This week been one that Hall of Fame and multiple Triple Crown winning trainer Bob Baffert would like to forget.
Nadal, winner of the second division of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby and possible favorite for the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, suffered what Baffert called the “start of a condylar fracture in his left front leg “ during a workout at Santa Anita on Thursday. Surgery was performed in the afternoon to put two screws in his left front leg.
This comes a day after rumors ran rampant on social media that two of Baffert’s runners, Gamine, winner of an allowance race on Arkansas Derby day at Oaklawn Park, and Charlatan, winner of the first division of the Arkansas Derby, both tested positive for a substance. Unconfirmed reports say that substance was lidocaine. Arkansas State Steward Bernie Hettel would not confirm these rumors, citing he cannot say anything until the split sample results come back.
Co-owner George Bolton announced that Nadal would be retired. He posted x-rays of Nadal’s left leg before and after the surgery on social media. Presently there is no stud deal in place for the horse. But in the evening, there were reports that there were others in the ownership partnership of Nadal that would like the horse to return to training after 90 days of recovery.
A change of plans
For Baffert, this is a blow to his plans for his talented triumvirate of Authentic, Charlatan and Nadal. Earlier in the week, there was talk that Baffert could skip the Belmont Stakes with Charlatan, which will be run for the first time at a mile and an eighth on June 20. Charlatan could have been pointed to the seven-furlong Woody Stephens Stakes on the Belmont Stakes undercard. That would have left Nadal as Baffert’s lone runner in the race as he had planned to run Authentic in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on June 6.
With these developments, it would not be surprising if Baffert calls an audible and decides to run Authentic in the Belmont Stakes. Baffert had a similar problem in 2018, when McKinzie, who was regarded as the top three-year-old in the barn at that time, suffered an injury to his hind leg and was forced to miss the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. Justify, who was 2 for 2 and scheduled to ship to Oaklawn Park to run in the Arkansas Derby, was then entered in the Santa Anita Derby. Justify easily won the Santa Anita Derby, this final prep prior to winning the Triple Crown.
More adjustments at Belmont?
The injury to Nadal could also affect the size of the field for the Belmont Stakes. Earlier in the week according to the New York Racing Association, a field of nine was expected for the race with three other horses listed as possibilities to run. But the news of the Baffert horses could attract more runners into the Belmont Stakes. According to the conditions of the race, up to 16 horses can run in the Belmont Stakes.
While Nadal could have been the favorite for the Belmont Stakes, the main contenders for favoritism as of now would be Tiz the Law, Matt Winn Stakes winner Maxfield and whomever Baffert decides to run in the race between Authentic and/or Charlatan.
For Baffert, this affects his plans for the eventual goal of winning the $7 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland on November 7. He still has his three-year-olds that could be pointed to the race, as well as older horses Maximum Security, the winner of the $20 million Saudi Cup, McKinzie and Grade 1, $3 million Pegasus World Cup winner Mucho Gusto. Maximum Security and McKinzie have been working out at Santa Anita in preparation for racing this summer while Mucho Gusto has not started working out yet. The possibility of Baffert running five horses in the field of 14 of the Breeders’ Cup Classic is unheard of but a likely possibility if all the horses remain healthy.