Taking Stock: Nashville, Charlatan, and Speightstown

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Nashville | Coady

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Speightstown (Gone West)'s highly promising 3-year-old colts Nashville and Charlatan are set to square off in the Gl Malibu S. over seven furlongs on opening day at Santa Anita Dec. 26, and the race already has the feel of an anticipated prize fight to it, all the way down to their respective heavyweight connections, who were once together on the same team that celebrated Justify (Scat Daddy)'s Triple Crown. But an important focus of this race belongs to their top-class sire, himself a champion sprinter, because it's quite a feat for a stallion to get two colts of this caliber in the same crop, forgetting for the moment that Grade l-winning sprinter Echo Town, recently retired to Ashford Stud, is also a member.

In brief careers, Nashville, bred by Breffni Farm and out of Veronique, by Mizzen Mast; and Charlatan, bred by Stonestreet and from the Quiet American mare Authenticity, have been utterly brilliant to date, and there hasn't been a horse that's finished in front of either one. Neither, however, is officially (or “recognized as”) a graded winner yet, and it is December already. Keep that in mind as you read on, and note that Speightstown didn't become a black-type winner until he was six.

Trained by Steve Asmussen, Nashville is undefeated in three starts. He made an eye-opening 'TDN Rising Star' debut in early September at Saratoga, winning a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special in 1:14.48 (six furlongs in 1:07.92) by 11 1/2 lengths. That race was followed in October by a 9 3/4-length romp in a NW2L allowance at Keeneland in 1:09.10, which appeared downright modest next to his last start at the same track on the Breeders' Cup undercard. He won the Listed Perryville S. easy as pie by 3 1/2 lengths in 1:07.89, geared down from some ways out. For context, Whitmore (Pleasantly Perfect) won the Gl Breeders' Cup Sprint later that day by about the same margin in a driving finish in 1:08.61.

Like Nashville, Charlatan was a debuting 'TDN Rising Star,' winning a Santa Anita maiden special for Bob Baffert by 5 3/4  lengths in 1:08.85 in February. Stretched to a mile in an AOC next out at the same track in March, Charlatan won so impressively by 10 1/4 lengths that he was promptly put on the Triple Crown trail by the trainer of the last two Triple Crown winners, who'd followed an almost identical path with Justify to that point. Then the pandemic struck.

In a normal year, Baffert would have used a graded prep in April, as he did with Justify, to set up the trip to Louisville for the first Saturday in May, but he didn't have to rush this year with a skewered Classic schedule that began with the Gl Belmont S. in June, followed by the Derby in September and the Gl Preakness S. in October. And though his stable was at the time loaded with talents such as Nadal (Blame) and Authentic (Into Mischief), Charlatan appeared to be his favorite, the one he waxed the most lyrical about in talent and physique.

Charlatan's most recent start confirmed that view. Baffert sent both Nadal and Charlatan to Hot Springs for split divisions of Oaklawn's Gl Arkansas Derby over nine furlongs in May, and though Nadal won his race in slightly faster time, Charlatan's score by six lengths was the more visually impressive of the two and the one that conjured the Classic imagery of Justify. Unfortunately, Charlatan was since disqualified from the race for a medication violation, and he didn't make the Classics after a flake in an ankle was subsequently discovered and removed.

The Malibu is his chance for redemption, which adds to the intriguing storyline for a prestigious race that not only pits Baffert again Asmussen–two top trainers that at one time or another have been publicly vilified for medication and welfare reasons–but also the principal ownership interests of the two colts against the other.

 Connections

The principals in this match are WinStar and SF Bloodstock, two of the most formidable players in the game at the moment, and both are major shareholders in Speightstown, who is soon to be 23 and stands at WinStar for $90,000 S&N in 2021.

CHC, INC. (formerly known as China Horse Club) and WinStar purchased Nashville for $460,000 at Keeneland September, while SF Bloodstock and Starlight bought Charlatan for $700,000 at the same sale for a partnership that also includes Madaket, Stonestreet, Fred Hertrich lll, John D. Fielding, and Golconda Stables.

WinStar, CHC, and SF Bloodstock had a three-year run buying yearlings a few years back that yielded some extraordinary results, most notably Justify, but also Grade l winners Improbable (City Zip) and Yoshida (Jpn) (Heart's Cry {Jpn}), among others. After Justify was sold to Coolmore for massive dollars, WinStar and CHC stayed together, but SF left and joined some of its minor associates in Justify like Starlight and Madaket to form another buying group, which has struck gold not only with Charlatan, but also with Derby and Gl Breeders' Cup Classic winner Authentic and Grade l winner Eight Rings (Empire Maker)–a colt bred by WinStar–among others. The breeding rights to Charlatan, Eight Rings, and Authentic have all been sold for substantial returns.

WinStar, meanwhile, has kept clicking on all cylinders, both as a breeder and owner. The farm bred the Daredevil fillies Shedaresthedevil, first in the Gl Kentucky Oaks; and Swiss Skydiver, winner of both the Gl Alabama S. and the Gl Preakness–a race in which she defeated Authentic (thereby snuffing a sizeable kicker WinStar's ex-partners could have earned with an Authentic win).

