By Richard Rosenblatt
That was easy.
Breaking perfectly from the No. 1 post, Charlatan delivered an exceptional performance in cruising to a six-length victory Saturday in the first division of the $500,000 Arkansas Derby (G1) on closing day at Oaklawn Park.
The 2-5 favorite was ridden by Martin Garcia for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who also sent out Nadal later in the second division of the Arkansas Derby.
Perhaps exceeding expectations, Charlatan, 2-for-2 but running in his first stakes race, improved to 3-0 and more importantly picked up his first qualifying points – 100 — for the Kentucky Derby. The Derby was rescheduled from this first Saturday in May to Sept. 5 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
There were no spectators at Oaklawn, but that didn’t make any difference in this 1 1/8-mile that turned into a one-horse show. The 3-year-old chestnut son of Speightstown, covered the distance in 1:48.49 and ran uncontested all the way around the track.
Basin, who won the Hopeful (G1) last year but has finished third in the Rebel (G2) and fourth Oaklawn Stakes in 2020, ran a commendable second for trainer Steve Asmussen. The colt earned 40 Derby-qualifying points, while Gouverneur Morris finished third and earned 20 Derby points.
Winning Impression was fourth and picked up 10 Derby points, followed by Anneau d’Or, Crypto Cash, Mo Mosa, Jungle Runner and My Friends Beer.
“I can say I am really lucky to ride him,’’ Garcia said. “Mr. Baffert and the owners had a lot of choices. They pick me. I just did my job. He just took me to the winner’s circle.
“They told me we were smoking. I went in 1:09 and he was just galloping. He did in all within himself. I felt someone coming at the 3/8ths and I let him go. He just took off. That’s a sign of a really good horse.”
Charlatan ($2.80) stormed onto the scene in the first race of his career, breaking his maiden by 5 ¾ lengths at Santa Anita in February, then winning an optional claimer/allowance by 10 1/4 lengths at Santa Anita.
Drayden Van Dyke was aboard for those two races, but Garcia – riding in Oaklawn this meet – replaced Van Dyke for Saturday’s race.
Ten horses were entered in the race, but two – Shooters Shoot and Wrecking Crew — were scratched earlier in the week. This first division was considered the weaker of the two, but the way Charlatan ran it probably didn’t matter who was in the field.
The next race for Charlatan, who has to be considered a top Derby contender, remains to be seen as future races over the summer will be designated as Kentucky Derby preps leading to the Derby still four months away.
Asmussen was happy with Basin’s effort.
“He was in hot pursuit the whole way. He hung in there really well. Solid fractions,’’ Asmussen said. “I thought Ricardo (Santana Jr.) gave him every shot. He just finished second best.”
In the virtual Kentucky Derby, a simulated race matching all 13 Triple Crown winners, Secretariat took the lead in the stretch and won over Citation, with pace-setter Seattle Slew third. Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner, was the 4-1 favorite in the fund-raising contest.
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.