by Jon White
September 10, 2020
“He’s the real deal.”
That’s what Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert wrote in response to my text congratulating him for his record-tying sixth Kentucky Derby victory last Saturday with Authentic.
Come to think of it, how could a horse with the name Authentic be anything but the “real” deal, right?
Baffert has now won the Kentucky Derby with Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002), American Pharoah (2015), Justify (2018) and Authentic (2020).
American Pharoah and Justify did not just win the Kentucky Derby. They both swept the Triple Crown.
With Authentic, Baffert tied Ben Jones’ record for the most Kentucky Derby wins by a trainer. Jones’ six winners were Lawrin (1938), Whirlaway (1941), Pensive (1944), Citation (1948), Ponder (1949) and Hill Gail (1952).
Whirlaway and Citation both were Triple Crown sweepers, though Citation’s Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes victories were credited to Jones’ son, trainer Jimmy Jones.
Keep in mind a scant nose is all that separates Baffert from having seven Kentucky Derby wins.
The first horse Baffert ever ran in the Kentucky Derby was Cavonnier, who lost by a nostril to Grindstone in 1996. Baffert recalled years later why it was such a bitter pill to swallow.
“It was tough to get beat like that because I thought that I might never get another chance to win a Kentucky Derby,” Baffert told me years afterward.
Baffert also told me that not long after the Kentucky Derby, he received a note from William T. Young (Overbrook Farm), owner of Grindstone. Young said to Baffert that it was understandable for the trainer to be disappointed that Cavonnier lost by only a nose, but that Baffert should be proud of the race his horse had run.
“That was class,” Baffert said.
ADDS TO LEAD IN TRIPLE CROWN RACE STANDINGS
When Baffert won last Saturday’s 146th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby with Authentic, the white-haired horseman proved yet again that he is “the real deal” himself when it comes to training racehorses.
By adding another jewel to his gaudy collection, Baffert increased his total of wins in Triple Crown races to a record 16. The trainers with seven or more such wins are listed below:
Total (Ky. Derby, Preakness, Belmont wins) Trainer
16 (6-7-3) Bob Baffert
14 (4-6-4) D. Wayne Lukas
13 (3-4-6) “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons
11 (2-1-8) James Rowe
11 (0-7-4) R. Wyndam Walden
9 (3-2-4) Max Hirsch
9 (6-2-2) Ben Jones
8 (2-1-5) Woody Stephens
7 (0-0-7) Sam Hildreth
7 (2-4-1) Jimmy Jones
PRAISE FOR JOHNNY V.’S RIDE
Baffert raved about the ride fellow Hall of Famer John Velazquez gave Authentic last Saturday.
For Velazquez, this was his third Kentucky Derby victory. He previously had won it with Animal Kingdom in 2011 and Always Dreaming in 2017. This also was the 200th Grade I win of the rider’s career.
DEFECTIONS REDUCE FIELD TO 15
Authentic originally was to have started from the outside post in a field of 18. But due to three defections, Authentic began from post 15.
King Guillermo was the first to come out of the race due to a fever. Finnick the Fierce then also was withdrawn because of what was said to be an abundance of caution.
Arnaldo Monge and trainer Rey Hernandez are co-owners of the one-eyed Finnick the Fierce, who was withdrawn from the race due to what was said to be an abundance of caution.
Because Finnick the Fierce only can see from his left eye, “he carries himself a little funny,” Monge said the day before the Kentucky Derby. “And we always knew that. But ever since he arrived, the vets have been keeping an eye on the horse…We’re always trying to do the best for the horse so we made the decision [to scratch] because we don’t want to go tomorrow and we’ll get all excited and then he gets scratched at the post.”
Monge went on to say that Hernandez, who exercises Finnick the Fierce, said “this horse is fine and that he didn’t feel anything. I don’t know. I know horse racing is under scrutiny all the time so I understand not trying to risk that publicity.”
According to Monge, “we’ll probably send him to Rood and Riddle and get an independent opinion on the horse.”
If Finnick the Fierce checks out physically, the Grade I Preakness at Pimlico Race Course on Oct. 3 “could be a consideration,” Monge said. “It’s a bummer. But we’ll be back.”
