Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Charlatan rescued his troubled 3-year-old career with a dramatic victory on Santa Anita's opening day extravaganza in a highlight of weekend horse racing, while Chrono Genesis and Danon the Kid were big winners in the final Grade 1 events of the year in Japan.
There also were some some big upsets as Charlatan's victims included previously undefeated Nashville and Mucho Gusto went down in his first start since February in Saudi Arabia.
Laurel Park and Gulfstream Park added to the fun on the final weekend of 2020 with everyone looking forward with great hope to 2021. Great hope. Great. Hope.
But before we go ...
Opening Day on Saturday at the Great Race Place lacked fans, but certainly not quality racing. It also did not lack for upsets as Mucho Gusto and Nashville both finished out of the money. On the plus side ... well, Charlatan.
In the day's first stakes race, Smooth Like Strait shadowed pacesetting Storm the Court around the Santa Anita turf course in the $200,000 Grade II Mathis Brothers Mile for 3-year-olds, came to challenge exiting the stretch turn and wore down that rival to win by 3/4 length.
Storm the Court, who still has not won a race since the 2019 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, held well to finish second, 1/2 length in front of Whisper Not, who was very rank early, then lacked room in the lane.
Smooth Like Strait, a Midnight Lute colt, finished in 1:33.51 with Umberto Rispoli in the irons.
"We knew that Storm the Court would be going for the lead," Rispoli said. "So I just wanted to sit back of him. We got the perfect trip. There were a lot of great horses in this race, so when it came time to ask him in the stretch, he was ready to go."
The upsets commenced in the day's second graded stakes, the $200,000 Grade II San Antonio. Kiss Today Goodbye trailed the field until midway around the stretch bend, found plenty of running room through the spaced-out field and was along in time to win by 1/2 length over Idol.
Take the One O One did all the early work and finished third. The odds-on favorite, Mucho Gusto, tired to finish fourth in his first start since finishing fourth in the $20 million Saudi Cup on Feb. 29.
It was his first try in a graded stakes and the victory was his first in any kind of added-money event. Trainer Eric Kruljak said he was nervous about taking on older horses at the urging of owner John Sondereker.
"As a trainer, [when] I look at the older horses and see what they have already done, I go, 'Oh my God. What are we doing?' But he was right! It sure set up well. Mike gave him and absolutely perfect ride," Kruljak said.
Smith added, "I was impressed with his last race and I wasn't even riding him. He ran by me in that last race."
Things went from bad to worse for the chalk players in the next race as Fair Maiden, at 20-1, rallied four-wide into the stretch and sprinted off to win the $300,000 Grade I La Brea for 3-year-old fillies by 2 1/4 lengths.
Golden Principal, another long shot, finished second to complete a $247.40 exacta return on $1. Merneith was third and even-money favorite Finite could only manage fourth. Fair Maiden, a Godolphin homebred filly by Street Boss, toured 7 furlongs on the main track in 1:22.69 with Ricardo Gonzalez riding.
Fair Maiden finished well back of Merneith in her last start, the Fort Springs Springs at Keeneland, after an impressive win in a tough allowance race at Churchill Downs in September. The La Brea was her first graded stakes try on the dirt.
"It's just the way the things pan out when you get to that level," said trainer Eoin Harty. "It's hard to find a race against really competitive company.
"I didn't want to keep taking her up to Woodbine so I found a spot in Churchill [Downs] and that was a big question mark as to whether she would handle it there and she did.
"She was super professional that day and gave me a lot of confidence in bringing her out here for this."
Trainer Chad Brown, who suddenly is making a habit of swooping in to win big turf races on the West Coast, did it again in the $300,000 Grade I American Oaks.
Duopoly, an Animal Kingdom filly last seen at Aqueduct, sprinted right to the lead as the race started on the seldom-used downhill turf course, held the advantage throughout the 1 1/4 miles and got home first by 2 lengths.
Going to Vegas got by the favorite, Sharing, in the late going to take second. Duopoly, with Flavien Prat in the irons, finished 2:01.61.
