Bob Baffert’s “forgotten horse” sealed his place in history Saturday.
Authentic — the skittish horse who races with ear plugs and supposedly was distance-challenged — silenced the doubters with a front-running victory in the 146th and most peculiar running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
A scattering of horse connections and the media watched from the grandstand, as fans were not allowed to attend because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Outside the gates, hundreds of people marched as more than three months of protests in Louisville continued over the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor in March.
The 67-year-old Baffert won the Derby for the sixth time, tying Ben Jones (1938-52) for the most in history.
“They’re more enjoyable when you think going in, ‘I don’t know if I can win,’” Baffert said. “I really thought Tiz the Law was unbeatable. I thought I had a good horse, but he was stuck way on the outside (in the No. 18 post position). … It’s just one of those things that was meant to happen.”
With John Velazquez riding, Authentic covered the 1 ¼ miles on a fast track in 2:00.61 and paid $18.80.
Tiz the Law, the Belmont winner and 7-10 favorite, finished 1 ¼ lengths back in second. Mr. Big News, a long shot owned by Chester Thomas of Madisonville, Kentucky, was third.
Authentic, a son of Into Mischief, entered with an impressive 4-1-0 record in five career starts, but his last two races had raised question marks. He was soundly beaten by Honor AP in the June 6 Santa Anita Derby. He won the 1 1/8-mile Haskell on July 18 but was nearly caught by Ny Traffic at the wire.
Baffert had called Authentic his “forgotten horse.”
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“I had a lot of time to freshen him up, and it made a big difference,” Baffert said of the seven weeks since the Haskell. “But I cannot believe I’m sitting up here because I have so much respect for Tiz the Law.”
Baffert originally had two horses in the Kentucky Derby, but Thousand Words was scratched after flipping on his side in the paddock before the race. Baffert said assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes suffered a broken arm during the incident, but on-call veterinarian Kathleen Anderson declared the horse “absolutely fine” after the race.
The scratch of Thousand Words left 15 horses in the race, the smallest field since 15 ran in 1998.
Velazquez, riding Authentic for the first time, steadily guided him from the outside post to the lead entering the first turn and set fractions of 22.92 seconds for the quarter-mile, 46.41 seconds for the half-mile and 1:10.23 for three-quarters as Mrs Traffic and Storm the Court raced just behind.
As the latter two fell back on the second turn, Tiz the Law pulled even with a quarter-mile to go.
“I had the trip that I expected,” Tiz the Law jockey Manny Franco said. “He just couldn’t go by the other horse. The other horses fight so hard. He was ready for today too.
Tiz the Law trainer Barclay Tagg said his horse ran well.
“We didn’t win it,” he said. “Baffert’s hard to beat.”
Mr. Big News trainer Bret Calhoun had considered running his horse in the American Turf this weekend before opting for the Derby.
“He ran huge,” Calhoun said. “Quite a thrill. Going to the three-eighths pole, I thought we had a chance to win the whole thing. They didn’t quite come back to us.”
Authentic, co-owned by Spendthrift Farm, MyRaceHorse Stables, Mardaket Stables and Starlight Racing, earned $1.86 million and boosted his career bankroll to $2,871,200. He was a $350,000 purchase at the 2018 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
Baffert said Velazquez deserved credit for an outstanding ride.
“Bob was pretty certain the horse was ready today,” said Velazquez, who picked up the 200th Grade 1 victory of his career and third Derby crown. “I let him get loose and get comfortable. I waited until the horses got to him to get after him and he responded right away. Bob kept telling me to make sure I saved that last eighth of a mile. I want that eighth of a mile.
“… It worked out the way we had planned it. Very proud of the horse.”
Jason Frakes: 502-582-4046; [email protected]; Twitter: @KentuckyDerbyCJ. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/jasonf.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky Derby 2020: Authentic wins ahead of favorite Tiz the Law