The third Kentucky Derby defection was the Baffert-trained $1 million yearling Thousand Words. In the paddock before the race, Thousand Words reared, lost his balance and fell on his side. When that occurred, Thousand Words became an automatic scratch as a precaution.
Thousand Words can be “tricky to saddle,” according to Baffert. As the saddling process for Thousand Words began to go longer than the colt was willing to tolerate, he “got mad,” Baffert said.
Fortunately, Thousand Words was reported to have emerged from the incident unscathed. But the same could not be said for Jimmy Barnes, Bafferts’ longtime assistant, who had been attempting to control the colt.
When Thousand Words acted up, Barnes got knocked to the ground hard and was said to have broken his wrist in eight pieces. Barnes had to resort to watching the Kentucky Derby on his phone while on his way to a local hospital. (Being the “trooper” that Barnes is, as Baffert put it, Barnes was on hand at the barn the next morning at Churchill before flying back to Southern California.)
From his outside post, Authentic did not break sharply, then got bumped by Tiz the Law. But at least Authentic did not veer outward in the first few strides as he had done when he had started from the outside post in the Santa Anita Derby on June 6. Authentic finished second to Honor A.P. that day. It remains Authentic’s only defeat to date.
After Authentic veered outward in the initial few strides in the Santa Anita Derby, his rider, Drayden Van Dyke, hustled him early. Authentic then found himself three-wide while vying for the lead from the clubhouse turn all the way to the head of the stretch, a trip that certainly did not help his cause.
Even after Authentic did not come out of the gate alertly last Saturday, Velazquez felt that he should not step on the gas pedal early. Consequently, as Authentic passed opponent after opponent while coming down the stretch the first time, he did it pretty much all on his own, without being pushed by the rider. It was Authentic’s natural quickness that carried him to the lead just before reaching the finish line the first time.
Authentic stepped the opening quarter in a sprightly :22.92. Velazquez then was able to slow the colt down while leading the pack around the clubhouse turn. The half-mile split was :46.41.
Meanwhile, 7-10 favorite Tiz the Law and jockey Manny Franco were in a perfect spot as they lurked a close-up fourth while they made their way around the first turn after exiting the starting gate from post 14.
Authentic rolled along smoothly on the backstretch while leading through six furlongs in 1:10.23. Up to that point, Franco had been sitting patiently on Tiz the Law.
As the field negotiated the far turn -- the very same far turn that became the scene of such controversy last year -- Tiz the Law advanced willingly to collar Authentic turning into the stretch. The one-mile fraction was 1:35.02.
“When Tiz the Law came up to Authentic and Franco looked over his shoulder, I thought, ‘Oh oh. He must have a lot of horse,’ ” Baffert said.
At the top of the lane, with Tiz the Law side-by-side with Authentic, no doubt just about every person watching the race thought the big favorite probably was going to draw away to yet another dominant victory. Tiz the Law had won all four of his previous 2020 starts by at least three lengths. In his two most recent starts, he had won the Grade I Belmont Stakes on June 20 by 3 3/4 lengths at 1 1/8 miles and Grade I Travers Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths at 1 1/4 miles.
A major reason practically everybody was expecting Tiz the Law to draw away in the stretch was the 1 1/4-mile distance of the race. Whereas Tiz the Law already had impressively won the Travers at 1 1/4 miles, Authentic had not previously raced this far. Not only that, in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby and Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on July 18, both 1 1/8-mile races, Authentic had not exactly inspired confidence that going 1 1/4 miles would be in his comfort zone.
When Authentic finished second in the Santa Anita Derby, he did not have the needed response in the final furlong. Honor A.P. won going away by 2 3/4 lengths after sweeping past Authentic early in the stretch run.
What happened in the Haskell also was considered by many to be a sign that going farther than 1 1/8 miles might be a hard nut for Authentic to crack. In the Haskell, Authentic managed to turn a 2 1/2-length lead with a furlong to go into a desperate nose victory.
Many knocked Authentic for nearly blowing it in the Haskell. But not Baffert.
