Unbeaten but lightly raced Charlatan had little chance of making it into Saturday's Arkansas Derby (G1) without the race running in split divisions. Accordingly, co-owner Jack Wolf says he's "tickled to death" that's how it turned out.
Wolf, a managing partner of Starlight Racing, said Tuesday on an NTRA media teleconference that the Bob Baffert trainee – who didn't race as a 2-year-old – "seems to be doing well...I want to say he's on a flight as we speak, and we're excited."
According to Equibase, the Speightstown colt breezed six furlongs Sunday before departing Santa Anita Park. There, he broke out as an easy Feb. 16 maiden special weight winner before stretching around two turns in a March 14 allowance. Both efforts registered triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures.
Wolf's teleconference comments came minutes before trainer Peter Eurton announced his Shooters Shoot would be scratched from the Arkansas Derby. His top rival in the first division was to be Charlatan.
Wolf had noted that in Charlatan's "first race, where he broke his maiden, he ran against Shooters Shoot, Peter's horse, and that horse looks like a very good horse off his last win over there at Oaklawn. I think it'll be interesting to see how that all works out."
Charlatan was installed as the even-money favorite in the Grade 1, $500,000 event -- before the defection of another speed, front-running type on Shooters Shoot. His closest competitor on the morning line is Gouverneur Morris at 9-2, while Anneau d'Or is the third choice at 6-1.
Starlight Racing and Baffert also teamed up to campaign Justify in his Triple Crown victory in 2018. As with Charlatan, Justify did not race as a 2-year-old. Asked about Baffert's thoughts regarding Charlatan, Wolf said the trainer "liked him all along.
"Until Charlatan had his two-turn race last time out, I think Bob may have had some concerns on the distance limitations," Wolf added. "But the way he galloped out and won the race, I think, calmed his nerves a little bit."
Wolf gave credit to the Cella family, owners of Oaklawn Park, for splitting the race. That announcement came Sunday when 22 horses were entered. With the defections of Shooters Shoot and Fast Enough, a second division contender, both fields are set with 10 horses.
"The don't even have their casino running, and for them to do what they've done, it's been a godsend," Wolf said of Oaklawn. "And thank goodness, Churchill Downs and Oaklawn sat down and came up with a way to split the race, with $500,000 in each race."
Churchill Downs will award the full allotment of 100-40-20-10 points to both races' top four finishers.
"I'm just tickled to death that there were 22 horses, or we probably wouldn't have drawn in with Charlatan," Wolf added. "So it's all to the Cellas."