With Charlatan winning Bob Baffert’s 17th Grade 1 race of 2020 headlining an 11-race, six-stakes card, Santa Anita Park set an all-time opening day handle record of $23,003,159 Saturday.

Smooth Like Strait-Santa Anita Opener
Smooth Like Strait was the only favorite to win the five graded stakes races on Santa Anita Park’s opening-day card. He nipped Storm the Court in the Grade 2 Mathis Brothers Mile. (Image: Benoit Photography)

That surpassed the previous record: 2018’s 11-race opening-day handle, by more than $2.51 million. And it did so without the traditional 35,000-40,000 fans soaking up a sun-drenched December day in Southern California. That record handle came via automatic deposit wagering (ADW) apps and a few satellite locations that remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to the pandemic, Santa Anita Park remains closed to fans. Only essential personnel were allowed on the sprawling grounds. Aside from jockeys, trainers, grooms, starters and other bare-bones personnel, that included horse owners.

“This has been a difficult year for a lot of people and we are happy to be able to provide world class racing for those watching and playing the races from home,” said Nate Newby, presiding over his first opening day as Santa Anita’s Senior Vice President and General Manager. “We can’t wait to welcome our fans and our employees back to The Great Race Place when protocols allow everyone to enjoy our tremendous sport in person. In the meantime, we are thankful to be able to operate as we are currently.”

Charlatan Shows He’s the Real Deal

The same could be said for Baffert when it came to Charlatan, his one-time Kentucky Derby prodigy. Making his first appearance since the May 2 Arkansas Derby’s first division in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes, Charlatan blasted past favorite Nashville at the top of the stretch. En route to a torrid 118 Equibase Speed Figure, 8/5 Charlatan paid $5.20, $3.60 and $2.60.

With Mike Smith in the irons for the first time, Charlatan also popped Nashville’s bubble. Going off as the 6/5 favorite after winning his first three races by a combined 24 ¾ lengths, Nashville set his customary torrid fractions. He covered the quarter-mile in 21.81 seconds and the half-mile in 43.95 seconds.

Only this time, Charlatan ran with him, then pounced at the top of the stretch. Nashville not only couldn’t answer this challenge, he couldn’t hold off Express Train or Collusion Illusion. Express Train finished 4 ½ lengths back of Charlatan for second. Collusion Illusion took third, relegating Nashville to fourth by 8 ¼ lengths.

“They were rolling early. There was a really good horse he was chasing,” Baffert told Santa Anita’s Mike Willman. “With what this horse has been through, I’m just happy for the whole team and everyone involved, to show he is a really special horse.”

Santa Anita Park Provides Charlatan’s First Stakes Victory

This gave both Smith and Baffert their fourth Malibu titles. Meanwhile, it was officially Charlatan’s first graded stakes victory and his third victory in four races. After testing positive for excessive amounts of lidocaine, Charlatan was stripped of his Arkansas Derby title.

Elsewhere on Santa Anita’s opening day stakes card, 20/1 Fair Maiden captured the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes. The 3-year-old filly paid $43.20, $18.60 and $10 for her 2 ¼-length victory.

Duopoly took the third Grade 1: the 1 ¼-mile American Oaks by two lengths. The 6/1 Chad Brown charge won her first graded stakes race, paying $14, $7.60 and $4.60. Favored Sharing finished third.

The stakes upsets continued. Kiss Today Goodbye kissed his rivals goodbye in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes. Sent out at 15.80/1, Kiss Today Goodbye rallied in deep stretch for a half-length victory that paid $33.80, $10.60 and $6.60. Favorite Mucho Gusto, making his first start since finishing fourth in the Saudi Cup in late February, faded down the stretch and finished fourth.

One favorite did win a stakes race Saturday. That was 4/5 Smooth Like Strait, who captured the mile long Grade 2 Mathis Brothers Mile by three-quarters of a length over Storm the Court.

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