“Authentic did not get tired at the Haskell,” Baffert said.
The trainer further explained that before the Haskell, he had told Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith to get after Authentic left-handed when they got into the stretch. Baffert said that if Smith did that, Authentic would find another gear.
“But Mike didn’t do that,” Baffert said.
After Authentic opened a clear lead in upper stretch and appeared to have put Ny Traffic away, it seemed that Smith figured the Haskell was in the bag and he could just let Authentic coast home.
“Mike just hand-rode him in,” Baffert said, “and he almost got caught. Authentic just shut it down.”
With Authentic losing focus in the final furlong, his lead dwindled and he darn near got nailed by Ny Traffic at the finish.
When Authentic returned to Del Mar after the Haskell, Baffert said he “really got serious” with him.
“I really got on him and had him ready for the mile and a quarter,” Baffert said.
Indeed, what Baffert did with regard to Authentic’s workout regimen between the Haskell and Kentucky Derby is the umpteenth example of his prowess as a horse trainer. There were six drills at Del Mar during this period.
The first couple of works were relatively slow. Authentic worked four furlongs in :50.20 on Aug. 1, then five furlongs in 1:03.00 on Aug. 8.
On Aug. 18, Authentic worked six furlongs in a sharp 1:12.60. That was followed by another six-furlong work on Aug. 19, this time not as fast, in 1:13.40.
What Baffert did with Authentic on Aug. 25 brought back memories of how the late, great trainer Charlie Whittingham sometimes would prepare a horse for a 1 1/4-mile race like the Santa Anita Handicap or Hollywood Gold Cup. It was not unusual for Whittingham to work a horse one mile in order to build stamina for a 1 1/4-mile race.
On Aug. 25, Authentic worked one mile in a sparkling 1:38.60.
While Authentic was en route to that 1:38 and change clocking, Baffert timed him in 1:24 for seven furlongs.
“Seven-eighths in 1:24 is hard to do at Del Mar,” Baffert said.
Finally, Authentic worked six furlongs in 1:12.40 on Aug. 30. After that, Baffert felt he had done all he could to have Authentic as ready as he could be for his first 1 1/4-mile race.
“He was training the best he had in his life,” Baffert said.
AUTHENTIC PASSES TEST IN THE FINAL FURLONG
As mentioned earlier, Tiz the Law and Authentic were virtually on even terms at the head of the stretch. It looked like Tiz the Law had the momentum, but Authentic was not done yet. When Velazquez came off the turn, he knew what he needed to do stemming from what Baffert had told him.
Baffert had told Velazquez the same thing he had told Smith prior to the Haskell.
“I told Johnny that you need to get after him left-handed and he will find another gear,” Baffert said Sunday morning to Mike William on the radio program Thoroughbred Los Angeles. Baffert added that he emphasized to Velazquez that it needed to be left-handed, not right-handed.
Heeding Baffert’s advice, almost immediately after straightening away in the stretch, Velazquez roused Authentic with the stick once left-handed, then continued to do so from time to time during the remainder of the run home.
And what happened? To the surprise of many, it was Authentic rather Tiz the Law in front by one length at the eighth pole. Authentic then continued to hold off Tiz the Law all the way to the finish.
Authentic prevailed by 1 1/4 lengths at odds of 8-1 while posting a final time of 2:00.61.
Tiz the Law ran admirably in defeat. Though he tried hard, he had to settle for second. Mr. Big News, dismissed at 46-1 in the wagering, rallied from 10th to finish third, two lengths behind Tiz the Law.
It wasn’t Honor A.P.’s day. Sent off as the 7-1 second choice, he broke half a step slow and was slammed in the opening strides by Ny Traffic.
In Honor A.P.’s previous four starts in races around two turns, he had never been farther back early than 2 1/2 lengths. How far back was he early last Saturday? He was 13 1/4 lengths off the lead at one point.
With four furlongs left to run, Honor A.P. was dead last in the field of 15. Talk about having way too much to do.
It’s actually to Honor A.P.’s credit that despite being so far back in the early stages and racing wide throughout, he came on to finish fourth and lose by five lengths.