Duopoly was making just her sixth start and scored her fourth win, first in a graded stakes. It was her first start west of Kentucky.
"She was full of herself and travelling perfect," Prat said of Duopoly. "When I asked her, she really kicked in. She never really ran the distance but I guess Chad Brown doesn't come down here just to race."
The chastisement of favorites continued in the day's feature, the $300,000 Grade I RUNHAPPY Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds.
The narrow favorite, previously undefeated Nashville, shot out of the gate in the 7-furlongs race and, as expected, was chased early by Charlatan, who was making his first start since May 2.
Nashville never had been headed in three previous races, but Charlatan began to cut into his lead on the turn and as they hit the stretch, it was clear it was not Nashville's day.
Charlatan ran on to win by 4 1/2 lengths under confident handling by Mike Smith. Express Train emulated his name, coming from last of six to finish second.
Collusion Illusion got by the fading Nashville to finish third. Charlatan, a Speightstown colt trained by Bob Baffert, reported in 1:21.51.
Charlatan dropped off this year's Triple Crown trail with an injury after finishing first in a division of the Arkansas Derby. His star-crossed campaign continued to unravel as he was disqualified from purse money in that race when a drug sample came back positive.
"Those really good ones like him, they just make my job a whole lot easier," Baffert said. "You get them ready to a certain point and then he just took over himself.
"That was just pure, pure brilliance that we witnessed today. They were rolling early, there was a really good horse he was chasing. Hopefully we will have a good year with him."
Smith, who rode Charlatan for the first time, said he had been "on cloud nine" since Baffert offered him the mount. "He is extremely special," Smith said.
In the Opening Day finale, Nasty opened a big lead in the $75,000 Lady of Shamrock Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and held off a big late bid by Counterparty Risk to win by a head.
Warren's Showtime was third. Nasty, a daughter of Street Sense, got 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.22 for jockey Ricardo Gonzalez.
On Sunday's program:
Mucho Unusual waited patiently behind pacesetter She's Our Charm through the early furlongs of the $100,000 Grade III Robert J. Frankel Stakes for fillies and mares, took over when asked by jockey John Velazquez and outfinished closer Never Be Enough, winning by 3/4 length.
She's Our Charm was just a nose shy of holding on to place money. Mucho Unusual, a 4-year-old Mucho Macho Man filly, ran 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:46.94.
Mucho Unusual won the Grade I Rodeo Drive at Santa Anita Sept. 26, and then traveled to Keeneland where she reported 12th in the Maker's Mark Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. Overall, she is 13 for 18 in the money.
"We try to space her races out," said Mucho Unusual's trainer, Tim Yakteen. "We haven't made any plans. Maybe the Megahertz [Jan. 18] will be in play. Or not. We'll consider everything and just play it by ear.
"It is so great to win these races named in honor of all these great trainers."
Also Sunday, Cathkin Peak overcame a slow start to win the $98,000 Eddie Logan Stakes for 2-year-olds at 1 mile on the turf.
The Irish-bred gelding by Alhebayeb rallied three-wide into the stretch to gain the lead and won by 1 length from Commander Khai, finishing in 1:33.80.
Flavien Prat rode for trainer Phil D'Amato. Cathkin Peak now is 2-for-2 in the United States after finishing fourth in his only start in Ireland in August.
Sir Anthony, an Illinois-bred Mineshaft ridgling, chased down pacesetting Conviction Trade in the final furlong of Saturday's $75,000 H. Allen Jerkens Stakes and soldiered on to win by 3/4 length over that stubborn foe.
Cowtown found some late energy to finish third, another 2 1/2 lengths back. Sir Anthony, with Julien Leparoux up, went to the post at odds of 28-1 and finished the 2 miles on firm turf in 3:19.14.
Sir Anthony, a graded stakes winner on the dirt, also won the 2018 Harlan's Holiday at Gulfstream -- at odds of 25-1. He was last seen finishing fourth in a Hawthorne Race Course allowance event for trainer Anthony Mitchell.
