CHARLATAN EMULATING JUSTIFY

By Dick Jerardi

Even as the world is stuck in place, hoping this hideous virus can be contained in the coming weeks, the horse racing dreamers among us saw a young colt run so fast and win by so much on the second Saturday of March that our minds turned to the Kentucky Derby, even as we await the almost inevitable word that it will be moved back off its annual and iconic first Saturday in May date.

Charlatan won his first start on Feb. 16 by 5 3/4 lengths. He shaded 1:09 for 6 furlongs at Santa Anita, earning a 105 Beyer speed figure, a number good enough to win the Derby most years. Two years before, on Feb. 18, 2018, Justify won his first start by 9 1/2 lengths, shading 1:22 for 7 furlongs and getting a 104 Beyer.

Justify came back on March 11, 2018 to win a 1 mile race by 6 1/2 lengths, earning a 101 Beyer. Charlatan returned on March 15 to win a 1 mile race by 10 1/4 lengths, getting a 106 Beyer.

Justify, of course, went on to win the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, a 111-day tour de force unlike anything in horse racing history, ending as just the second unbeaten Triple Crown winner.

To this point, Charlatan has been even faster and more impressive than Justify. There is no guarantee, of course, that Charlatan will emulate Justify as he gets into the bigger races. In fact, there is no guarantee as to when the bigger races will even be run. It is a strange and disorienting time in horse racing and life, as sports and so much else in our society shuts down.

So as we who love horse racing grasp on to the hope that sustains us, it is comforting to think about what could be as legendary trainer Bob Baffert goes for his sixth Derby whenever it is run.

Yes, Baffert trains Charlatan, just like he trained Justify, American Pharoah, Point Given, Silver Charm, Real Quiet and War Emblem. Baffert has not only won the Triple Crown twice, he had four other horses that won two-thirds of the Crown.

Is Charlatan next? We shall see.

Even for him, Baffert holds an incredibly strong Derby hand this year. He trains two other unbeaten horses as well, Authentic and Nadal. Each is 3-for-3. Nadal won the San Vicente and Rebel Stakes, each by three-quarters of a length. Authentic won the Sham and San Felipe by a combined 10 lengths.

These days, three or four races qualifies as enough experience for the Derby. It is possible, if the Derby indeed is run later in the year, the Baffert horses may have a bit more race experience.

Experience is nice, but talent is nicer. Authentic and Nadal are very nice. Charlatan may be Justify II.

When I posed that exact question about Charlatan possibly being another Justify to Baffert after Charlatan’s dazzling debut, he texted back: “Not sure, but we’re going to find out.’’

Let’s hope we all get that chance.

MISCHEVIOUS ALEX WINS SECOND STRAIGHT GRADED STAKE

BY Dick Jerardi

Mischevious Alex cost $140,000 at an Ocala, Fla., 2-year-old sale in April 2019. After winning the Grade III Swale Stakes on Feb. 1 at Gulfstream Park and the Grade III Gotham Stakes on March 7 at Aqueduct, the 3-year-old colt, named for co-owner Chuck Zacney’s son Alex, has banked $344,230, with more on the horizon.

“He’s pretty good,’’ said trainer John Servis. “He’s got such a good mind. Nothing bothers him, He’s so laid back. I don’t know how good he is…It’s like Irad (Ortiz who rode him in the Swale) said, `it’s like driving a car he just waits for you to step on the gas.’’’

Mischevious Alex has been perfect in three starts with blinkers. The colt overwhelmed the field in the Nov. 5 Parx Juvenile before winning the Swale and Gotham.

It was quite the day at Aqueduct for Servis, co-owners Zacney and Glenn Bennett, as well as Parx Hall of Fame jockey Kendrick Carmouche. Eighty minutes before favored Mischevious Alex won his race by a comfortable 2 lengths, the group also teamed up as 4-1 Diamond King won the Stymie Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths, running the mile in 1:38.04, nearly four-fifths of a second faster than his two-year younger stablemate. Diamond King has now won $713,350 in his 42-race career.

“That’s the way it was supposed to go,’’ said Carmouche who has had two-stakes days before but never “big ones like that. We got what we set out to get.’’

This is a particularly strong year for 3-year-olds in the run-up to the Kentucky Derby, with several horses from powerful stables already earning Beyer figures in the triple digits and near triple digits. In the Gotham, Mischevious Alex got a 90 Beyer, a nice number but not really good enough to compete in the Derby without significant improvement.

The colt’s schedule is in flux. Obviously, Zacney especially would love to win the Derby. It was 15 years ago when he and his partners ran the best 3-year-old of 2005 in the Derby, only to see Afleet Alex run third behind two longshots. The colt then dominated the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

The co-owners and Servis are nothing if not realistic. Zacney was talking maybe Wood Memorial and Preakness. Servis was not sure, thinking maybe Mischevious Alex would be best at a mile, but not discounting the possibility that he could be effective going longer. The Derby is a bit of a longshot, but not out of the question yet.

“He’s so tactical,’’ Carmouche said. “You get a horse that can break that fast and can do anything. He’s rateable. You don’t have to be on the lead…He sits good in your hand. If I wanted to wire the field I could have. That’s how much horse I had.’’

Carmouche gave Diamond King a similar ride with the same result.

“I was glad to get (Carmouche) on Diamond King because I want him to ride him at Charles Town,’’ Servis said,

That would be for the $1 million Charles Town Classic, a race Diamond King lost by a half-length in 2019.

That could be a cool victory for Servis, a West Virginia native.

“It’s huge for the horse too,’’ Servis said. “A million-dollar race, graded earnings, What’s he worth as a stallion?’

Diamond King, by the top stallion Quality Road, is a full brother to the excellent stakes-winning filly Bellanfina.
So Mischevious Alex and Diamond King, a strong exacta as we head into the spring and the prime racing season.

Carmouche especially loved the day because he got to do it “with my Parx people. You know how I feel about that. It’s good to see my people come to New York and be successful at it.’’

His “Parx people’’ took a quarter million in purses back home following a New York Saturday to remember.