Hall of Fame conditioners Bob Baffert and Steve Asmussen will square off in Santa Anita Park's marque opening day event on Saturday, the Grade I, $300,000 Malibu Stakes, as Baffert will be represented by Charlatan, who has finished first in three career starts, most recently a division of the Grade I Arkansas Derby on May 2, and Asmussen will tighten the cinch on Nashville, who set a track record for six furlongs on Nov. 7 at Keeneland and is unbeaten in his three starts, all sprints.
Throw in Mark Glatt's Grade I stakes-winning sprinter Collusion Illusion, Michael McCarthy's up and coming Independence Hall and Baffert's multiple graded stakes winning Thousand Words, and the Malibu, which has attracted six sophomores at at seven furlongs, has the look of an outstanding race.
The Grade I Malibu, to be contested for the 74th time, is one of five graded stakes on an 11-race card Saturday.
||Ricardo Santana, Jr.
Although unbeaten, Charlatan was disqualified from purse money in the Arkansas Derby for a prohibited medication and is thus officially two for three. A first-out maiden winner here going six furlongs on Feb. 16, this chestnut colt by Speightstown then stretched out to one mile first condition allowance on March 14, airing by 10 ¼ lengths at odds of 1-5.
Off at 2-5 in the second division of the Arkansas Derby, he again prevailed in gate to wire fashion, winning by six lengths. With an outstanding work tab to his credit, he'll get the first-time services of Mike Smith in the Malibu and looms the likely first choice in the betting.
Owner: SF Racing, LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, LLC, Frederick Hertich III, John D. Fielding & Golconda Stables | Trainer: Bob Baffert
A first-out maiden winner going 6 ½ lengths over a sloppy track at Saratoga Sept. 2, Nashville blazed to a 9 ¾ length allowance tally going six furlongs at Keeneland Oct. 10. Off as the prohibitive 1-10 favorite on Breeders' Cup Classic Day in an ungraded six furlong stakes Nov. 7, he again waltzed to a scintillating gate to wire score, winning by 3 ½ lengths while setting a new Keeneland track record of 1:07.80.
Like Charlatan, Nashville is by Eclipse Sprint Champ Speightstown and he appears to have trained forwardly with Asmussen at Fairgrounds in New Orleans. He'll again be ridden by Ricardo Santana, Jr., who has been aboard in his last two starts.
Owner: CHC Inc. and WinStar Farm, LLC | Trainer: Steve Asmussen
A game nose winner of the Grade I Bing Crosby Stakes three starts back at Del Mar, this colt by Twirling Candy was a close third in the Grade I Santa Anita Malibu Stakes two starts back on Sept. 27. Off at 15-1 from the number three post in a field of 14 in the Breeders' Cup Sprint Nov. 7, he was shuffled far back early, but put in a much better-than-looked run through the stretch and has thus retained the services of Flavien Prat.
A three-time graded stakes winning sprinter, Collusion Illusion has faced older horses in his last three starts and looms a stout threat as he seeks his sixth win from nine overall starts.
Owner: Dan Agnew, Jerry Schneider, Rodney Orr & MyRacehorse.com | Trainer: Mark Glatt
The "Other Baffert" by any measure, Thousand Words was brilliant in taking an ungraded 1 1/16 mile stakes at Del Mar by three quarters of a length two starts back on Aug. 1. Subsequently scratched when unruly in the Kentucky Derby paddock on Sept. 5, he pressed the early pace in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico and tired to finish eighth, beaten 16 ½ lengths.
A first-out maiden winner going 6 ½ furlongs at Santa Anita in October, 2016, he then was a game neck winner of the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity in his second start on Dec. 7, 2019 and made it three in-a-row in the Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Feb. 1. In what will be his first start around one turn since his maiden win, this Pioneerof the Nile colt will be bidding for his fifth win from nine lifetime starts.
Owner: Albaugh Family Stables, LLC & Spendthrift Farm, LLC | Trainer: Bob Baffert
Precocious at age two, this colt by the hot sire Constitution was a first-out seven furlong maiden winner at Parx Racing in September, 2019 and then blasted to a 12 ¼ length win in the Grade III Nashua Stakes going a one turn mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 3, 2019. A subsequent four length winner of an ungraded stakes at the same trip on Jan. 1, he was second in the Grade III Sam Davis at Tampa Bay Downs Feb. 8 in his fourth start while off at 3-5.
In his final start for trainer Michael Trombetta, Independence Hall was well beaten by Tiz the Law in the Grade I Florida Derby March 28 and was then idle until Nov. 8, when he overcame early trouble to register a 1 ½ length win in a 6 ½ furlong classified allowance going 6 ½ furlongs over a track listed as "good" at Del Mar in his first start for McCarthy.
Unbeaten in two sprints, Independence Hall looms dangerous as a "now" commodity.
Owner: Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Twin Creeks Racing Stables, LLC, Kathleen & Robert Verratti | Trainer: Michael McCarthy
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A-List Sophs Charlatan & Nashville Head Powerful List Of Probables For Opening Day Runhappy Malibu Stakes At Seven Furlongs December 26
ARCADIA, Calif. (Dec. 15, 2020)-A pair of unbeatens, Bob Baffert's Charlatan and Steve Asmussen's Nashville head a powerful group of probable starters in Santa Anita's Grade I, $300,000 Runhappy Malibu Stakes at seven furlongs on opening day, Saturday, Dec. 26. Santa Anita's traditional opening day headliner, the Malibu, the final Grade I of the year for 3-year-olds, will be run for the 74th time. (The race was run in divisions in 1972, 1975, 1977 & 1984).
Idle since taking a division of the Grade I Arkansas Derby by six lengths on May 2, Charlatan was subsequently disqualified from purse money due to a medication violation, so he thus officially has two wins from three starts. Including the Arkansas Derby, Charlatan, who broke his maiden and took a first condition allowance here this past winter, has won his three starts by a combined 22 lengths.
In a performance that had the racing world abuzz on Breeders' Cup Classic Day at Keeneland Nov. 7, Nashville powered to a 3 ½ length victory in a six furlong ungraded stakes, stopping the clock at 1:07.80 and thus earning a solid 102 Beyer Speed figure-two points less than Whitmore's 104 Beyer in the Grade I Breeders' Cup Sprint over the same surface.
Heavily favored in three starts, all sprints, Nashville, like Charlatan, is a son of champion sprinter Speightstown. A first-out maiden winner Sept. 2 at Saratoga, he's won all three of his races in gate to wire fashion by a combined 24 ¾ lengths.
Baffert will also be represented in the Malibu by three-time stakes winner Thousand Words, who has been idle since well beaten in the Grade I Preakness Stakes Oct. 3.
Mark Glatt's Grade I stakes winning sprinter Collusion Illusion is also listed as probable and although he was well beaten by Whitmore when shuffled back early in the Breeder's Cup Sprint, he ran a much better-than-looked race and should give a good account of himself back on his home ground.
Nominations closed Dec. 10 and among those also listed as probable for the Malibu are the John Shirreffs-trained Express Train, Michael McCarthy's Independence Hall and Doug O'Neill's Strongconstitution.
Opening day entries for the Runhappy Malibu and five other stakes, the Grade I La Brea, the Grade I American Oaks, the Grade II Mathis Brothers Mile, the Grade II San Antonio and the Lady of Shamrock Stakes, will be taken at Santa Anita on Monday, Dec. 21.