Bob Baffert has confirmed his intention to target next month’s Saudi Cup with Charlatan after a perfect prep-race win in the Runhappy Malibu Stakes.
Charlatan took out the Grade 1 race at Santa Anita on December 26th and now Baffert is intending on going to Riyadh next month in pursuit of a share of the $20m pot on offer in the Saudi Cup at King Abdulaziz Racetrack.
The Baffert-trained Mucho Gusto finished fourth in the inaugural Saudi Cup last year after taking out the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes, but Baffert feels that race doesn’t quite fit the program for Charlatan this time around.
After nearly eight months on the sidelines, Charlatan returned to the track in sparkling form at Santa Anita last month, winning the 7½-furlong Malibu by over four-lengths.
He had his first breeze since that win on Saturday and Baffert confirmed on Sunday that he won’t be aimed at Gulfstream Park for the Pegasus on January 23rd but will instead have the Saudi Cup on his radar next month.
Given the effort he put into the Malibu after a layoff, the Hall of Fame trainer is keen not to push the button too soon.
“That’s the plan right now,” Baffert said of the Saudi Cup. “I’ve got another week to make up my mind, but he’d be coming back a little quick for the other race (the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes) off a long layoff, and he ran so hard (in the Malibu), I worry about that.”
Charlatan has form at the one-mile-one-furlong trip of the Saudi Cup. He was first past the post in the Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park in May last year, with six-lengths in hand, only to be disqualified on account of a medication violation.
The now four-year-old Speightstown colt should have no fears going up in distance from 7f in the Malibu according to his trainer.
Baffert feels the track at Riyadh favours a speed horse like Charlatan and he also concedes that the prize-money on offer makes it a gamble worth taking.
“The thing I like about the Saudi race is it’s a one-turn mile-and-an-eighth and Charlatan is so fast,” Baffert said. “It’s a challenge, but it’s $20m.”
Mucho Gusto meanwhile is around a 13/2 chance to defend his Pegasus World Cup crown at Gulfstream later this month, with the in-form Justin Snaith-trained Belgarion shading ante-post favouritism at 5/2 amidst a winning sequence that stands at six on the spin.