On the first Saturday in May, trainer Bob Baffert did not win a single Derby. He won two.
Undefeated Charlatan set a blistering pace and simply ran away to win the first division of the Grade I Arkansas Derby under wraps by six lengths in a respectable final time of 1:48.49 for the nine furlongs. Two races later, undefeated Nadal was forced to race from just off the pace when Wells Bayou broke like a rocket and crossed over from his outside post.
Baffert had been working Nadal behind horses in his morning preps and the lessons learned paid dividends as he pressed the pace, took over entering the stretch, and pulled clear to win the second division of the Arkansas Derby geared down in 1:48.34.
The 100 qualifying points earned by both Charlatan and Nadal are enough to put them in the starting gate at Churchill Downs on Sept. 5, the revised date for the Kentucky Derby.
As if the Baffert duo were not formidable enough, undefeated stablemate Authentic will get his chance to shine in the rescheduled Grade I Santa Anita Derby.
The Arcadia track has not raced since March 22 after the L.A. County Health Department shut Santa Anita down prior to the first race on March 27, deeming the track a non-essential business. The current “Safer-at-Home” restrictions are set to expire on May 15, and coinciding with the change in restrictions, Santa Anita last week published a condition book with spectator-free racing to resume that day, pending approval from the county.
The new condition book shows the Santa Anita Derby, originally scheduled to be run on April 4, will be held on June 6. The original $1 million purse has been reduced to $400,000.
Date change impact?
Baffert has trained five Kentucky Derby winners (Real Quiet, War Emblem, Silver Charm, American Pharoah, and Justify), so there is no question he knows how to get a three-year-old to peak on the First Saturday in May. How will moving the Kentucky Derby to September affect his trio?
Baffert gets the best out of late-developers, too. His work with West Coast and Arrogate in their preparation for wins in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga in late August are good examples.
West Coast was a huge horse and slow to mature. Instead of rushing him to the Kentucky Derby, Baffert allowed West Coast to mature at his own pace, found easier races where he could get experience and gain confidence, and the result was top performances to win the 2017 Travers and the Pennsylvania Derby.
Arrogate did not make his career debut until April of his three-year-old season, losing a sprint at Los Alamitos. Arrogate found his game when he stretched out around two turns, and Baffert used a couple of Allowance wins in California to propel him to victory in the 2016 Travers before coming right back to defeat older horses, including California Chrome, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Assuming they remain healthy (and that is a big assumption), both Charlatan and Nadal, who did not make their career debuts until earlier this year, and Charlatan (just three career starts) figure to benefit from the added time to the Kentucky Derby.
Churchill Downs’ scheduled opening on April 24 was postponed due to the coronavirus. Like Santa Anita, Churchill Downs released a condition book last week. Spectator-free racing at Churchill Downs is scheduled to start on May 16.
After opening weekend May 16-17, Churchill plans to run four days a week, Thursday through Sunday, starting May 21. The first Churchill race with Kentucky Derby qualifying points will be the Matt Winn Stakes on May 23, offering 10-4-2-1 points to the first four finishers. Churchill will also have a Memorial Day card on Monday, May 25.
Lindo Report Play for Gaming Today: Tampa Bay Downs Friday, Race 6 — Navy Armed Guard (No. 2). Course specialist was a fish out of water on the grass last time. Back to dirt at a mile and 40 yards and a nice trip stalking what should be a legit early pace will help Navy Armed Guard’s cause.