Charlatan wins Malibu Stakes on record-breaking opening day for Santa Anita
Charlatan, with jockey Mike Smith on board, wins Class I, $ 300,000 Malibu Stakes in Santa Anita on Saturday. (Benoit photo via Associated Press)
Trainer Bob Baffert retired some of his best horses later this year as Authentic, Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic winners. Maximum Security, which won the $ 20 million Saudi Cup; and Unlikely, winners of four Class 1 inserts, were all sent to the breeding stable.
But Baffert's starred refill barn found another when Charlatan won the Grade 1, $ 300,000 Malibu Stakes, 4½ lengths after an eight-month layoff from Santa Anita's opening film. It looked even better than the rim.
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The day was also something of a resurgence for Santa Anita, who, despite lacking fans on one of the track's biggest days, set a record for mutuel handle on the opening day. It was highlighted how the race has become dependent on off-track betting, mainly through online prepayments.
However, Saturday's numbers were still surprising. The grip on the 11-race card was $ 23,003,159, beating $ 20,491,016 on December 26, 2018, when 41,373 people were in attendance.
The seven-year-old Malibu was for 3-year-olds and should be the coronation of Nashville, the undefeated colt of Steve Asmussen, who lives on the east coast. Nashville was on the undercard at Keeneland on Breeders 'Cup day and won so much that most believed he could have won a Breeders' Cup race that day. His trip to Santa Anita should prove that.
Nashville had a good break and easily took the lead when Charlatan lined up outside his pace. The pair were pulling away from the rest of the six-horse field on the back straight as Charlatan began to sneak himself around the distant corner. At the end of the route, Charlatan was on the right track and got stronger. He pulled back with a hand-ride from Mike Smith. Nashville, who had never been challenged before, finished fourth.
Baffert said his instructions to Smith were simple, "You know the only way I can get him going. I didn't mean to overdo it with him. It's early in the year and all so I'm counting on his class to get him there. He will probably need this race.
“These really good ones like him just make my job a lot easier. You prepare them up to a point and then he just took over himself. That was just pure, pure brilliance that we saw. They rolled early. There was a really good horse he was chasing. With what this horse has been through, I'm just happy for the whole team and everyone involved to show that he is a very special horse. Hopefully we have a good year with him. "
Baffert's reference to Charlatan's year revolved around the Arkansas Derby and the weeks after.
Charlatan won one of the Oaklawn Race divisions, but a drug injury had taken that victory away. The colt tested positive for lidocaine, a pain reliever. Baffert said the horse was accidentally exposed to the horse when Jimmy Barnes, Baffert's chief assistant, saddled the horse and touched its tongue tie. Barnes was in pain after breaking his pelvis last year and was using a Salonpas patch. An appeal is filed against the case.
Shortly after the Arkansas Derby, the horse was diagnosed with an ankle injury, which it put on the shelf for nearly eight months from the belated Triple Crown races. Charlatan was sent to Stonestreet Farm near Ocala, Florida for a few months before returning to Baffert's barn in Southern California, where the colt eventually resumed training.
Charlatan paid $ 5.20, $ 3.60, and $ 2.60. Express Train finished second, followed by Collusion Illusion, Nashville, Independence Hall, and Thousand Words.
There were a couple of longshots on Saturday's card that had five tiered races. The $ 200,000 San Antonio Class 2 stakes were in some ways the side feature of Mucho Gusto and Sharp Samurai in the 1 1/16 mile race. But Sharp Samurai was scratching early in the day and Mucho Gusto didn't show up the way people thought it would.
It left things open for Kiss Today goodbye to rally and gain half a length. He paid $ 33.60 to win when Mucho Gusto finished fourth. Smith was the winning jockey for coach Eric Kruljac.
In the Class 1 $ 300,000 La Brea Sakes for 3 year old fillies who were seven furlongs in length, Fair Maiden got deep into the track, winning 2¼ lengths for trainer Eoin Harty and jockey Ricky Gonzalez, who won his first Class 1 race . Fair Maiden paid $ 43.20 to win. The other Class 1 winner was Duopoly, a New York shipper for trainer Chad Brown, who won the $ 300,000 American Oaks for 3-year-old filly walking 1¼ miles on the lawn. She paid $ 14.00 to win.
Strong favorite Smooth Like Strait won the $ 200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile for 3-year-olds on the turf. He paid $ 3.60 to win.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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Mike E. Smith
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