FINAL QUARTER NOTHING TO BRAG ABOUT
Even though Authentic won, he did not power home. His time for the opening quarter was :22.92. From there, the pace in the race steadily slowed. His subsequent quarters were run in :23.49, :23.82 :24.79 and :25.59.
In fifths, Authentic ran each quarter in :22 4/5, :23 2/5, :23 4/5, :24 3/5 and :25 2/5. (In the 1973 Kentucky Derby, Secretariat ran his final quarter in :23 flat.)
But while Authentic came home relatively slowly, no one else in the field was able to capitalize, not even Tiz the Law.
Again, from where Tiz the Law was at the top of the lane, he really should have won, especially when Authentic did not come home any faster than he did.
TIZ THE LAW LOST FOR WHAT REASON(S)?
Why did Tiz the Law get beat?
Is Authentic just a better horse?
Was it because Tiz the Law just is not at his best on Churchill’s main track? He’s now 0 for 2 on that track and 6 for 6 on other surfaces.
Did Tiz the Law get beat because he was running back in four weeks after his emphatic win in the Travers? He’d previously had more time between races.
Did Tiz the Law not have more punch in the stretch last Saturday because he “bounced” or regressed off the Travers in which he had recorded a career-best 109 Beyer Speed Figure? He dropped to a 103 in the Kentucky Derby.
Was it a combination of all those things? Or was it something else? Was it because of what Andrew Beyer did?
I wrote last week that Tiz the Law was, in a way, carrying “a ton” of weight because Beyer had said that he was picking him to win.
Yes, Beyer has picked the winner of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes from time to time. But even Beyer has acknowledged that his record through the years is woeful in terms of trying to pick the winner of those races.
I honestly can’t help but wonder if Beyer might miss picking the winner of a Triple Crown race even it was a walkover.
In 2015, Beyer took a stand against American Pharoah in all three Triple Crown events. He picked Upstart in the Kentucky Derby, Firing Line in the Preakness Stakes and Materiality in the Belmont Stakes.
While American Pharoah swept the three races to become a Triple Crown winner, the horses that Beyer picked lost the Derby by 60 1/2 lengths, the Preakness by 45 lengths and the Belmont by 22 1/4 lengths. Ouch!
“This is why it gives me pause to pick Tiz the Law to win the Kentucky Derby after learning he’s also Beyer’s selection. But I will stick with Tiz the Law anyway.” I wrote.
DEFECTIONS, NO HUGE CROWD HELPED AUTHENTIC
Art Collector, who likely would have been the second choice in the betting, was not entered in the Kentucky Derby. He was forced to miss the race after nicking the bulb of his left front heel with a hind hoof while galloping at Churchill last week on Monday.
After Art Collector was not entered, the aforementioned defections of King Guillermo, Finnick the Fierce and Thousand Words followed.
This all worked in Authentic’s favor. It’s possible that Art Collector and/or King Guillermo could have put pressure on Authentic during the early and/or middle portions of the race. That would have made it more difficult for Authentic to have enough gas left in the tank to outrun Tiz the Law in the final furlong.
The Kentucky Derby was first run in 1875. This was the first year that there were no paying customers on hand to see the Run for the Roses. Churchill Downs was virtually empty because of the coronavirus pandemic. This also probably helped Authentic.
Do you remember Authentic’s behavior in Santa Anita’s Grade III, one-mile Sham Stakes on Jan. 4? There were 7,145 fans on hand that day, a far cry from the throng that would have been at Churchill Downs last Saturday if not for the pandemic. Coming down the stretch in the Sham, Authentic ducked in sharply and nearly hit the inside rail, then ducked in again while on his way to a 7 3/4-length win.
After what happened in the Sham, Baffert decided it would be a good idea to have Authentic race with earplugs.
I sent Baffert a text the day after the Kentucky Derby.
“Did Authentic race with earplugs again?” I asked.
“Yes,” Baffert replied.
But while Authentic did indeed race with earplugs again last Saturday, one can only wonder what he might have done if there had been 150,000 or more screaming people in attendance.
