Making the Grade, which will run through the 2020 Triple Crown races, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could make an impact on the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey), and pedigree.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve was shifted from its normal first Saturday in May place on the calendar to Sept. 5, and details are still being finalized for the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. We currently are not sure exactly when the latter two will be held or if the host tracks are considering altering the distances, etc. For now, we’ll focus on an overview of how the horse profiled would fit in the three races should his connections opt to target one or all of those events.
Charlatan and stablemate Nadal swept the two divisions of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby May 2 for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, and the former made a sparkling impression in his stakes debut by pulling away to a six-length romp. Let’s take a closer look at this lightly-raced colt by Speightstown.
Ability: Like Baffert’s 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, Charlatan was unraced as a 2-year-old and did not make his career debut until a dazzling unveiling in mid-February. Charlatan won a three-quarter-mile sprint Feb. 16 at Santa Anita Park by 5 ¾ lengths while leading from start to finish. Four weeks later, he stretched out to a mile March 14 at Santa Anita and drew clear to a 10 ¾-length runaway victory.
While both races were impressive visually, they also were pretty stunning from a speed-figure perspective. Charlatan earned a 102 Equibase Speed Figure for his debut and a 108 for the one-mile allowance win; his BrisNet speed ratings were a 101 and a 105, the latter an exceptional number for a racehorse’s second start; and his Beyer Speed Figures were a 105 for his debut and a 106 for his second race.
According to Beyer Speed Figure creator Andy Beyer, the 106 would have been good enough to win every Kentucky Derby since Big Brown’s victory in 2008.
This much we know: Charlatan is very fast. And to state the obvious, fast is good in horse racing.
Charlatan drew the easier division of the Arkansas Derby and made light work of eight opponents as he maintained a clear advantage at every point of call in a front-running six-length win as the 2-5 favorite. He looked fantastic in victory under Martin Garcia and pulled away easily in the stretch.
According to the Equibase chart, Charlatan completed his final furlong in 13.16 seconds and his final quarter-mile in 25.65 seconds while covering the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.49. The winning time was just a tick slower than Nadal (1:48.34) in the second division two races later, and Charlatan did not finish especially fast.
As such, the speed figures came back very good but not as eye-catching as the first two as Charlatan earned a 105 Equibase Speed Figure, a 102 BrisNet speed rating, and a 96 Beyer Speed Figure that was the subject of some debate on Twitter.
On one hand, Charlatan looked like a bullet out front while carving out a blistering three-quarters of a mile in 1:09.68 and essentially running the opposition off its feet. On the other hand, the 3-year-olds behind him were not the most accomplished bunch with the only stakes winners in the field runner-up Basin (a Grade 1 winner at age 2) and 60.60-1 outsider Jungle Runner.
But Charlatan beat the group entered against him and did so convincingly to earn a Grade 1 win and remain unbeaten. While I understand that it makes no difference to speed-figure makers, I do think that it’s notable that Charlatan’s winning time (until eclipsed by Nadal a few races later) was the fastest running of the Arkansas Derby since 2003.
From here, Baffert can take all the time he needs with Charlatan. He’s clearly a very fast and talented racehorse, and if you are looking just at 3-year-old classic hopefuls I believe he belongs in the same top tier as Curlin Florida Derby winner Tiz the Law and his stablemates Nadal and Grade 2 winner Authentic.
Running style: Charlatan has no chill to his approach to races. He uses his early speed to dominate the opposition by churning out fast fractions on the front end and playing “catch me if you can.” So far, no horse has been able to catch him.
Those tactics are challenging in the Kentucky Derby, especially on the first Saturday in May when a group of 20 keyed-up, lightly raced 3-year-olds hears a crowd of 150,000 roar when the starting gates snap open. There typically are several speedy types vying for the early lead, and while Charlatan looks like the best of that group he would have been seriously challenged to sprint to the front and outlast 19 other horses going 1 ¼ miles in what probably would have been his fourth race.