"I said it after he won the Harlan's Holiday, they don't give him the respect he deserves," Anthony said. "The owner [Richard Otto] is a pure champion of a man.
"He's been good to me and our relationship has been 26 years now. He bred this horse, along with a lot of other graded stakes winners that I've had. Full credit to Mr. Otto."
In Saturday's $75,000 Tropical Park Derby, Colonel Liam emerged from mid-pack at mid-stretch and left the others behind, winning off by 3 1/4 lengths.
Don Juan Kitten was best of the rest, a neck in front of Summer to Remember. Colonel Liam, a Liam's Map colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.95 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons. He was making his first start since finishing fourth in the Saratoga Derby Invitational on Aug. 15.
"He'd been training exceptionally well leading to this," trainer Todd Pletcher said of Colonel Liam. "We're happy to get him back. Hopefully, that earns him a spot in the Pegasus Turf."
Vigilantes Way showed the way in the $75,000 Tropical Park Oaks and the Medaglia d'Oro filly extended her advantage through the stretch to win by 2 1/4 lengths.
More Than Usual was second, a nose in front of Speaktomeofsummer. Vigilantes Way, with Leparoux riding, finished in 1:40.61. The Phipps Stable homebred, trained by Shug McGaughey, now has won half her eight career starts.
Saturday's program had eight stakes, seven of them worth $100,000.
The eighth, the $150,000 Allaire DuPont Stakes, drew seven fillies and mares with Eres Tu, the favorite, rallying down the lane to take a big lead, then hanging on to win by 1 length over Wicked Awesome.
Another Broad was another head back in third. Eres Tu, a 4-year-old Malibu Moon filly, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:50.57 with Jevian Toledo in the irons.
Harper's First Ride, the overwhelming favorite, took charge in the final furlong of the Native Dancer Stakes, drawing clear to win by 3 1/2 lengths.
Forewarned was next-best with Cordmaker third. Harper's First Ride, a 4-year-old Paynter gelding, ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.56 with Angel Cruz up for trainer Claudio Gonzalez.
The 6-furlongs Dave's Friend Stakes went to Whereshetoldmetogo, a 5-year-old El Padrino gelding who made his way to victory from next-last of seven. He finished in 1:08.55 with Toledo riding. Taco Supream and Penguin Power filled the trifecta slots.
Dontletsweetfoolya took an early lead in the 6-furlongs Willa On the Move Stakes for fillies and mares and went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths over long shot Hibiscus Punch. Dontletsweetfoolya, a 3-year-old filly by Stay Thirsty, finished in 1:09.47 under Jevian Toledo.
In the Heft Stakes for 2-year-olds, No Cents gained the lead a furlong out, fought off a couple of rivals while lugging in, then went on to win by a neck over Kenny Had a Notion.
The New Jersey-bred Goldencents colt ran 7 furlongs in 1:23.79 with Alex Cintron up, then survived an objection and an inquiry into the stretch run.
After three scratches, Street Lute faced only three rivals in the Gin Talking Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. She led from the start, then just did hold on to win by a nose over Fraudulent Charge, who rallied from last.
Street Lute, a daughter of Street Magician, ran 7 furlongs in 1:23.39 with Xavier Perez up.
The two contests set for grass-running 2-year-olds were switched to the main track. Shackqueenking, a Shackleford colt, hooked early pacesetter Ain't Da Beer Cold in a stretch battle and won that by a nose.
Miss Leslie, a Paynter filly, rallied late to take the Anne Arundel County Stakes for fillies by a head over Buckey's Charm and another head from The Grass is Blue.
Whoa Nellie pressed the pace made by Beautiful Trauma in Saturday's $75,000 Joseph E. Spanky Broussard Memorial for fillies and mares, left that one behind early in the stretch run and went on to win by 3 3/4 lengths.