Crowd noise may have played a role in the mess on the far turn in last year’s Kentucky Derby. Jockey Luis Saez said immediately after the race that when Maximum Security veered out on the far turn, the colt had “shied away from the crowd noise.” The stewards disqualified Maximum Security from first and placed him 17th for causing interference on the far turn.
And so it’s probably just as well for Authentic that, even with earplugs, he did not have to deal with the deafening noise from a huge crowd last Saturday. Besides, Authentic caused enough of a ruckus after the race in the winner’s circle due to the traditional blanket of roses.
According to Baffert, Authentic spooked from ribbons that been added to the bottom of the garland of roses.
“Authentic, he’s a high-strung horse anyway. He’s always on his toes,” Baffert said. “And when the ribbons came apart and wrapped around him, it just scared the hell out of him. Authentic whipped around there and bowled us all down.”
That made for quite a sight. There was the victorious Kentucky Derby trainer on the ground in the winner’s circle, thanks to the victorious horse.
But Baffert was back on his feet in no time. After he hit the ground, he stuck out his right hand. Darren Rogers immediately grabbed the trainer’s hand and pulled him up. The track’s senior director of communications and media services deserves kudos for getting Baffert off the ground so quickly.
In the span of about a half-hour, Baffert went on an emotional roller-coaster ride deluxe. It began with Barnes seriously injuring his wrist in the paddock and having to leave the track for the hospital. A few minutes later, Baffert watched Authentic win and defeat Tiz the Law (something Baffert admitted that he did not think could happen). And a few minutes after that, Authentic caused his trainer to take a tumble in the winner’s circle.
“It was the craziest 30 minutes I’ve had in racing,” Baffert said.
NEW TOP IN BEYER DEPARTMENT
Authentic recorded a career-best 105 Beyer Speed Figure for his Kentucky Derby victory. This stacks up well against the Beyers for the two Triple Crown winners trained by Baffert. American Pharoah’s Kentucky Derby figure also was a 105, while Justify’s was a 103.
These were the Beyer Speed Figures for the other Baffert-trained Kentucky Derby winners: Silver Charm a 115, Real Quiet a 107 and War Emblem a 114.
Authentic’s 105 Beyer for the Kentucky Derby was his second straight triple-digit figure. He received a 101 Beyer for his Haskell victory after originally receiving a 100 for that race. That 101 Beyer was an indication that perhaps Authentic did not get enough credit for his Haskell performance. His 101 nearly matched Maximum Security’s 102 Beyer when he won the 2019 Haskell.
Below are the Beyers for Kentucky Derby winners going back to 1989 (the figures prior to 2020 are listed in the American Racing Manual, which is now digital only):
2020 Authentic (105)
2019 Country House (99)+
2018 Justify (103)
2017 Always Dreaming (102)
2016 Nyquist (103)
2015 American Pharoah (105)
2014 California Chrome (97)
2013 Orb (104)
2012 I’ll Have Another (101)
2011 Animal Kingdom (103)
2010 Super Saver (104)
2009 Mine That Bird (105)
2008 Big Brown (109)
2007 Street Sense (110)
2006 Barbaro (111)
2005 Giacomo (100)
2004 Smarty Jones (107)
2003 Funny Cide (109)
2002 War Emblem (114)
2001 Monarchos (116)
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus (108)
1999 Charismatic (108)
1998 Real Quiet (107)
1997 Silver Charm (115)
1996 Grindstone (112)
1995 Thunder Gulch (108)
1994 Go for Gin (112)
1993 Sea Hero (105)
1992 Lil E. Tee (107)
1991 Strike the Gold*
1989 Sunday Silence (102)
+Country House finished second but was placed first through the disqualification of Maximum Security
*No Beyer Speed Figure listed
2020 GRADE I WINNERS FARE WELL
There were three horses in this year’s Kentucky Derby who had won a Grade I race this year. Tiz the Law had four such victories to his credit, while Honor A.P. and Authentic had one such win each.
How did the three 2020 Grade I winners do in the Kentucky Derby? Authentic won, Tiz the Law finished second and Honor A.P. came in fourth.
