He may have to wait until September for the rescheduled Kentucky Derby, but Bob Baffert’s stranglehold on the 2020 run for the roses tightened further on Saturday night, with the master trainer landing both divisions of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.
The two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer is now responsible for three of the top four in the betting for the Churchill Downs highlight thanks to the highly impressive displays of unbeaten star colts Charlatan and Nadal.
The first leg of the American Triple Crown would typically have taken place in front of a 150,000-strong Louisville crowd yesterday, but the $3 million prize fell foul of Covid-19’s global sporting shutdown, now pencilled in for September 5.
With crucial Kentucky Derby qualification points up for grabs and the top level programme currently restrictive, the race won by Triple Crown hero American Pharoah in 2015 was delayed from April 11 and split into two divisions.
The divide worked a treat for Baffert, whose high-class Oaklawn scorers rank highly among an apparently vintage crop of three-year-olds for the legendary handler.
He also is responsible for undefeated Classic contender Authentic, a general 7-1 chance to turn over his stablemates, who share favouritism at 5-1 with Bet365 after advertising their claims at the Arkansas track.
“I’m really excited about these three,” Baffert told Bloodhorse from his famed “Grade 1 Couch” in California with three of his sons beside him.
“It’s hard to separate these three three-year-olds. They are good horses, and I’m lucky to have them. I wish the Kentucky Derby was in June.”
The 67-year-old added of his preparations for the rescheduled Classic: “I’m waiting to hear what they are doing with the other big races for three-year-olds. We know the Kentucky Derby is in September, and we’ll work back from there.”
The most visually impressive Oaklawn performance came in the first division of the 1m1f contest when Charlatan romped to a six-length success as 2-5 favourite in the hands of Martin Garcia.
The son of Speightstown always travelled in his comfort zone on the front end while still able to get his eight rivals in trouble before turning in, effectively coming home unchallenged to become clear 4-1 favourite with Bet Victor and Unibet for the Kentucky Derby.
Stablemate Nadal appeared to be landed in the stronger half of the divide but rose to the challenge convincingly to deliver in a time that was slightly quicker (0.15 seconds) than Charlatan’s two races earlier.
The son of Breeders’ Cup Classic hero Blame looked to have a battle on his hands turning in but picked up well for Joel Rosario’s urgings to provide Baffert with a famous double.
The three-time Dubai World Cup-winning trainer has landed the race described as the most exciting two minutes in American sport on five occasions, most recently with Triple Crown champions American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018).
Though it’s clear he holds this year’s Classic contingent in high regard, it was Charlatan who drew comparisons with the most recent Triple Crown winner in Baffert’s eyes.
“We learned today that both Nadal and Charlatan are gifted horses and that Nadal can sit off horses. That’s good news,” he said.
“Charlatan just goes fast and faster. He’s a smaller version of Justify.”
He added of Rebel Stakes winner Nadal: “He was ready for this. He was tested the last time.”
Runaway Florida Derby scorer Tiz The Law is still towards the head of the antepost market for the Kentucky Derby after the Saturday night shake-up at Oaklawn, priced between 5-1 and 6-1.
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