He has time now to learn to rate or build a stronger foundation for that type of test, and there’s a chance he won’t race in front of nearly as big of a crowd in the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby either. He also could be pointed to the Preakness, which usually rewards tactical speed like Charlatan’s, as does the Belmont Stakes; however, Baffert said he has no intention of running one of his 3-year-olds 1 ½ miles in early June.
Connections: Charlatan is owned by a large partnership that includes Soros Fund Management’s SF Racing, Jack and Laurie Wolf’s Starlight Racing, Sol Kumin’s Madaket Stables, Barbara Banke’s Stonestreet Stables, Fred Hertrich III, John Fielding, and Ben Goldberg and Elliot Friman’s Golconda Stables (watch Goldberg's reaction in video below.)
The same group, minus Charlatan’s breeder, Stonestreet, also campaigns unbeaten San Felipe Stakes winner Authentic.
In 2018, Starlight purchased an interest in future Triple Crown winner Justify and future Florida Derby winner Audible from SF Bloodstock. The Wolfs founded Starlight in 2000 and raced champions Ashado and Shanghai Bobby in addition to Justify. Kumin’s Head of Plains Partners also was a co-owner of Justify. Stonestreet was founded by vintner Jess Jackson and raced champions Curlin and Rachel Alexandra. Banke, Jackson’s widow, has continued Stonestreet’s dedication to breeding and racing Thoroughbreds.
Bob Baffert is loaded for the 2020 Triple Crown with the triple threat of Nadal, Authentic, and Charlatan. The four-time Eclipse Award winner has won 15 U.S. Triple Crown races during his Hall of Fame career and is seeking his sixth Kentucky Derby winner following Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002), American Pharoah (2015), and Justify (2018). The final two went on to win the Triple Crown.
Jockey Martin Garcia picked up the mount aboard Charlatan in the Arkansas Derby after Drayden Van Dyke had ridden him in his first two races. Garcia has won more than 1,600 career races through May 5, including the 2010 Preakness Stakes for Baffert aboard Lookin At Lucky. His best finish in the Kentucky was a third on Baffert’s Dortmund in 2015.
Pedigree: Charlatan is from the 12th crop of 2004 champion sprinter Speightstown, who has gone on to become a very good sire with 122 stakes winners and 55 group-graded stakes winners through May 5. While he has sired many outstanding sprinters as you might expect, Speightstown has also sired quite a few talented route horses, including 2012 Travers Stakes winner Golden Ticket, 2010 Jockey Club Gold Cup victor Haynesfield, 2015 Belmont Derby Invitational winner Force the Pass, and 2013 Hollywood Derby winner Seek Again to name a few. A grandson of the breed-shaping Mr. Prospector, Speightstown also has sired multiple elite milers on turf and dirt and has proved pretty versatile.
Multiple graded stakes winner Authenticity is the dam (mother) of Charlatan. Authenticity won the Grade 2 La Troienne Stakes at 1 1/16 miles and the Grade 3 Shuvee Handicap at 1 1/8 miles. She finished third in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Distaff in her final start.
Authenticity, who ran in the top three in 11 of 12 career starts, is by a terrific broodmare sire in Quiet American. She has also produced Charlatan’s half-sister (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) Hanalei Moon, by Malibu Moon, who won a turf stakes race last fall at about 1 1/16 miles.
Charlatan’s grandam (maternal grandmother) is unraced Court of Appeal, by another nice broodmare sire in Deputy Minister. Third dam Appealing Missy, by Lypheor, was a stakes winner in France and a multiple graded stakes winner on turf in the U.S., including a graded win at 1 1/8 miles.
With a bit of stamina on the bottom half, I think we saw in the Arkansas Derby why Nadal can stretch his high cruising speed out to 1 1/8 miles fairly easily. I have no doubt he’d be able to go another sixteenth of a mile for the Preakness, where his speed would be incredibly valuable, and he should have plenty of foundation for a September try in the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby. While I could see stamina becoming a factor in the Belmont Stakes if it remains at 1 ½ miles, that race usually also is kind to 3-year-olds who can just click off 24-second quarter-miles without breaking a sweat. It would be a lot to ask in just his fourth start, but I do think Charlatan (or stablemate Nadal for that matter) would be very tough to catch in the Belmont Stakes.