While this year’s Derby was held in another state on the first Saturday in May, for Bob Baffert it was business as usual with dual victories in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.
Split into two divisions, Baffert sent out the favorites in the unbeaten duo of Nadal and Charlatan and they each won by open lengths to all but guarantee spots in the rescheduled Kentucky Derby now set for September 5.
Much like he did in the Grade 2 Rebel in March, Nadal gave co-owner Mark Mathiesen another good weekend with his family’s 2-year-old Australian runner Away Game also finishing a close fifth in a Group 1 against older females. You can read about Away Game, Nadal and the Mathiesens in the March 16 Monday Special here.
Much like his stablemate, Charlatan’s victory was also special for his ownership group, which has found major success with its first 3-year-olds.
One of a handful of horses owned by SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Fred Hertrich, John Fielding and Golconda Stables, breeder Stonestreet Stables is also involved in the colt that is the second stakes winner from two foals out of their Grade 2 winner Authenticity. The same partnership – outside of Stonestreet Farm – also owns Grade 2 winner Authentic, who is currently eighth on the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard.
The partnership between some of the most successful ownerships in racing was formed just a few years ago. SF Bloodstock’s Tom Ryan approached the other partners about buying colts and sending them to Baffert with the goal of making stallion prospects. The plan has worked to near perfection with its first runners including Grade 1 winner Eight Rings and Authentic.
“Tom Ryan of SF Bloodstock approached me a couple years ago to try and put a partnership together like this,” Starlight Racing’s Jack Wolf said. “Tom had had a number of good horses with Baffert and obviously Baffert is very good with these 2- to 3-year-olds and the decision was made by Tom to send the horses to Bob. He certainly has looked very smart in his decision to do that.”
While Authentic is waiting for the Santa Anita Derby, tentatively rescheduled for early June, Baffert thought Charlatan was ready for this race. The connections knew Charlatan had talent – he’d won his first two starts by a combined 16 lengths – but Wolf admitted he didn’t expect Charlatan to win as easily as he did in Arkansas.
“We all know he’s a good horse, but even going off at 2-5, you still have to run the race,” Wolf said Sunday. “But he ran even better than what I expected. He broke well and had some pretty fast splits. I was reading the quotes from Martin this morning and he said the horse did it within himself very easily, so it was a great thing to have to celebrate amongst all the other stuff we’re going through.”
Winning the Arkansas Derby in only his third start, Charlatan has shown a similar progression to Baffert’s Triple Crown winner Justify, who Starlight Racing also owned in partnership. They made their debuts and second starts within only days of each other in their respective years and their first stakes runs came in what would be final Kentucky Derby preps any other year.
Reflecting on how Baffert can get lightly raced horses such as Justify and Charlatan to perform in major races after only a few starts, Wolf joked that it’s because the Baffert team is part horse.
“He’s got a great team of professional horse people led by Jimmy Barnes. I think Jimmy Barnes is 100 percent horse and Baffert is 95 percent horse,” he quipped. “Amongst his team, they really know how to get a horse ready, they know when to back off, they know when to go forward and he’s got a tremendous team put together.”
Charlatan was able to run in the Arkansas Derby and earn his spot in the Kentucky Derby but Wolf admitted the COVID-19 pandemic has made it hard to make plans with trainers not able to target races as easily as a normal year.
“With all the shutdowns and stuff, they don’t know what races to point these horse to,” Wolf said. “We’ve got Authentic, that we sort of backed off on, and hopefully Santa Anita will open up and there will be something for him to run in. It’s very unfortunate. But in the whole scheme of things the horse racing is a minor point compared to what else is going on in the world, so it’s been fine from an owner’s standpoint.”
The lack of races was drilled home to the partnership last week when Eight Rings made his 3-year-old debut but faded to fifth in the listed Bachelor Stakes at Oaklawn. Baffert wanted a longer race for the Empire Maker colt making his first start in nearly six months but his options were limited.
“Bob said the horses needed the race and he wanted 7 furlongs or a mile but the only thing that was available was the 6-furlong race,” Wolf said. “I’m not making excuses for him but hopefully if we can find a race for him around two turns, hopefully he’ll perform better. But he came out sound and he’s hopefully another bullet that we’ll have ready the first Saturday in September.”
