Charlatan and jockey Mike Smith win the Grade I, $300,000 Malibu Stakes, Saturday, December 26, 2020 at Santa Anita Park, Arcadia CA. © BENOIT PHOTO


by Danny Brewer

Now that the second Saudi Cup is in the books what are the takeouts from the world’s richest Thoroughbred race?

For beginners, I’m not sure why the horse number and the post position did not match. Charlatan was number 3 but he broke from post 9, Knicks Go was number 5 but he broke from post 8 and so on and so forth. Were they trying to confuse a hillbilly or what?

Neither of the heavy hitters from the United States won but I feel as though we learned a thing or two about both.

Knicks Go was coming into the race as perhaps the hottest horse in the world. Four consecutive wins, two record setting performances and back to back grade 1 wins gave his backers every reason to be optimistic. His front running speed has been incredible to say the very least. But like any athlete, things do not always go exactly as planned and sometimes a hitter strikes out with the bases loaded. Knicks Go accelerated into the turn and looked as if he were going to once again surge to victory, but running beside him was an equally fast runner from the West Coast. The fact Knicks Go faded and was put away as the horses turned for home told us he is a very nice horse, but Newton’s Law can strike any time.

Charlatan was that West Coast speedster that ran on the front end with the brilliantly marked Breeders’ Cup champ named Knicks Go. Powerful strides and raw ability were on display as this Bob Baffert trainee gobbled up ground with ease. Having raced only four previous times, this son of Speightstown looked every bit the real deal as thirteen others tasted the kickback from his lengthening stride. Running with courage and resolve, Charlatan proved he is something to behold, even in defeat.

What was the undoing of these two freakishly fast four-legged phenoms? Perhaps the travel may have played a factor. The winner, Mishriff deserves a lot of credit for running a near perfect race. Sitting off the dueling frontrunners, he pounced at precisely the right time and was able to overtake Charlatan in the final yards of the mile and an eighth journey. Even though this Irish-bred is relatively lightly raced (this was his ninth career start), he had been on this track a year ago and had also run in both England and on the European continent. Whether travel was a factor we will never know, but, it was familiar surroundings for Mishriff.

Could we see some sort of rematch in the future? That is likely. It may not come until the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar in November, but it certainly would be nice to see an accomplished trainer like John Gosden bring his Saudi Cup champ to Southern California. As for Knicks Go, he too should be back after a little R and R as trainer Brad Cox is one of the best in the business. Baffert has said Charlatan will continue to race the rest of this year and his effort was something to be proud about.

If these three along with many of the other classic distance runners will travel to the Seaside Oval it should make for a real Classic at the Breeders’ Cup.