US RACING: Charlatan follows in the hoofs of Justify with easy victory today at Santa Anita

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Charlatan with jockey Drayden Van Dyke

Now it’s fair to ask: Is Charlatan trainer Bob Baffert’s next Justify?

Going from a mid-February debut to a 1-mile allowance race at Santa Anita Park, the son of Speightstown has duplicated the 2018 Triple Crown winner’s career trajectory with similar ease, drawing off Saturday in the sixth race out west.

Sure to get a test next on the 2020 Kentucky Derby trail, Charlatan pulled jockey Drayden Van Dyke to the front early and stayed there, never letting them within a length and a half or so. Fractions went in 23.14 for the opening quarter mile, and just before the half flashed up in 46.86, Van Dyke took a peek back at the competition.

They were getting smaller.

Charlatan truly opened up in the lane after a tap or two by his pilot, finishing up 1:36.24. One race later, older fillies and mares completed the Beholder Mile (G1) in 1:37.33.

“This track is getting heavier — you can tell it’s got a lot of moisture in it — so that time’s pretty good,” Baffert told TVG of Charlatan.

“…He got a lot out of that. He’s a big, strong horse. He just kept galloping out strong. We know the talent is there.”

Two years ago, Baffert similarly sent Justify on to the Santa Anita Derby (G1), then saw him sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes before whisked away into retirement.

Charlatan again appeared in the Starlight Racing silks Saturday, prevailing by 10 1/4 lengths with Rushie in second and Great Power third. He’s also campaigned in partnership with some of the sport’s other big names, including SF Racing and Madaket Stables.

Off as the 1-5 favorite in a field of five, he returned $2.60 to win.

Charlatan’s victory came minutes after Baffert-trained Nadal won the Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park, punching his ticket to the Derby. Last week, Authentic similarly won the San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita.

Baffert said Charlatan is likely to ship out for his Derby prep with Authentic scheduled to run in the April 4 Santa Anita Derby (G1). The trainer, seeking a record-tying sixth Derby this spring, also expressed concern about the first leg of the Triple Crown and its traditional first Saturday in May date on the calendar amid measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“I’m just hoping that the racing continues,” Baffert told TVG. “I hope they don’t move that Kentucky Derby, but they have to do what’s right.”

Baffert, in a separate interview with Santa Anita Publicity, added, “We don’t know if we’ll run here in the Santa Anita Derby, because nobody’s really sure when anything is going to happen. Churchill is saying they’re not going to run the Derby without the people there, so I’m hearing maybe June or in September.

“…Whenever they cancel the Masters (in April at Augusta National), that’s like the Derby…I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s kinda scary. Hopefully they can get everything under control.”