If all goes to plan in the next four months, Starlight Stables will again have at least one of the favorites in the race – a position they’ve been in many times over the past few years. Wolf admits that having some longer shots since their first ever Kentucky Derby runner went off as favorite in 2002 makes having favorites a little sweeter.
“Through the years we’ve had Momba and Keyed Entry who came in last, Intense Holiday was a longer shot, and Itsaknockout was 30-1,” Wolf reflected. “So it really makes it a lot more exciting when you feel like you’ve got a really good shot at winning this thing. I’ll be happy if we can get one, two, or three going into [the Derby] with low odds.”
(Disclosure: SF Bloodstock is a client of Melissa Bauer-Herzog’s Pyrois Media)
Maiden Winner of the Week: Five years to the day after dual Grade 1 winner Carpe Diem made his final start in the 2015 Kentucky Derby, his daughter Scolding made an impressive debut at Oaklawn.
The Steve Asmussen trainee went off as the heavy favorite in the 11-horse field and showed why nearly from the start. Breaking well, the filly settled just off She’s The Boss for part of the 6-furlong race. Jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. let the filly out a notch to take over the lead around the turn then spent much of the stretch looking back as Scolding galloped home 6 lengths clear.
Phoenix Thoroughbred spent $475,000 last year to buy the filly, the third winner out of Rebuke and a half-sister to the dam of Liam’s Map’s stakes-placed runner Compensate.
Sire Of The Week: Soon to complete his first season in Turkey, former Kentucky resident Daredevil received a boost to his stallion resume when Swiss Skydiver led home a 1-3 finish for the sire in Friday’s Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes.
Dismissed at 16-1 even after a win in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks, Swiss Skydiver put on quite a show down the stretch when battling with Venetian Harbor more than 10 lengths ahead of the field. Pulling away from that highly regarded foe in the final stages to win by 2 1/2 lengths, Daredevil’s Grade 3 Honeybee winner Shedaresthedevil proved to be the best of the rest with a third-place finish 13 1/4 lengths behind the winner.
A Grade 1 winner at 2 who only made two starts at 3 before his retirement, Daredevil had 87 live foals from his first crop in 2017. In a loaded generation of first-crop sires, he has sired 19 winners from 58 runners with five stakes horses and three stakes winners.
Sold to Turkey at the end of last year, the owners of the 21 mares who visited him in 2019 may yet be rewarded for their faith in the stallion if his foals continue to get better with age – something that both his graded stakes-winning daughters have already showed is a distinct possibility.
Quote of the Week: “They always say you can’t have too many entered in the Derby and Baffert seems to bring a number every year. He probably would have won the Kentucky Derby yesterday with one of these horses if it hadn’t been postponed but we’ll never know what the answer is to that.” – Starlight Racing’s Jack Wolf
Bits And Pieces: Eleventh in last year’s Kentucky Derby, By My Standards took the rest of the year off and has quickly become one of the most highly regarded older horses this year with three straight victories. Winning an allowance and the Grade 2 New Orleans Classic at Fair Grounds to start the year, the Goldencents colt moved over to Oaklawn Park and posted a career-beset effort winning Saturday’s Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap. … Fans and horsemen can celebrate as racing Kentucky moved a step closer to reality with Churchill Downs releasing its condition book Sunday. Racing at Churchill is scheduled to begin May 16 with the condition book showing the first stakes will be run May 23 – including the Grade 3 Matt Winn for 3-year-olds. ... Did you see the first edition of The 2020 Special? Plenty of useful and entertaining content in there, including picks from The Saratoga Special's handicappers and a few guests. John Shapazian and Tom Law led the way in the handicapping, each picking seven of the 14 winners Saturday at Oaklawn. John finished the day one better than Tom, 12-11, after tabbing four winners at Gulfstream Park and one at Tampa Bay Downs. Charles Bedard finished the day with 10 wins from the 35 races and Rob Whitlock trailed with seven. Nancy Holthus fared the best of the guest handicappers, picking five of the 14 winners on the Arkansas Derby Day card at Oaklawn.