Beautiful Trauma held second, 1 1/2 lengths in front of Lady Apple. Whoa Nellie, a 4-year-old Orb filly, completed 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:43.68 with Florent Geroux at the controls. The Larry Jones trainee has six wins, two seconds and three thirds from 12 career outings.
Pixelate rallied five-wide around the turn in Saturday's $75,000 Woodchopper Stakes for 3-year-olds, closed resolutely and caught pacesetting Bodecream in the final yards for a 1/2-length victory.
Dynadrive was flying late on the outside but settled for third. Pixelate, a Godolphin homebred colt by City Zip, finished the about 1 mile trip over good turf in 1:37.47 with Angel Suarez in the irons. He won the Grade II Del Mar Derby in September, but missed the top three spots in two intervening starts.
Pass the Plate had to pass them all to win Saturday's $75,000 Pago Hop Stakes for 3-year-old fillies but the daughter of Temple City was up to the task, rallying from ninth to score by a nose over the favorite, Evil Lyn.
In Good Spirits was third, after leading briefly in the lane. Pass the Plate, with Brian Hernandez Jr. in the irons, ran about 1 mile on good turf in 1:37.36. She was last seen finishing second in the Grade II Mrs. Revere Stakes at Churchill Downs on Nov. 14.
Around the World, Around the Clock:
Nakayama Racecourse hosted the final Grade 1 races of the year on Saturday and Sunday, and the results portend some great racing in 2021.
Chrono Genesis wound up what can only be called a "year of the female" in Japan with a victory in Sunday's Arima Kinen [The Grand Prix]. And Danon the Kid demonstrated brilliance in beating several other undefeated colts in Saturday's Hopeful Stakes for 2-year-olds.
Connections of both winners already were looking forward to the coming season.
Chrono Genesis, a 4-year-old Bago filly, took the lead inside the 200-meters marker in the 2,500-meters Arima Kinen and held off Salacia in the final strides to win by a neck, trailed by Fierement and Lucky Lilac.
Three of the top four finishers -- bar only Fierement -- are female. Chrono Genesis became only the second female to win Japan's two Grand Prix races, following Lys Gracieux last year. And her victory was the ninth this year for a female horse in Grade 1 races open to both genders -- a record.
Chrono Genesis' scorecard now stands at seven wins, three of them in Grade 1 events, from 13 starts.
Fans vote for the horses they want to see run in the Grand Prix events and Chrono Genesis was this year's No. 1 pick, with a record number of votes. Also landing in the top 10 on the fan's wish list were Contrail and Daring Tact, this dual Triple Crown winners. Their connections declined the honor.
"We haven't faced the two Triple Crown winners yet," Chrono Genesis' jockey Yuichi Kitamura acknowledged. "But I hope she performs well and stays in the spotlight next season."
Trainer Takashi Saito added: "This is a dream come true and I have a feeling there will be many more."
By the end of 2021, the competition should include the best of that year's 3-year-old crop and, if Saturday's Hopeful Stakes is any indication, Danon the Kid will be among the top candidates.
The Just a Way (JPN) colt made his move toward the front as the field turned for home in the Hopeful, seemed to enjoy the hill leading up to the finish line and surged clear to a 1 1/4-lengths victory. He remains undefeated after three races.
Jockey Yuga Kawada said Danon the Kid's improvement over his three starts bodes well for his chances as a 3-year-old but added that further development is needed.
"The stable staff did a great job in tuning up the colt and he ran much better than he did in his previous start," the rider said. "But still, he couldn't find a good rhythm and was not steady in the last two corners today.
"There is still a lot of room for improvement and we intend to work hard so he can kick off a good 3-year-old campaign."
Last year's Hopeful winner, Contrail, also was undefeated at the end of his juvenile season and went on to sweep the 2020 Triple Crown. He and the filly Triple Crown winner, Daring Tact, finished second and third behind the subsequently retired super mare Almond Eye in the Grade 1 Japan Cup on Nov. 29.
Surely one or more of these stars will give Japan another chance at finally landing the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe next fall.