First of all my hat’s off to Bob and his whole crew to get this horse ready off an eight-month layoff. To run against these types of horses was a feat itself, but I always thought he was a special horse. I’ve had the opportunity to watch him, California is his home base, so I’ve seen a lot of him and always wanted a chance to ride him. When Bob told me I got the call, man I’ve been kind of on cloud nine ever since. He is extremely special.”
Santa Anita: American Oaks G1 $300,000 1m2f, turf, 3yo fillies
Front-running Duopoly (Chad Brown/Flavien Prat) made it look easy with a two-length score for her resurgent trainer, sprinting home after being gifted an easy lead to take her career record to four wins from six starts on her G1 debut. Royal Ascot runner-up Sharing chased the pace but only just held on for third after looking one-paced in the stretch as she stepped up in distance.
Flavien Prat: “I thought on the backside someone was going to hook up with me but lucky enough nobody did. We had a pretty nice trip. She was full of herself and travelling perfect. When I asked her she really kicked in. She never really ran the distance but I guess Chad Brown doesn’t come down here just to race.”
Jose Hernandez (assistant trainer): “She has been training really well, and she has been doing everything right. You cannot come from behind here; you have to be up close to the front. She used to run a mile and sixteenth, but now against fillies she wants to take the lead easily with her ears pinned back.”
Santa Anita: La Brea Stakes G1 $300,000 7f, dirt, 3yo fillies
Jockey Ricky Gonzalez landed his first G1 win as 20-1 shot Fair Maiden (Eoin Harty) kept on strongly after challenging six wide down the middle of the track for a ready 2¼-length victory over the Baffert pair Golden Principal and Merneith.
Eoin Harty: “I’ve been watching Ricky ride since he came down here and I think he’s the next superstar. He’s brave and he puts his horse in a spot to win. I grab him in every time I can because I think he’s a world-class rider.
“I didn’t want to keep taking her up to Woodbine so I found a spot in Churchill and that was a big question mark as to whether she would handle it there and she did. She was super-professional that day and gave me a lot of confidence in bringing her out here for this.”
Santa Anita: San Antonio Stakes G2 $200,000 1m ½f, dirt, 3yo+
Fitness seemed to tell for Pegasus World Cup winner Mucho Gusto as the odds-on favourite came up empty in the stretch behind late-running longshot Kiss Today Goodbye (Eric Kruljac/Mike Smith).
Unseen since finishing fourth in the Saudi Cup, Mucho Gusto chased the pace but had to be ridden to join issue in the stretch and then cried enough at the furlong marker. The Baffert-trained four-year-old faded into fourth as 16-1 chance Kiss Today Goodbye scored with a last-to-first effort.
Eric Kruljac: “He was always very immature early on. It just took him longer to get to where he is and I think he is really just beginning to mature. He ate the dirt; the colt has put it all together and Mike gave him an absolutely perfect ride. The pace gods were on our side.”
Santa Anita: Mathis Brothers Mile G2 $200,000, 1m, turf, 3yo
Narrowly beaten in G1 company on his previous outing, a return to top company beckons for odds-on favourite Smooth Like Strait (Michael McCarthy/Umberto Rispoli), who overcame front-running Storm The Court in the stretch for his third graded-stakes win of 2020.
Michael McCarthy: “We have two G1s back-to-back here in the spring, the Kilroe Mile and the Shoemaker. Those would probably be his immediate plans for right now, who knows we will see what happens after that. He has earned himself a little bit of a break here and he’s going to enjoy himself for a week or two.”
• Visit the Santa Anita website