September 25, 2021

Kentucky Derby Report – Baffert duo dazzles in Arkansas Derby

Nadal (light blue hat) leads the field home in the stretch of the Arkansas Derby second division (c) Oaklawn/Coady Photography

Charlatan and Nadal posted convincing wins in split divisions of the May 2 Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park. The unbeaten 3-year-olds confirmed their status as top contenders for the Kentucky Derby, which has been rescheduled for Sept. 5, and both reside in the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

His accomplishments include a record 15 Triple Crown race wins, and Baffert can tie Ben Jones for the most Kentucky Derby wins with a sixth victory this fall. It’s been a remarkable six-year stretch for the Arizona native as Baffert has developed Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify, as well as future Hall of Famer Arrogate.

Charlatan and Nadal will try to establish themselves in the same mold. The exciting colts won their respective Arkansas Derby divisions by open lengths in nearly identical times, with Nadal completing the 1 1/8-mile distance .15 seconds faster (1:48.34 compared to 1:48.49), and each received a commendable 102 Brisnet Speed rating.

The race similarities stop there though, with Charlatan enjoying a stroll in the park as the commanding speed in the first division and Nadal tracking the pace in a deeper second division.

Charlatan has romped wire-to-wire in all three starts, winning his debut at 6-furlongs by 5 3/4 lengths in mid-February and an entry-level allowance at a two-turn mile by 10 1/4 lengths four weeks later. The chestnut son of Speightstown reeled off solid splits in :22.88, :46.08, and 1:09.68 on a clear lead before being asked for run entering the stretch of the Arkansas Derby, drawing off to a six-length decision.

From a stamina-infused female family, Charlatan has registered outstanding Brisnet Speed ratings (101-105-102). It will be interesting to see what happens when he can’t dictate terms up front, but Charlatan has certainly done everything right so far in just 2 1/2 months of racing.

Unlike his stablemate, Nadal has been battle-tested. After dominating his first start at 6-furlongs in mid-January, the massive bay dueled most of the way before scoring by less than a length in the 7-furlong San Vicente (G2) three weeks later. The front-running son of Blame showed incredible determination when stretching out to two turns in the 1 1/16-mile Rebel (G2) on March 14, withstanding multiple early challenges on a wicked pace before turning back a fast-closing rival in the stretch to prevail by three-quarters of a length.

Inside posts in the San Vicente and Rebel did Nadal no favors, but he was headstrong leading all the way in those starts. Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Wells Bayou beat him to the fore at the break in the Arkansas Derby, and Nadal settled an up-close second before launching his bid on the far turn. When eventual runner-up King Guillermo advanced to a threatening position in midstretch, Nadal had another gear and won going away by three lengths.

Nadal logged inferior Speed figures than Charlatan in his first three starts (94-96-95), but he reached triple digits while displaying tractability for the first time in the Arkansas Derby. He must continue to develop mentally – Well Bayou catching a flier at the break made it easier to settle – but Nadal remains big and fast, with enormous potential.

Charlatan and Nadal are poised to be major players in the coming months, and Baffert also has unbeaten Authentic gearing up for his return in the Santa Anita Derby (G1).

Road to the Kentucky Derby series

Churchill Downs announced new additions to the Road to the Kentucky Derby series on Tuesday, and the $150,000 Matt Winn (G3) on May 23 will be next on the schedule. The top four finishers will receive points on 50-20-10-5 scale toward a Derby berth, and unbeaten Grade 1 winner Maxfield and Risen Star (G2) runner-up Major Fed are among the expected contestants.

Three of the seven traditional major qualifiers for the Kentucky Derby have been offered (Arkansas Derby, Florida Derby and Louisiana Derby). The UAE Derby (G2) won’t take place in 2020, but the Santa Anita Derby is scheduled for June 6, and officials are still planning to run the Blue Grass (G2) and Wood Memorial (G2) this summer.