By Steve Sherack
The GI Runhappy Malibu S. on Santa Anita's opening day program could potentially feature a clash between two of the more exciting sophomores in training.
The Bob Baffert-trained Charlatan most recently crossed the wire a dominating six-length, wire-to-wire winner in the split-division GI Arkansas Derby May 2, but was subsequently stripped of the victory and demoted to ninth after testing positive for the Class 2 drug lidocaine. He missed an intended start in the GI Belmont S. due to a minor ankle injury.
The chestnut romped in his two prior trips to the post earlier this term at Santa Anita by a combined 16 lengths with Beyer Speed Figures of 105 and 106, respectively.
Bred in Kentucky by Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings, the $700,000 Keeneland September yearling is campaigned in partnership by the powerhouse line-up of SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Frederick Hertrich, III, John D. Fielding and Golconda Stables. Stonestreet also stayed in for a piece. It was announced in May that Hill 'n' Dale had purchased the breeding rights to the son of MGSW & MGISP Authenticity (Quiet American).
“Originally, Baffert was considering either the [GI] Cigar Mile or the Malibu, but he just wasn't ready in time for this weekend,” Jack Wolf of Starlight Racing said. “He's breezing well and aiming for the Malibu. There were some extenuating circumstances with the lidocaine positive–not to make an excuse–but I just want him to get back racing, stay sound and do what we thought he could do. And this will be a great test for him.”
Charlatan has posted six workouts since late October, most recently firing a six-furlong bullet in 1:13 (1/7) in Arcadia Dec. 2 (XBTV Video). After some filling appeared to his front ankle following a June 1 workout, an MRI revealed chips which required minor surgery.
“According to Baffert, it wasn't anything serious,” Wolf said. “I don't think it was a function of the injury, but it did take him a while to get back and being ready for a race. You know how horses are though, and Baffert knows him better than anybody else. I think he's got him pointed for the right spot.”
The Malibu field could also include: GIII Nashua S. and Jerome S. hero Independence Hall (Constitution), a smart winner in his Del Mar comebacker Nov. 8; and GI Bing Crosby S. winner Collusion Illusion (Twirling Candy).
“Boy, I tell you,” Wolf added. “That Nashville–[Starlight advisor] Frankie Brothers and I were walking out of Keeneland Breeders' Cup week and [Steve Asmussen assistant] Scott Blasi was schooling the horse in the paddock and we both stopped and asked who it was. That's how good looking he is. We'll have our hands full with him. But from a racing standpoint, it's going to be a great contest.”
After bypassing the GI Breeders' Cup Sprint at Keeneland, the undefeated Nashville instead put on a show on the undercard, setting a new track record for six furlongs in 1:07.89 while being geared down late en route to a jaw-dropping 3 1/2-length, front-running score in the Perryville S. Whitmore (Pleasantly Perfect), meanwhile, completed the same distance in 1:08.61 seven races later while upsetting the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
The CHC Inc. and WinStar Farm colorbearer, a $460,000 Keeneland September acquisition, debuted with a double-digit length victory in the Saratoga slop Sept. 2, then posted a career-high 103 Beyer Speed Figure in an equally impressive Keeneland allowance score Oct. 10. Both wins were against older horses.
“Look, I don't think it's going to be any easier of a race than the Breeders' Cup was,” WinStar's Elliott Walden said. “I think the quality in the Malibu is going to be similar to what he would've faced in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, but he will have the benefit of another start now. The way the whole thing shook out with him running faster than the Breeders' Cup Sprint, maybe I should've run him in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.”
Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, Nashville has turned in two workouts since, led by a five-furlong warning shot in 1:00 (1/43) at Fair Grounds Dec. 1.
“The race is setting up as a fabulous race,” Walden said. “I think it's going to be a really good one. We're really excited about the race. Nashville is doing super and we want to test him against some quality.”
Produced by the unraced Mizzen Mast mare Veronique, Nashville hails from the extended female family of GI Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo (Holy Bull) and MGISW Tiago (Pleasant Tap). He was bred in Kentucky by Breffni Farm.
“We've been blessed with a lot of good horses through the 20- year history of WinStar Farm,” Walden concluded. “I'm not sure if he's not the second-best horse we've ever had behind [Triple Crown winner] Justify. Time will tell. He does things that are incredible. Just watching him run gives you chills and very few horses come along like that.”