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.