Nashville can make the grade in Malibu

The Grade I, $300,000 Malibu Stakes once again anchors Opening Day at Santa Anita. Going as Race 10 of 11 on Saturday at “The Great Race Place,” the Malibu drew six sensational three-year-old sprinters. That includes NASHVILLE, who set the track record for six furlongs at Keeneland last time out. The seven-furlong Malibu carries an estimated post time of 6:30 p.m. ET.

#3 NASHVILLE (6-5, morning-line favorite) may have raced on a souped-up Keeneland main track on Breeders’ Cup Saturday, but that should not diminish his impressive performance in the Perryville Stakes that day. He still won as he pleased for the third straight time to begin his career for trainer Steve Asmussen.

NASHVILLE will be tested for class in the Grade I Malibu, but based on the eye test and sensational recent works, the son of Speightstown should be up to the task. Ricardo Santana Jr. flies in for the call.

#4 CHARLATAN (9-5) makes his first start since reporting home first in the Grade I Arkansas Derby on May 2. He missed time with an injury afterwards, and was subsequently DQ’d for a drug violation.

However, like NASHVILLE, CHARLATAN has never been beaten in three career starts. Bob Baffert knows how to get horses cranked for comeback races off long layoffs, so CHARLATAN is a major player for at least a piece in Saturday’s Malibu under Mike Smith.

#6 INDEPENDENCE HALL (4-1) intrigues stepping back up into stakes company. He aced his comeback race against allowance/optional claiming foes for new trainer Michael McCarthy following a near eight-month layoff.

INDEPENDENCE HALL stamped himself as a 2020 Kentucky Derby contender about a year ago when he crushed the competition in both the Grade III Nashua and $150,000 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct before regressing. His most recent works suggest he’s sitting on another huge effort on Saturday. Joel Rosario has the assignment.

#1 COLLUSION ILLUSION (8-1) gets effective class relief following a non-competitive effort in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. The Grade I Bring Crosby and Grade III Laz Barrera winner merits respect dropping back in with three-year-olds. Flavien Prat will be aboard COLLUSION ILLUSION once more.

The play: $4 trifecta 3/4,6/1,4,6, $2 trifecta 3/1/4,6 ($20)

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