CHARLATAN VS. NASHVILLE IN GRADE I RUNHAPPY MALIBU

Charlatan, one in a battalion of bluebloods based in Bob Baffert’s bountiful barn, faces off versus Nashville in the Grade I Runhappy Malibu Stakes on opening day, Saturday, Dec. 26, the marquee event as historic Santa Anita ushers in its 84th season of world-class racing.

This year’s Malibu is arguably one of the most anticipated in the classic event’s 70 runnings, pitting two extremely talented sons of 2004 Eclipse Award champion male sprinter Speightstown versus one another.

The Malibu has been won in the past by a Who’s Who of Thoroughbreds, among them Runhappy (2015), Ferdinand (1986), Precisionist (1984), Spectacular Bid (1980), Ancient Title (1974), Damascus (1968), Buckpasser (1966) Native Diver (1962), Olden Times (1961), Hillsdale (1958), Round Table (1957) Determine (1955) and Calumet Farm’s star filly A Gleam (1953).

Last year it was won by star-crossed Omaha Beach, whose potential for further greatness on the track ended when he was retired to stud after a filling in his right hind leg prevented him from running in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Jan. 25 of this year.

Santa Anita’s traditional opening day is saturated with stakes, six in all, three of them Grade I’s: the $300,000 Malibu for three-year-olds at seven furlongs; the $300,000 La Brea for three-year-old fillies at seven furlongs; and the $300,000 American Oaks for three-year-old fillies at 1 ¼ miles on turf.

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The Malibu, La Brea and American Oaks are the last three Grade I stakes to be run in the United States this year.

First post time on opening day will be 11 a.m.

Charlatan, a $700,000 chestnut colt, concluded first in each of his three starts by a combined margin of 22 lengths but was disqualified from his six-length triumph in a division of the Grade I Arkansas Derby May 2 on a medication violation. He has not raced since but is firing bullets for his return, a display as synonymous with Baffert as his signature white hair.

Saturday at Santa Anita, Charlatan worked five furlongs in 59.80, a tad off the time of Malibu contender Independence Hall, who went the same distance in a bullet 59 flat for Michael McCarthy.

Nashville, a bay colt trained by Steve Asmussen, also has had three starts, winning by a combined margin of nearly 25 lengths, including the restricted Perryville at Keeneland by 3 ½ lengths on Nov. 7 in which he set a track record for six furlongs of 1:07.89. He has been working exceptionally since, counting a bullet five furlongs in a minute flat, breezing, at Fair Grounds on Dec. 1.

Nashville is owned by China Horse Club and WinStar Farm and was bought for $460,000 by CHC and Maverick Racing, the purchasing arm of WinStar, from the Lane’s End consignment to the 2018 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

He will be ridden by 28-year-old Ricardo Santana Jr. from the Panamanian town of El Chorrillo. Santana, a 2008 graduate of the Laffit Pincay Jr. school for jockeys in Panama, also will do honors for Asmussen on Finite in the La Brea.

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