Nadal Aces Distance Test as Baffert Sweeps Both Arkansas Derby Divisions

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Nadal won the second division of the Arkansas Derby convincingly May 2 at Oaklawn Park to remain unbeaten. (Coady Photography)

One of the main reasons why trainer Bob Baffert was delighted that Oaklawn Park officials split the $500,000 Arkansas Derby into two divisions was that it removed the possibility of his two undefeated 3-year-olds, Nadal and Charlatan, slugging it out in the same race.

After what happened May 2 in the two divisions of the 1 1/8-mile stakes at Oaklawn Park, a showdown between the two seems inevitable — and it should be a classic matchup.

Charlatan and Nadal both kept their perfect records intact by winning their respective divisions of the Arkansas Derby and giving the Hall of Fame trainer an extremely powerful hand for the 3-year-old classics whenever they are held.

After Saturday’s sweep, not only Baffert does have two stars in Nadal and Charlatan, he has a set of aces with the undefeated Authentic also residing in the two-time Triple Crown winner’s barn.

“I’m really excited about these three,” said Baffert who savored both victories from his famed “Grade 1 Couch” in California with three of his sons beside him. “It’s hard to sperate these three 3-year-olds. They are good horses and I’m lucky to have them. I wish the Kentucky Derby was in June.”

While the Arkansas Derby victories provided Nadal and Charlatan with more than enough qualifying points, Baffert’s horses, and every other 3-year-old, will have to wait until Sept. 5 to race in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve due to the COVID-19 pandemic that kept Oaklawn Park closed to the public Saturday.

How anyone will prepare their horses for the first Saturday in September at Churchill Downs is cloudy, but Baffert said he’ll most likely run one at least one of the trio in the Santa Anita Derby, which has been rescheduled for June 6. Should the Belmont Stakes, which is scheduled for June 6, be moved to a date later in June or early July, one of the trio will probably head to New York.

ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY LEADERBOARD

Beyond that, it’s a guessing game.

“I’m waiting to hear what they are doing with the other big races for 3-year-olds,” Baffert said. “We know the Kentucky Derby is in September and we’ll work back from there.”

Baffert credited the work of assistant trainer Jim Barnes, who has been in Arkansas caring for the stable’s shippers, and the rest of his team for the twin victories that were celebrated in style.

“I was talked to Jeff Ruby the other day and told I’ll be here in California instead of Oaklawn and that I’ll miss having a steak dinner in his restaurant before the Arkansas Derby,” Baffert said. “So he sent a me bunch of steaks. This is some day!”

Ruby should have sent some mint juleps, too, as both of Baffert’s winners looked like top Kentucky Derby contenders.

Nadal landed in the second and tougher of the two divisions, which was fine with Baffert since the son of Blame is far more seasoned than Charlatan, who made his stakes debut Saturday.

“Nadal was ready for this,” he said. “He was tested the last time.”

Owned by George Bolton, Arthur Hoyeau, Barry Lipman, and Mark Mathiesen, Nadal was coming off a grueling victory in the March 14 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn where he set fast fractions and still managed to triumph by a little less than a length.

In Saturday’s race, the speedy Twinsires.com Louisiana Derby winner Wells Bayou jumped out of the gate under Florent Geroux from the outside post to open a quick early lead through a :46.21 opening half-mile. Under Joel Rosario, Nadal broke nicely, then tracked in second before forging to lead as Wells Bayou tired approaching the quarter pole.

From there, it was a straight-sets win for the 4-5 favorite ($3.80), who led by 1 ½ lengths in mid-stretch and then pulled away in the final furlong to cross the wire three lengths ahead in 1:48.34, a time slightly better than Charlatan’s 1:48.49 two races earlier in the first division.

“We learned today that both Nadal and Charlatan are gifted horses and that Nadal can sit off horses. That’s good news,” said Baffert, who claimed his third and fourth wins in the Arkansas Derby and first since 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharaoh rolled to victory “I had a feeling Florent would do something like that [with Wells Bayou] so I told Joel, ‘Once you get  him running, ride him the way you want.’ He kept him close to the lead and turning for home I knew Nadal had enough run in him to win.”

Nadal, who had 50 qualifying points before Saturday, pushed his total to 150 with his fourth straight win as 100-40-20-10 points were awarded to the top four finishers in both divisions.

Bred by Sierra Farm, Nadal is the first stakes winner out of the Pulpit mare Ascending Angel.

Sent off at 49-1 when he won the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby for former major leaguer Victor Martinez’s Victoria’s Ranch stable, King Guillermo was second as the 9-2 second choice for trainer Juan Avila.

The son of Uncle Mo was 1 ½ lengths ahead of Arnaldo Monge and Rey Hernandez’s Finnick the Fierce.

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