In the span of about 10 days, Bob Baffert’s chances of a record-tying sixth Kentucky Derby (G1) victory took a few palpable hits. The Hall of Fame trainer saw both of his unbeaten Arkansas Derby (G1) winners injured – first Nadal, in a career-ending blow, and on Saturday, Charlatan was sidelined by an ankle issue. Later the same afternoon, Authentic suffered his first loss in the Santa Anita Derby (G1).
But there was a bright spot among the Baffert sophomores as $3.65 million purchase Cezanne made a winning debut, just in the nick of time to entertain Derby thoughts. The 2019 topper at Fasig-Tipton’s Gulfstream Sale, Cezanne was among the 22 late nominees to the Triple Crown. His unveiling on the Santa Anita Derby undercard offered encouragement for his owners, the Coolmore partners and St. Elias Stable.
Drawn on the rail in Saturday’s 6TH race, a 6 1/2-furlong maiden, Cezanne got an education. The 2-5 favorite did not get away fastest, but had the speed to catch up into a stalking position through an opening quarter in :22.19. Cezanne also had the gears to move between foes for Flavien Prat, joined the leader at the half in a torrid :44.73, and kicked away entering the stretch. The 2 1/4-length winner stopped the timer in 1:16.13.
As a son of Hall of Famer Curlin, out of a Bernardini mare, from the family of Rags to Riches, Cezanne can boast a classic pedigree. Yet his three-quarter brother, Counterforce (by Curlin’s sire Smart Strike), was a stakes-winning sprinter. Their half-sister by Distorted Humor, Arabian Hope, was primarily a turf miler who captured the 2017 International Istanbul Trophy (G3) and placed third in the Falmouth (G1).
All three were produced by Achieving, who is herself a half-sister to Baffert’s 2013 Hollywood Starlet (G1) winner, Streaming (another by Smart Strike). She descends from Broodmare of the Year Better than Honour, a daughter of Deputy Minister. With Deputy Minister appearing as the broodmare sire of Curlin, Cezanne is inbred 3×4 to that Canadian Hall of Famer and influential sire.
Perhaps Cezanne will step into the breach as welcome reinforcement following his stablemates’ various reverses.
The Charlatan news was a scoop for the Paulick Report. Baffert revealed that the colt had developed filling in ankle that would likely involve a surgical procedure and about 45 days off. That ruled him out of the June 20 Belmont (G1) and Sept. 5 Derby, with the Oct. 3 Preakness (G1) being Triple Crown race still possible.
On Sunday, Baffert told Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman that pending further veterinary consultation, surgery might not be required. He described Charlatan’s ankle as “agitated, like he wrenched it,” and sounded a guardedly more positive note.
“I feel better about it today than yesterday,” Baffert added.
Charlatan was already under scrutiny for another reason, a reportedly positive test coming out of his romp in the first Arkansas Derby division. Results of tests on the split sample are still pending, as is whether he’ll retain his Grade 1 laurel, $300,000 winner’s share, and 100 Kentucky Derby points.