THE FAVORITE GETS BEAT AGAIN
After Churchill Downs introduced its points system in 2013 to determine starting eligibility, six straight favorites won the Kentucky Derby. The streak then came to a screeching halt when Country House won last year in a 65-1 upset while the 4-1 favorite, Improbable, finished fifth and was elevated to fourth via the DQ of Maximum Security.
With Tiz the Law finishing second last Saturday, the Kentucky Derby favorite now has been defeated in back-to-back years.
THE “EIGHTH POLE ANGLE” COMES THROUGH
Prior to this year, 54 of the last 57 Kentucky Derby winners were either first or second with a furlong left to go. The only three who were not one-two a furlong out were Grindstone (fourth at that point in 1996), Giacomo (sixth at that point in 2005) and Animal Kingdom (third at that point in 2011).
Where was this year’s Kentucky Derby winner a furlong from the finish? Authentic was in front.
Thus, now 55 of the last 58 Kentucky Derby winners have been first or second a furlong out.
ANOTHER NOTEWORTHY BAFFERT ACHIEVEMENT
While the fact that Baffert’s sixth Kentucky Derby win tied the race’s record by a trainer, the following day he won the Grade I Del Mar Debutante for the ninth time when Princess Noor proved a punctual 7-10 favorite.
Princess Noor cruised to a 6 1/2-length victory. She’s now two for two.
As a result of Princess Noor’s triumph last Sunday, Baffert is now the only trainer to have won three of the current Grade I races nine times or more.
Baffert has won the Grade I Del Mar Futurity 14 times, the Haskell nine times and the Del Mar Debutante nine times.
Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas is the only trainer to have won two of the current Grade I races nine times. Lukas likewise has won the Del Mar Debutante nine times. He’s also won Santa Anita’s Chandelier Stakes (formerly the Oak Leaf Stakes) nine times when it had a Grade I ranking. The Chandelier now is a Grade II.
Still another Hall of Famer, the late Charlie Whittingham, is the only other trainer to have won any of the current Grade I races at least nine times. Whittingham won nine Santa Anita Handicaps.
PREAKNESS TOP 10
When Tiz the Law did not win the Kentucky Derby after having captured the Belmont Stakes, that meant there will be no Triple Crown on the line in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness Stakes on Oct. 3.
Baffert has said he plans to run both Authentic and Thousand Words in the Preakness.
Tiz the Law’s Preakness status seems up in the air. I am going to put him on my Preakness Top 10 until it’s announced that he definitely is not running.
The way I see it, now that there is no possibility of a Triple Crown sweep for Tiz the Law, I would be tempted to skip the Preakness and go directly to the Grade I, $7 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland on Nov. 7 with him. Why run him back in four weeks in the Preakness after running him back in four weeks in the Kentucky Derby didn’t work?
Here is my current Preakness Top 10:
2. Tiz the Law
3. Art Collector
4. Shirl’s Speight
5. Thousand Words
7. Mystic Guide
8. King Guillermo
9. Finnick the Fierce
10. Happy Saver
BAFFERT RUNNERS TOP NTRA POLLS
The Baffert-trained Maximum Security, winner of Del Mar’s Grade I Pacific Classic in his most recent start on Aug. 22, again sits atop this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll.
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 340 Maximum Security (26)
2. 260 Vekoma (8)
3. 232 Tom’s d’Etat (3)
4. 198 Improbable
5. 197 Monomoy Girl
6. 150 By My Standards
7. 146 Midnight Bisou
8. 128 Tiz the Law
9. 111 Authentic
10. 78 Rushing Fall
Kentucky Derby winner Authentic has overtaken Tiz the Law for the No. 1 spot in this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll. Tiz the Law slips to No. 2 this week after having been No. 1.
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 354 Authentic (21)
2. 349 Tiz the Law (16)
3. 259 Art Collector
4. 258 Honor A.P.
5. 134 Swiss Skydiver
6. 131 Thousand Words
7. 90 Shedaresthedevil
8. 85 Max Player
9. 79 King Guillermo
10. 72 Gamine