Charlatan Wins Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita on Opening Day

Thursday, December 31, 2020


There have been some great performances in the Malibu Stakes over the years at Santa Anita, but perhaps none better than the show Charlatan put on Saturday during opening day of the track’s 84th winter-spring meet.

The anticipated showdown between Nashville, the 6-5 favorite, and Charlatan, the Bob Baffert-trained speed ball, turned into a one-horse show as the winner cruised past the pacesetting Nashville at the top of the stretch and bid farewell to the other five runners while winning by 4 1/2 lengths.

Horse racing legends like Spectacular Bid, Ferdinand and Ancient Title have won the Malibu, but winning the race is one thing. Winning the race with the “wow” factor is quite another.

Charlatan wowed ’em Saturday.

“He is extremely special,” said winning rider Mike Smith, who climbed aboard the 3-year-old Speightstown colt for the first time as he made his first start since May 2 at Oaklawn Park.

Charlatan is unbeaten on the track, but his six-length victory in the Arkansas Derby was taken away because of a drug violation. Otherwise, he’d be 4-0 with a victory margin of 26 1/2 total lengths.

He was supposed to meet his match in the Malibu.

Nashville, trained by Steve Asmussen, came in 3-0, having won his three races by a combined 24 3/4 lengths. In his last start at Keeneland, he set a track record for 6 furlongs (1:07.89) while winning by 3 1/2 lengths. But he’d never run in a graded stakes, and turns out he was no match for Charlatan.

“I’ve had the opportunity to watch him, California is his home base, so I’ve seen a lot of him and always wanted a chance to ride him,” Smith said. “When Bob told me I got the call, man I’ve been kind of on cloud nine ever since.”

Charlatan tracked the pacesetting Nashville (21.81 and 43.95) from second until the head of the stretch, when Smith got the winner in gear and the race was for second money the rest of the way.

Final time for the 7 furlongs was 1:21.50.

Express Train (16-1) closed for second, a half length in front of Collusion Illusion (10-1). Nashville, another Speightstown colt, wound up fourth, beaten about 8 1/4 lengths by a colt who has great things in store for him in 2021 if he stays sound.

Baffert thought Charlatan might need the race, coming off the long layoff, but the horse had other ideas.

“The good ones like him, they just make my job a whole lot easier,” he said. “You get them ready to a certain point, and then he just took over himself. That was just pure brilliance that we witnessed today. They were rolling early, there was a really good horse he was chasing.

“With what this horse has been through, I’m just happy for the whole team and everybody involved, to show he is a really special horse. Hopefully, we will have a good year with him.”

The Hall of Fame trainer wished fans had been allowed to watch the race. The track’s new general manager, Nate Newby, said last week he believed about 40,000 fans would have turned out Saturday if coronavirus protocols had not forced them to stay away.

“They are all next door in the mall, but it’s one of those things you know, we are here,” Baffert said. Despite the fact there were no fans, Santa Anita enjoyed a record-breaking opening day.

More than $23 million was wagered on the 11 races, $22.4 million from out of state. The old record was $20.4 million, set in 2018.

The pandemic might have kept fans away from the track, but the virus could not prevent them from wagering on the product.

“We want to thank our fans, owners, trainers, jockeys and other stakeholders for supporting our racing program and contributing to a strong opening day,” Newby said in a statement. “This has been a difficult year for a lot of people and we are happy to be able to provide world-class racing for those watching and playing the races from home.”