Either alone or in a variety of partnerships, WinStar has also raced several Grade l winners and promising youngsters this year, including with CHC, which most recently yielded promising juvenile Prime Factor (Quality Road), a 'TDN Rising Star.' The $900,000 Keeneland September yearling won his debut at Gulfstream Dec. 12 by 8 3/4 lengths and looks like a Classic colt for next year. So, too, does the partnership's Life Is Good (Into Mischief), a $525,000 buy at the same sale that won a Nov. 22 maiden special at Del Mar by 9 1/2 lengths for Baffert in another 'TDN Rising Star' performance that has garnered even more praise.

Earlier this season, WinStar raced homebred Gl Coaching Club American Oaks winner Paris Lights (Curlin) through its racing club, WinStar Stablemates Racing, and another homebred, Gl Woodward S. winner and Breeders' Cup Classic third Global Campaign (Curlin), with Sagamore Farm. Global Campaign will stand his first year next season at WinStar along with Improbable, joining Yoshida, who stands his second season in 2021.

Speightstown's Effect

Before I drop you with an uppercut, let me set up the scene. Speightstown is one of the best stallions at stud in North America and a favorite of mine, one that we recommend the heck out of at the day job at Werk Thoroughbred Consultants. Some of our clients feel the same way, and one, Chuck Fipke, who meticulously plans his matings, is breeding six mares to the WinStar sire in 2021, including his Kentucky Oaks winner and Kentucky Broodmare of the Year Lemons Forever–dam of two Grade l winners, including Eclipse Award winner Forever Unbridled; and Gl Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Perfect Shirl, dam of current 3-year-old Grade lll winner Shirl's Speight (Speightstown), yet another debut 'TDN Rising Star' in July at Woodbine.

Fipke has been a longtime supporter of the stallion and has bred and raced two of the stallion's 19 Grade l winners: Jersey Town, the sire of Fipke's Grade l winner Bee Jersey, who's now at stud at Darby Dan; and current 2-year-old Lady Speightspeare, yet another debut 'TDN Rising Star' winner at Woodbine who followed up with the Natalma S. at the same venue. She's a daughter of Fipke's homebred Grade ll winner Lady Shakespeare, a half-sister to Perfect Shirl.

Before Lady Speightspeare, in 2019 'TDN Rising Star' Sharing was Speightstown's only other top-level winner at two, and she, like the Fipke filly, won her Grade l race on turf. Through 13 crops of racing age, Speightstown has yet to sire a Grade l winner on dirt before July of its 3-year-old season, something I've labelled the “Speightstown Effect” in past columns (click here to read one from 2019).

It goes without saying, of course, that just because something hasn't occurred before doesn't mean it can't or won't happen in the future. Sharing and Lady Speightspeare in back-to-back years aptly made the point that the stallion can get Grade l winners at two, albeit on turf, and Charlatan, if not for a DQ in the Arkansas Derby, would have been Speightstown's first spring 3-year-old Grade l winner on dirt, but all three of these runners have come late in their sire's career after he'd established a pattern of maturation that's seen his best blossom as summer and fall sophomores and older horses.

Take a look at his other Grade l horses this year and note that they fit his established profile for later development: The Japanese-based 5-year-old mare Mozu Superflare won the Takamatsunomiya Kinen on turf in March, her first win at the highest level; 4-year-old Lexitonian lost the Bing Crosby by a nose in August at Del Mar, barely depriving his sire of another Grade l winner; on the day of Lexitonian's second-place finish, however, 3-year-old Echo Town, another debut 'TDN Rising Star,' won the H. Allen Jerkens at Saratoga; 4-year-old Victim of Love was third in the Ballerina S. at Saratoga in August; and a few weeks ago, 4-year-old Performer was third in the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct. Also, note that Sharing came back at three this year to run second in the Coronation S. at Ascot in June. You'll also note that most of these races were sprints and none was at more than a mile, which is Speightstown's wheelhouse. He routinely sires fast horses–and his best runners tend to come to hand late.

This isn't to say, however, that Speightstown can't get staying horses; he can, when bred right. But they tend to win over a trip at the highest level after June of their 3-year-old seasons, like Haynesfield (Jockey Club Gold Cup at four); Golden Ticket (Travers, in August); Seek Again (10-furlong Hollywood Derby, in December); Force the Pass (Belmont Derby Invitational, in July); and Competitionofideas (American Oaks, in December).

So, here's the punchline, and it's no joke: Through 12 crops of 3-year-olds, Speightstown has never had a starter in a Triple Crown race. That's an astounding stat for a sire of his quality, but in retrospect it fits neatly into the Speightstown Effect.

With hindsight, it's possible that some foals in his future crops will be bred and managed by breeders, owners, and trainers to be more malleable at two and come to hand earlier at three. Perhaps he'll get a future starter in the Derby, Preakness, or Belmont–and perhaps even a winner. But in the meantime, we can sit back and enjoy the speed show that the Malibu promises to be, and marvel that the two main protagonists in the race are by the same remarkable sire of high-octane runners.

(Special thanks to WTC's Megan Hoover Wadley for manually researching the pedigrees of Triple Crown starters from 2009 to 2020, and to researcher Alex Kerstetter for independently confirming the results.)

Sid Fernando is president and CEO of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, Inc., originator of the Werk Nick Rating and eNicks.

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