The 146th Kentucky Derby delivered on drama but not for many bettors as Bob Baffert’s front-running Authentic, sent off at 8/1, beat the heavy favorite Tiz The Law.
Authentic was briefly headed by Tiz The Law as the pack floundered behind them but he immediately fought back and outstayed him to win by over a length on Saturday, September 5 at Churchill Downs.
Saddled by Barclay Tagg, Tiz The Law was sent off at odds of 7/10 making him the shortest priced Kentucky Derby favorite for more than 40 years. There were good reasons for viewing him as a sure thing. He had won all his starts easily this season and was last seen coasting home in the Travers, demonstrating his ability to handle this distance of a mile and a quarter.
Last year his only defeat came at this track when the surface was sloppy in November. Track conditions could not be blamed for his demise as on Saturday it was fast. Tiz The Law did not start in his original spot in the doomed gate 17 either that has never yielded a Kentucky Derby winner. The extraordinary number of late withdrawals from the race resulted in a gate 14 departure.
In stark contrast Authentic has not always rewarded his followers this year. He was a beaten favorite in the Santa Anita Derby in June and a lot of people had doubts about his stamina. He was almost robbed on the wire by the closing NY Traffic over a slightly shorter distance in the Haskell in July and consequently started as the third favorite. Baffert had worked his magic and on the day he had more gas left in the tank than any of his rivals when it counted.
Bred in Kentucky by Peter Blum Thoroughbreds and owned by Spendthrift Farm, Myracehorse Stable and Sol Kumin, Authentic was a $350,00 purchase as a yearling. His sire Into Mischief is known for producing horses that perform best over distances of less than a mile. Fortunately Authentic was unaware of his unpromising breeding and Tiz The Law could not keep pace with him to the wire.
This win was a huge achievement for Authentic as he broke rather slowly from the widest gate of all and managed to grab the lead and the rail before the first turn under John Velazquez. He rode him with confidence, apparently unconcerned about the distance but took note of Baffert’s advice to hold his whip in his left hand.
The front pair finished three lengths clear of Bret Colhoun’s Mr Big News who outperformed his odds of 47/1 and took third two lengths ahead of John Shirreffs’ disappointing second favorite Honor A.P. He hit trouble leaving the stalls and never got into the race under Mike Smith. Smith said he thought the colt simply did not handle the track.
Velazquez kept things simple on Authentic and did not try to steady the race from the front but set speedy fractions and posted a time of 2 minutes 0.61 seconds, making it the seventh fastest Kentucky Derby ever. Having taken the lead he did not waste any ground in running, unlike the favorite with the United States’ online racebooks, who was forced to run wide for most of it.
Baffert was exceptionally emotional after the race and not just because it was his sixth, record equaling and rather unexpected win in it. Ben Jones’ record number of victories has stood unchallenged since 1952. Top races are so much tougher to win now.
A key long standing member of his team was in an ambulance as he spoke to the media after the race. His other Kentucky Derby trainee Thousand Words had reared in the paddock, lost his balance and hit the deck. Thousand Words was scratched as a result but did not appear to sustain any obvious damage in the incident unlike the unfortunate Jimmy Barnes who was helping to saddle him at the time. A broken arm was reported but Baffert thought he had injured his hand as well.
There could have been more casualties later too. Authentic did not appear to enjoy being garlanded with roses and was on edge in the winner’s circle. He span round at speed creating chaos in a fairly small space. Baffert fell over trying to avoid him and will probably be feeling the bruises by now as will the other person who was rendered horizontal.
Is it a coincidence that both Baffert trainees were dangerous to be around? Was it the first time this type of behavior has happened? The track was quieter than it has ever been, devoid of noisy spectators as a result of the pandemic. You cannot blame any horse for freaking out when not enjoying being festooned with flowers for the first but add that to Thousand Words’ unruly exploits and you cannot help but wonder about the cause.
Whilst the world continues to be ravaged by Covid-19, Churchill Downs has proved a particularly perilous venue recently. The Kentucky Derby field was the smallest for some time as a result of injuries and illnesses endured after horses had arrived safely at the track.
Art Collector, Tommy Drury’s Blue Grass winner and one time second favorite in the Kentucky Derby betting, sustained a hoof injury soon after he arrived. Finnick The Fierce survived working on the then waterlogged track for a day or so longer but also had to be scratched for a similar reason. King Guillermo was withdrawn too after he was found to be suffering from a fever a few days before the race. Thousand Words left it latest of all to be denied his chance of Kentucky Derby glory after rearing and falling over in the preliminaries.
Fortunately Authentic and Thousand Words have both emerged from their Churchill Downs experience apparently undamaged according to Baffert. He is pointing them both to the Preakness at Pimlico in October. If Art Collector and Tiz The Law show up too it could be the race of the season.
Authentic is now seen as holding realistic claims in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. If Tiz The Law fails to produce the goods on the day, he could spring another surprise.