May 28, 2020

Charlatan looms as heavy favorite in first Arkansas Derby division

Charlatan romps in a Santa Anita allowance (Cecilia Gustavsson/Horsephotos.com)

Having drawn comparisons with Triple Crown winner Justify early in his career, Charlatan will make his highly-anticipated stakes debut Saturday in the first division of the $500,000 Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park.

Pushed back from its original Apr. 11 date to the first Saturday in May following the postponement of the Kentucky Derby (G1) due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby attracted 22 entries and was thus split into two divisions. Each division will offer up Kentucky Derby qualifying points of 100-40-20-10 to the top four finishers.

The delay in the Kentucky Derby might ultimately prove beneficial to Charlatan, who didn’t debut for trainer Bob Baffert until Feb. 16. Winning that 6-furlong maiden at Santa Anita by 5 3/4 lengths, the son of Speightstown was back a month later and rolled to a 10 1/4-length allowance win over a mile.

Charlatan earned Brisnet speed ratings of 101 and 105, respectively, and figures tough to beat at a short price if he reproduces that kind of speed. He’ll break from post 1 under Martin Garcia.

The main challengers on paper number around three. Grade 1-placed at two, Gouverneur Morris conceded some seasoning to the top finishers when fourth in the Mar. 29 Florida Derby (G1) and is eligible to improve. Anneau d’Or, one of the top 2-year-olds last term when narrowly missing in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and Los Alamitos Futurity (G2), had an unfavorable trip when a disappointing ninth in a division of the Risen Star (G2) in February and sheds the blinkers for this comeback attempt. Hopeful (G1) winner Basin ran third in the Rebel (G2) in his season debut, but regressed when only fourth in the Oaklawn S. last month.

The division lost a starter on Tuesday when Shooters Shoot, runner-up in Charlatan’s debut and a local allowance winner, was announced as a non-starter after spiking a fever, according to trainer Peter Eurton.

The first division of the Arkansas Derby goes as Race 11 on the 14-race program that begins at 1 p.m. ET.