The Arkansas Derby for Charlatan and Nadal, the Oaklawn Stakes for Thousand Words, and time off for Authentic. That’s Bob Baffert’s solution for the “problem” of where he next sends his murderer’s row of talented 3-year-olds.

Baffert, Justify Barn
Bob Baffert, seen here with 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, has an endless barn of 3-year-old Kentucky Derby prospects this year. Scheduling their races requires all of the creativity the Hall-of-Fame trainer typically displays. (Image: AP Photo)

In an interview with Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey of NBC Sports on Wednesday, the Hall of Fame trainer fleshed out his long-awaited plans for his undefeated trio: Authentic, Charlatan, and Nadal — horses he called “superstar material.” The trio has a combined eight starts – and a combined eight victories.

Not surprisingly, most of the interest centered on the one horse with no Kentucky Derby Qualifying points and no stakes experience: Charlatan. The Speighstown colt drew comparisons to Baffert’s 2018 Triple Crown-champion Justify for not running as a 2-year-old and breaking out big early in his 3-year-old season. Charlatan won his first two races, both allowances, by a combined 16 ½ lengths.

His talent and promise, combined with Baffert’s presence, is so compelling that the recent Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool had Charlatan as the co-second favorite with Tiz the Law. Both were listed at 5/1.

‘The superstardom is there’ on Charlatan

“I think he’s just a smaller version of him. The superstardom is there on him,” Baffert said when asked to compare Charlatan to Justify. “But I really think my three horses I have: Authentic, Nadal (and Charlatan), they’re all superstar material.”

Baffert said while he’d prefer not to run Charlatan against Nadal in the May 2 Arkansas Derby, he understands the need to get Charlatan stakes experience and Derby points. That experience could come in a renewed Santa Anita Derby, should Santa Anita resume racing. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the track shut down on March 27 on orders of the Los Angeles County Health Department.

Baffert didn’t rule out Charlatan migrating 40 minutes from his Santa Anita barn and running at Los Alamitos, the only California track still racing. The track, which typically runs quarterhorses, does have a spring thoroughbred card.

Baffert Prefers Separating His Stars

“If we could separate them, it’d be better,” he said. “We’re hoping for a split, maybe, we don’t know, but that’s just talk. But right now, he’s doing really well. He’s the only one who doesn’t have any points, and so it’d be nice to have him get some points.”

The other issue facing Charlatan is getting into the Arkansas Derby field, which explains why Baffert shipped Thousand Words to Oaklawn Park on Tuesday. Thousand Words will run in Saturday’s Oaklawn Stakes, which gives Arkansas Derby spots to the top-three finishers, and a Preakness Stakes spot to the winner. From there, Arkansas Derby preference goes by earnings, and Charlatan’s two allowance wins brought him only $67,200.

Because of his reputation and unparalleled skill training 2 and 3-year-olds, Baffert often faces the “problem” of where to place his endless barn of 3-year-olds come Derby prep season. But even for him, the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with a deep, deep 3-year-old class in his barn, makes this spring’s scheduling akin to playing equine Tetris.

Nadal Will Run, Authentic Will Walk

Meanwhile, Nadal, who is 3-for-3 with stakes wins in the Grade 2 San Vicente in January and the Grade 2 Rebel last month, will run the Arkansas Derby. And Authentic, owned by the same ownership group as Charlatan – creating another scheduling headache for Baffert – will take a break from training and tack-walk around his barn area for the next few weeks.

Baffert originally targeted Authentic, who won the Grade 2 San Felipe in early March, for the Santa Anita Derby. Now, he’s likely headed to the June 14 Grade 3 Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita – again, should racing resume.

“I’m going to sort of put him in the same routine that I did with Arrogate to get him ready for the Travers,” said Baffert, referring to Saratoga’s midsummer classic race for 3-year-olds. With the Kentucky Derby moved to September, the Travers will likely become a Derby prep race.

Again, pushing that button worked for late-blooming Arrogate, who won the 2016 Travers in record time before winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic later that fall. Arrogate won four consecutive stakes races: the Travers, Breeders’ Cup Classic, Pegasus World Cup, and Dubai World Cup. He earned more than $17 million before retiring to stud in 2017.