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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

IT MIGHT NOT HAVE BEEN KENTUCKY DERBY DAY BUT IT CERTAINLY WAS GREAT RACING THEATER

Now I know: Nadal is a more impressive individual than Charlatan. At least on the afternoon of May 2 and after sleeping on it. This is not a projection of what will happen on the first Saturday in September, but for now, Nadal is the “now horse.”

Then so is Tiz the Law. Damn, this would have been one hell of a Kentucky Derby!

Clearly, the Bob Baffert-trained horses stole the first Saturday in May, literally and figuratively. And that’s saying a lot, given all the top-class performances on display yesterday.

When a dominant speed horse breaks cleanly, there’s not much the competition can do about it. “To ship out and do what he did today, third [time] out, only the really good ones can do that,” said the Hall of Famer.

And such elegant handling from Martin Garcia, too, who first hooked up with Baffert in 2010 with Lookin at Lucky and four years later with the infamous wire job by Bayern in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Garcia is just so nice and quiet on these speed types, except maybe on that first Saturday in November, 2014. But no controversy whatsoever in the first division of the 2020 Arkansas Derby.

At 1-5 on the tote, the result was reminiscent of an answer old school racetrackers would give when asked when do you know that horse had the race won?

“When the overnight came out,” he would say. Yesterday, it was when Charlatan came flying away cleanly from the barrier.

His half-mile of 46.08 was faster than both older Oaklawn handicap runners and stablemate Nadal. So was his three-quarters of a mile in 1:09.68. Given that, it was no disgrace he finished up his final furlong in 13.16 while driven out.

Run fast early, run slower late.

But the dominance was there, and time remains for him to become more physically mature. What he owns, brilliance, cannot be taught.

Two rival trainers summed it up best: Said Jeremiah O’Dwyer: “There will be a lot of people, I guess, saying he got an uncontested lead. Who wants to take on a horse going :22 and :46 going a mile and an eighth?

Added Blaine Wright: “We knew he could be lone speed… Man, what a horse he turned out to be. He’s in a different league.“

Professionalism can be learned, however, with a little coaching which, as indicated in our preview, is just what Baffert did in the mornings leading up to the race: Sitting off pacesetters; going by when ready. Joel Rosario executed the plan to perfection and won his fourth race on the day.

Baffert’s charge sat off the shoulder of Wells Bayou, attacked when ready at midturn, separated himself at headstretch, and while King Guillermo’s rally got him to within 1-1/2 lengths in midstretch, he doubled his advantage at the wire under only the mildest encouragement, winning in hand.

The Baffert sweep improved the trainer’s graded stakes win record in 2020 to 31-for-96. But that’s Nadal also has something that can’t be taught: At 1,300 pounds, he’s the complete beast, owning power and high class.

In Kentucky Derby terms, who knows? Without a single next prep scheduled, where, when or how far, it’s unknowable at the moment.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have some transparency from the principals? Are tracks communicating with each other? Why not let us know the thinking? Or is it something like what Springsteen might ask: “Is anyone alive out there?”

Calhoun Was Right

Trainer Bret Calhoun promised that By My Standards would be among the best handicap horses in the country. Yesterday his four-year-old went out and proved it, perhaps not against the greatest Grade 1 types but a very solid and deep group of stakes-winning talent.

Tactical speed and kick will win a lot of races, and that’s how the Oaklawn Handicap was won.

Runnerup Warrior’s Charge was a tough and stubborn target, right to the end. Mr Freeze was a good third, compromised by a bit of a circuitous route. Tacitus had a tough time, very wide throughout, made a run at the turn but the effort, on balance, was flat.

Older horses are supposed to run faster and that’s what By My Standards did: 1:47.80, compared to Nadal’s 1:48.34 and Charlatan’s 1:48.49. Calhoun’s four-year-old is developing into a nicely gifted older horse, by any standard.

Promising Performances at Gulfstream Park

Earlier, we had commented on how Chad Brown’s skill set includes bringing back apparently infirm runners.

As a juvenile, Network Effect had a three month break between his Spa debut before two more starts in the fall, then an 11-month break between two starts in the fall at 3, then another three month break before his tough trip four-year-old debut.

Ridden with disdainful confidence, Irad Ortiz waited until he was good and ready, knifed through on the fence and draw off impressively in deep stretch to win the Big Drama by open lengths.

So much for Florida-breds. If yesterday is the measure—and Network Effect remains healthy—there will be bigger targets in his future.

A pair of entertaining turf stakes for three-year-olds of both sexes at 1-1/16 miles were interesting and might have produced a future turf star.

While the Honey Ryder went formfully enough with Micheline, a distinct overlay, getting the trip under pluperfect handling from Joe Bravo who got the drop on the favorite, Highland Glory at headstretch.

The male division might have produced a future graded winner in Gufo, who showed brilliant late foot beneath a very patient Irad Ortiz, extending his Hallandale lawn record to 3-for-3. Declaration of War colt is from the mare Floy, whose other two foals, including a stakes winner, also won on turf..

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5 Responses

  1. I think this is an exceptional group of three year olds at the top – with some promising depth. It’s ridiculous that Baffert has 3 such brilliant talents – and yet, there’s still Tiz the Law out there and my boy, Honor A.P.

    Assuming Santa Anita reopens, I’m not expecting the Derby to attract a large field. I don’t see anyone shipping out to CA, so that leaves us with Authentic, HAP and….? Those two are both coming along beautifully, it seems. Sadly XBTV doesn’t have HAP’s work from yesterday, but John Shirreffs seemed very pleased. I fully expect Authentic to improve, but so will HAP, and this time he will be more fully cranked. It should be a fantastic race!

  2. Oh and I was so happy to see Micheline win – best race of her career; she exploded late after a wide trip.

  3. Bets,
    Horse racing, like the rest of the world, is still about assumptions. I think SA will be granted permission to resume–I have no facts to corroborate. And you’re right, who’s left to challenge Authentic and HAP? But as a points race upon resumption, I assume some horses will be shipping. Again, assuming, it will be 100 points race, but where to fit on the calendar?

    I agonized about including Micheline in my P3, the last throwout despite the tough Tampa trip: No guts no glory, or money…

    1. John, I was discussing this on racing blog. There may be a bunch of horses who might take one last chance since, unless Belmont reopens and the Wood is run there, that’s it for while. Maybe Anneau d’Or, but he should probably go back to turf, Tizmagic, etc…I guess it’s all premature for now, but thinking about it at least keeps me busy, lol.

      I think you might get a decent (not like 17-1, though) if she runs next out in the same race as the runner up because (I didn’t see as I was focused on Micheline) she apparently had a tough trip.

      I regret not going to Belmont much in the last couple of years. I usually would only go a few times a year, but I didn’t go at all recently. I miss it – it’s such a beautiful track.

  4. I feel you Betsy. Have had my Belmont airline tickets for about three months now. Will be looking for a refund, sadly…

    Living in Florida but my soul still resides in New York.

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