by Millie Ball
April 29, 2020
Millie Ball’s Fantasy Stakes Morning Report: Fantasy or Fact
The Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes attracted an all-star field of 14 fillies at Oaklawn on Friday. For some connections, initial race plans were altered due to the COVID 19 pandemic. This provides us an opportunity to see the majority of the top 3-year-old fillies in training – from across the country – compete against each other before they vie for Kentucky Oaks glory.
Southern Californian invader Venetian Harbor must validate her support going up against last year’s 2-year-old champion British Idiom. Trainer Richard Baltas confesses that his greatest challenge working Venetian Harbor in the morning is finding company in his barn that's fast enough to stay with her! He ranks her among his top workhorses over the last 5 years. To predict her performance solely off her work tab could be misleading, but until she proves me wrong, I'm drinking the Kool-Aid! I've seen a huge amount of growth in her works throughout 2020. She finishes strong consistently, and this two-turn filly can make a half-mile work in :46.80 by herself seem like a gallop (as seen here March 29).
Venetian Harbor has oodles of speed to position herself well from the gate, as demonstrated in the early running of the Las Virgenes, and has been given plenty of time to recharge her batteries. Baltas chose to ship her in time for multiple works at Oaklawn for two reasons. One, the track was sealed at Santa Anita during heavy rain that first week; and, secondly, his horses seemed to be running well in Arkansas when getting at least one work over the surface before a race (winners Two Thirty Five and Proverb are proof of that). Venetian Harbor appeared to skip over the dirt at Oaklawn in her work on April 24 and looked content in flesh and mind while grazing hours after. If these 3-year-old fillies all fire the way they are expected too, this will be a 'prep' race for the ages!
Zoe Cadman’s Arkansas Derby (Division I) Morning Report: He’s No Charlatan
The talented colt Charlatan will no doubt go heavily favored here for all the obvious reasons. He will, however, face more experienced rivals than his 2 starts. But this should not be a problem for this son of Speightstown. Martin Garcia will undoubtedly get a good spot from the rail with three-sixteenths of a mile run to the first turn.
Before we look at his works, note this: Drayden Van Dyke usually works him and rides in the afternoon. The last time he was aboard was March 28, the first work since his March 14 allowance victory. Charlatan was straight and true throughout the work and just appeared to lean in as he galloped out, only very slightly. Young horses sometimes do this to either get closer to their company or perhaps the rail. Because Santa Anita jockeys do not have access to the track during the current COVID 19 situation, Charlatan has worked 4 times since all with ex-jockey Juan Ochoa in the saddle. One thing I noticed was that he’s not nearly so relaxed with Juan, but works very well nonetheless.
April 20 (7 furlongs in 1:25-3/5): Charlatan worked on the outside of the filly Gingham (who in Race 8 Friday at Oaklawn will be tough). Breaking off right next to her and being joined quickly at the half-mile pole by some unwanted company on the outside, Ochoa had a double-handful still next to Gingham. He put the newcomer away at the eighth-pole and the Baffert pair breezed to the wire in tandem. Charlatan went just slightly better at the wire. Gingham worked out 6 furlongs to the seven-eighths pole, and Charlatan progressed to work to the three-quarter pole. The time was good, but he lugged in badly working out to the three-quarter pole, something I have not seen him do before. As previously noted, this is a different rider and Charlatan is still green. Still, a terrific work.
April 26 (6 furlongs in 1:12-2/5): Charlatan and Midnight Mystery (an 0-for-3 maiden by War front) broke off sharply at the 5 ½-furlong marker. Charlatan once again was keen and pulling on the outside flank. He took off at the 3 ½-furlong mark and was reined in once more by Ochoa, hitting almost exact splits of :12 per furlong throughout. Charlatan took over at sixteenth-pole, head cocked just slightly, but with giant strides throughout. With a final time of 1:12-2/5, this was a sharp-looking work once more – despite lugging in toward the rail around the turn. But, hey, he appears to like the rail and he’s drawn on it Saturday. So what’s the problem? He’s the horse to beat!
Zoe Cadman’s Arkansas Derby (Division II) Morning Report: The Champ and The Favorite
Last year’s 2-year-old champion Storm the Court was last seen in the afternoon running third behind Authentic in the Grade 2 San Felipe. In Saturday’s Arkansas Derby, drawn directly inside of the main speed, #4 King Guillermo and #5 Nadal, perhaps they won’t respect him and let him roll? Storm the Court certainly deserves a shot united with Flavien Prat. Trainer Peter Eurton has purposely worked him solo as he is a horse who tends not to hold his weight that well if hard-pressed (right now I have never seen him look better). I happened to be on hand to see his April 20 work, and his last quarter-mile was smooth and easy. He looks like a horse who can only improve in his 3-year-old year. XBTV has video of a recent gallop of the son of Court Vision on April 23 (seen here), and I can visually notice how much he has changed from age 2 to 3, growing up and filling out.
Unbeaten Nadal will go favored in the second division of the Arkansas Derby, and he looked good under Joel Rosario dueling through fast fractions and holding on to win the Grade 2 Rebel in March. XBTV caught his 2 most-recent workouts on video.
April 20 (6 furlongs in 1.11 4/5): The son of Blame broke off 5 lengths behind the stakes-winning 3-year-old filly Eclair (and I have to say the speedy filly worked rather well). Under a hold from ex-jock Juan Ochoa, Nadal displayed a new running style rallying furiously down the middle of the track and catching Eclair (who was clocked 5 furlongs in 1:00-2/5) right at the wire. Nadal continued to work 6 furlongs and then galloped-out 7 furlongs, all the while looking like a horse that could well sit off the pace in the first Saturday in May. Rock-solid work!
April 26 (5 furlongs in :59-1/5): Nadal had a different workmate for his final work, this time Dark Prince, a 4-year-old gelding who is 1-for-5 lifetime. Breaking off two lengths behind, he appeared more eager by design. He settled off the flank of Dark Prince at the half-mile pole, and made a sweeping move at the quarter-pole while being asked, hitting the wire in a good time and besting is workmate by 2 lengths. There was not much gallop-out (again by design), but this was a flashy-looking work by a colt who clearly is the horse to beat.