Charlatan showed no signs of rust in the $300,000, Grade 1 Runhappy Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26 at Santa Anita Park, making his first start since May 2 a winning one by overpowering five opponents en route to a 4 ½-length runaway victory.
The Bob Baffert-trained Speightstown colt had been sidelined since crossing the finish line first in a division of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park due to an ankle injury, a victory that subsequently was stripped away after he tested positive for lidocaine. He had won his two prior races prior to the Arkansas Derby by a combined 16 lengths at Santa Anita and reaffirmed his affinity for the track in the seven-furlong Malibu, finishing up in 1:21.50. The Malibu capped off an action-packed opening day of racing at Santa Anita, which kicked off its winter-spring meet without spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Charlatan was sent off as the 8-5 second betting choice in the Malibu behind 13-10 favorite Nashville, who entered the race unbeaten and unchallenged in three starts, most recently a 3 ½-length win in the listed Perryville Stakes at Keeneland. With Mike Smith riding for the first time, Charlatan broke well and rated a length off of Nashville’s early pace as the leader took the field through a half-mile in :43.95.
Smith moved Charlatan closer in the turn and the colt effortlessly moved past Nashville at the quarter pole and shook clear of the field in early stretch. The outcome was never in doubt in the final furlong as allowance winner Express Train and Grade 1 winner Collusion Illusion moved up and past Nashville to claim second and third, respectively.
“First of all, my hat’s off to Bob and his whole crew to get this horse ready off an eight-month layoff,” Smith told Santa Anita’s press office. “To run against these types of horses was a feat itself, but I always thought he was a special horse. …When Bob told me I got the call, man I’ve been kind of on cloud nine ever since.”
Smith and Baffert both tallied their fourth wins in the Malibu, and Smith’s was his third in a row behind McKinzie (for Baffert) in 2018 and Omaha Beach last year.
Charlatan improved his career record to three wins in four starts and $247,200 in earnings for owners SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Stonestreet Stables, Fred Hertrich III, John Fielding and Golconda Stables. His victory capped off an eventful but ultimately successful year for Baffert, who won the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic with Authentic and captured several other top-level races but was also sanctioned for medication positives.
“This has been one of the better years I’ve ever had really,” Baffert said. “I actually won 17 (Grade 1 stakes) and the one in Oaklawn, I can’t count that one yet. It was a roller coaster. We are so grateful the races opened up and we got to run these great horses. …I have a great team behind me and great ownerships with wonderful people. They stuck by me with all the negative stuff, you need that support.
“For Santa Anita, it’s a shame that there wasn’t 30 to 40,000 people in the stands today. …But it’s one of those things you know – we are here.”
In other races on Santa Anita’s opening-day card: Fair Maiden broke through with her first graded stakes win at 20.60-1 odds by taking the Grade 1 LaBrea Stakes; Klaravich Stables’ Duopoly took the field gate-to-wire in winning the Grade 1 American Oaks; Kiss Today Goodbye scored an upset win in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes as Pegasus World Cup Invitational winner Mucho Gusto checked in fourth in his first start since February; and Smooth Like Strait won his fourth stakes race of 2020, and third graded stakes, in the Grade 2 Mathis Brothers Mile.