Charlatan wins Malibu Stakes on record-breaking opening day for Santa Anita

Charlatan and jockey Mike Smith win the Grade I, $300,000 Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26, 2020, at Santa Anita.
Charlatan, with jockey Mike Smith aboard, wins the Grade I, $300,000 Malibu Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.
(Benoit Photo via Associated Press)

Trainer Bob Baffert had several of his best horses retire at the end of this year, as Authentic, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic; Maximum Security, who took the $20-million Saudi Cup; and Improbable, winner of four Grade 1 stakes, were all sent off to the breeding shed.

But Baffert’s replenishing barn of stars found another one as Charlatan, coming off an eight-month layoff, won Santa Anita’s opening day feature, the Grade 1, $300,000 Malibu Stakes, by 4½ lengths. He looked even better than the margin.

The day was also a resurgence of sorts for Santa Anita, which, despite having no fans on one of the track’s biggest days, set a record for mutuel handle on opening day. It underscored how racing has become dependent on off-track betting, mostly through advance deposit wagering done online.


But Saturday’s numbers were still surprising. The handle on the 11-race card was $23,003,159, which topped the $20,491,016 on Dec. 26, 2018, when 41,373 people were in attendance.

Q&A with Santa Anita’s Nate Newby, who is the fourth top management person at the race track in the last four years.

Dec. 24, 2020

The seven-furlong Malibu was for 3-year-olds and was supposed to be the coronation of Nashville, the undefeated colt for East Coast-based Steve Asmussen. Nashville was on the undercard on Breeders’ Cup day at Keeneland and won in such a fashion that most believed he could have won a Breeders’ Cup race that day. His trip to Santa Anita was supposed to prove that.

Nashville got a good break and easily got the lead with Charlatan setting up just off the pace on his outside. The pair moved away from the rest of the six-horse field down the backstretch as Charlatan started to creep even around the far turn. By the top of the stretch, Charlatan was in full stride and getting stronger. He pulled farther away under a handride by Mike Smith. Nashville, who had never been challenged, faded to fourth.

Baffert said his instructions to Smith were simple: “You know I can only get him so ready. I didn’t want to overdo it with him. It’s early in the year and all, so I’m counting on his class to get him there. He’s probably going to need this race.

“Those really good ones like him, they just make my job a whole lot easier. You get them ready to a certain point, and then he just took over himself. That was just pure, pure brilliance that we witnessed. 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.”


Baffert’s reference to Charlatan’s year revolved around the Arkansas Derby and the weeks afterward.

Charlatan won one of the divisions of the Oaklawn race, but a medication violation had that victory taken away. The colt tested positive for lidocaine, a pain reliever. Baffert said the horse accidentally was exposed to it when Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s chief assistant, was saddling the horse and touched his tongue tie. Barnes was experiencing pain after breaking his pelvis the previous year and was using a Salonpas patch. The case is under appeal.

The Horseracing Safety and Integrity Act was passed by Congress as part of a push to standardize medical and safety procedures within the sport.

Dec. 21, 2020

Shortly after the Arkansas Derby, the horse was diagnosed with an ankle injury that put him on the shelf for almost eight months and out of the delayed Triple Crown races. Charlatan was sent to Stonestreet Farm near Ocala, Fla., for a couple of months before returning to Baffert’s Southern California barn, where the colt eventually resumed training.

Charlatan paid $5.20, $3.60 and $2.60. Express Train was second, followed by Collusion Illusion, Nashville, Independence Hall and Thousand Words.

There were a couple of longshots on Saturday’s card, which had five graded stakes races. The Grade 2 $200,000 San Antonio Stakes was in some ways the co-feature with the presence of Mucho Gusto and Sharp Samurai in the 1 1/16-mile race. But Sharp Samurai scratched early in the day and Mucho Gusto didn’t show up like people believed he would.

It left things open for Kiss Today Goodbye to rally wide and win by a half-length. He paid $33.60 to win as Mucho Gusto finished fourth. Smith was the winning jockey for trainer Eric Kruljac.

In the Grade 1 $300,000 La Brea Sakes for 3-year-old fillies going seven furlongs, Fair Maiden came wide into the stretch and won by 2¼ lengths for trainer Eoin Harty and jockey Ricky Gonzalez, who won his first Grade 1 race. Fair Maiden paid $43.20 to win. The other Grade 1 winner was Duopoly, a shipper from New York for trainer Chad Brown, who won the $300,000 American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies going 1¼ miles on the turf. She paid $14.00 to win.

Heavy favorite Smooth Like Strait won the Grade 2 $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile for 3-year-olds on the turf. He paid $3.60 to win.