Straight Sets: Nadal Takes Second Division Of Arkansas Derby For Baffert Sweep

Bob Baffert’s riches in the 3-year-old male division were on full display Saturday at Oaklawn, after Nadal concluded a sweep for the Hall of Fame trainer in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, winning the second half of the Hot Springs, Ark., track’s closing day feature by three lengths to extend his unbeaten string to four races.

One hour earlier, Baffert-trained Charlatan won the Arkansas Derby’s first division wire to wire to remain unbeaten in three starts.

Named for the famed tennis player, Nadal is a Blame colt who races for George Bolton, Arthur Hoyeau, Barry Lipman and Marak Mathieson. He earned $300,000 from the Derby’s $500,000 purse.

Nadal tracked pacesetter Wells Bayou for the first six furlongs, engaged that rival going into the far turn, then drew away in the stretch under Joel Rosario. It was the fifth win of the day for Rosario on Oaklawn’s 14-race card.

Nadal covered 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:48.34, less than a fifth of a second faster than Charlatan’s 1:48.49 and the quickest Arkansas Derby since Sir Cherokee in 2003.

G2 Tampa Bay Derby winner King Guillermo was second, with Finnick the Fierce third and Farmington Road fourth in the field of nine 3-year-olds. Completing the order of finish were Wells Bayou, Storm the Court, Silver Prospector, Code Runner and Taishan.

Saratogian and Fast Enough were scratched.

The top four finishers in each division of the Arkansas Derby received a total of 170 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby (100-40-20-10).

Baffert, who also has undefeated G2 San Felipe Stakes winner Authentic among his arsenal for the Kentucky Derby, now has won the Arkansas Derby four times: Bodemeister in 2012, Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in 2015 and this year’s two divisional winners. The last time the race was split in divisions was 1960.

“Very exciting day, to say the least,” said Baffert, who watched the races from California while assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes saddled both horses in Arkansas. “I thought both horses were going to run really well. Charlatan, what a talent he is and how fast he is. I just loved the way, third out, to ship and to do that, what he did today –  only the really good ones can do that.

“And Nadal, he came out of that race (Rebel) … he’s a tough horse,” Baffert continued. “There’s a lot to him and he’s a cool customer and I could see he’s getting better and better. I just told (Joel) Rosario to just get him running away from there and if somebody just gets ridiculous, like I thought maybe Florent (Geroux), he would probably try to get the lead, but don’t be worried about this horse sitting off a horse and he handled it well. Down the backside, I just loved the way he was. I figured if he was good enough, he can win from there. We just didn’t want to go :22 and empty out. It worked out perfectly.

“I just want to thank the Cella family and Oaklawn Park for the fantastic job. Just fortunate and happy that they were able to split it and give everybody a chance to get some Derby points.”

Co-owner Bolton was on hand at Oaklawn to see Nadal. “I just have to thank the timing. He had six weeks between starts,” said Bolton. “He went back to California and Bob (Baffert) worked him behind horses three times. I thought if there was speed today, he could sit off it. He had a much more comfortable trip than in the Rebel when he was attacked by three different challengers. I was very proud. He finished well.

“I have a secret,” Bolton added. “Bob called me two days ago and said he wanted me to come. He said he thought he’d run big and wanted me there.”

The second foal out of the Pulpit mare, Ascending Angel, Nadal was bred in Kentucky by Sierra Farm and sold for $700,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Florida Sale of 2-year-olds in training. Nadal was consigned by Randy Bradshaw, agent, and purchased by Kerri Radcliffe Bloodstock.

The Arkansas Derby was moved to Saturday’s closing-day program at the Hot Springs, Ark., racetrack after the Kentucky Derby was rescheduled from May 2 to Sept. 5 because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Oaklawn officials completed their meeting (extended to the first Saturday in May in 2019) by conducting races without on-site attendance and under protocols designed to combat the spread of the virus.

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