Shortly after Nadal courageously handled his two-turn debut in the Rebel (G2), Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert witnessed another Kentucky Derby (G1) hopeful – Charlatan – pass his first route test with flying colors at Santa Anita.
As a chestnut who made a sparkling career debut in a sprint maiden on Presidents’ Day weekend, Charlatan was already evoking a parallel with Baffert’s 2018 Triple Crown star Justify. The comparisons will grow now that Charlatan has followed the same game plan – a mile allowance – to a similarly resounding result.
But Justify didn’t have to organize his schedule around a global pandemic. The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is having a significant impact on racing as well as sports, entertainment, and society in general.
A decision on the status of the Kentucky Derby, set for its traditional date as the first Saturday in May, is expected within the coming week.
“We don’t know if we’ll run here in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), because nobody’s really sure when anything is going to happen,” Baffert told Santa Anita publicity. “Churchill (Downs) is saying they’re not going to run the Derby without the people there, so I’m hearing maybe June or in September.
“Whenever they cancel the Masters (in April at Augusta National), that’s like the Derby…I’ve never seen anything like this, it’s kinda scary. Hopefully they can get everything under control.”
Charlatan and jockey Drayden Van Dyke, however, had everything under control on Saturday. The 3-10 favorite sped to the lead from the outside post 5, crossed over, and never had to think that there were others on the track. The rest were simply outclassed, but of greater interest for his classic prospects, he stretched out with an equal measure of ease and authority.
Charlatan reeled off fractions of :23.14, :46.86, and 1:11.04 on the bridle. With Van Dyke only keeping him on task, he powered away and widened his margin down the lane. Six lengths on top at the 7-furlong split in 1:23.34, he was 10 1/4 clear while finishing in 1:36.24.
The 11-1 Rushie was best of the rest, with 2-1 second choice Great Power third in his comeback. Princeofthenorth was never involved. Silent Fury chased early but was ultimately eased. Czechmight was a vet scratch.
Baffert was understandably pleased with Charlatan’s performance.
“Right now, we’re just glad they didn’t cancel,” the trainer said, alluding to Santa Anita’s Friday cancellation due to rain, “cause we were going to go to Sunland Park.
“Drayden did a great job. I thought he broke just a little slow, but he took the lead easily…He’s quiet in his demeanor and he was out there on cruise control.”
In response to a question about whether Charlatan needs the lead or can sit off the pace, Baffert issued a categorical statement.
“He can do it any way he wants…He was pretty fresh because we didn’t get to train yesterday.”
Bred by Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings, Charlatan was sold for $700,000 to SF Bloodstock and Starlight West as a Keeneland September yearling. Both of those connections were involved in Justify. Also joining the Charlatan partnership were Madaket Stables (an entity of Sol Kumin who had an interest in Justify under the name of Head of Plains Partners), breeder Stonestreet, Frederick Hertrich III, John D. Fielding, and Golconda Stables.
By Speightstown and out of the Grade 2-winning Quiet American mare Authenticity, Charlatan is a half-brother to stakes scorer Hanalei Moon. This is a branch of the prolific A4 family responsible for a handful of Derby winners including the legendary Swaps (1955) and most recently California Chrome (2014).
That family recalls the lore of the first Saturday in May. Its iconic place on the calendar is recognized in the statement regarding Derby 146 that Churchill Downs released earlier Saturday. Here’s an excerpt:
During times of uncertainty, our traditions provide a great sense of comfort. We realize, that for many of you, the Kentucky Derby is a treasured annual tradition, and for others, a bucket-list experience. The time-honored traditions of the Kentucky Derby are as much about the fans as the race itself.
We recognize that the impact of this iconic event extends well beyond the historic racetrack of Churchill Downs. The Kentucky Derby is a cherished and important time for the City of Louisville and the Commonwealth of Kentucky. We are mindfully aware of our fans who travel from great distances to join us as well as our valued employees whose most intense preparations to host a world-class event begin now.
For these reasons, we have been working carefully and diligently with relevant health experts and authorities to ensure we make the most responsible decision regarding the timing of the 146th Kentucky Derby this year. We thank you for your patience and are committed to providing regular communication and transparency as we move forward. This is not a decision we take lightly and we expect to have an update about the Kentucky Derby and additional information on our upcoming Spring Meet in the coming week.
Our hearts are with those near and far who have been affected.
Thank you for being a part of the Churchill Downs family.