Bob Baffert tightened his grip on the Kentucky Derby as Charlatan and Nadal remained unbeaten in taking their respective divisions of the $500,000 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on Saturday night.
Stepping up to Grade One level for the the first time, the pair cemented their claims for top honours at Churchill Downs on September 5 with stylish successes – and it was Charlatan who struck first under Martin Garcia.
Sent straight to the front, the son of Speightstown never looked back and was barely asked a question in beating the Steve Asmussen-trained Basin, earning 100 points towards Kentucky Derby eligibility.
Nadal – who now has 150 Kentucky Derby qualifying points – took over off the bend in his heat and stayed on strongly to readily account for King Guillermo, who did little wrong in second to back up his fine effort in winning the Tampa Bay Derby.
Baffert – who won the Arkansas Derby in 2015 with American Pharoah – said: “Very exciting day, to say the least. I thought both horses were going to run really well. Charlatan, what a talent he is and how fast he is. I just loved the way, third out, to ship and to do that, what he did – only the really good ones can do that.
“And Nadal, he came out of that race (Rebel Stakes, also at Oaklawn) – he’s a tough horse. There’s a lot to him and he’s a cool customer and I could see he’s getting better and better.
“I just told (Joel) Rosario to just get him running away from there and if somebody just gets ridiculous, like I thought maybe Florent (Geroux, on Wells Bayou), he would probably try to get the lead, but don’t be worried about this horse sitting off a horse and he handled it well.
“Down the backside, I just loved the way he was. I figured if he was good enough, he can win from there. We just didn’t want to go :22 and empty out. It worked out perfectly.”
Oaklawn split the race for just the second time in its 84-year history when 22 horses entered the race last Sunday. After two scratches in each division, nine horses went to post in each division.
Baffert added: “I just want to thank the Cella family and Oaklawn Park for the fantastic job. Just fortunate and happy that they were able to split it and give everybody a chance to get some Derby points.”
Saturday was the final day of the 2020 Oaklawn season. Ricardo Santana Jr. finished as leading rider for the seventh year with 60 wins, Robertino Diodoro secured his first leading trainers’ title with 52 victories and M & M Racing was leading owner for the third straight year with 27 wins.