The Kentucky Derby (G1) tends to produce a whirlwind of emotion, but few have done so more than Saturday’s delayed renewal, which saw Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert equal the late Ben Jones’ record of six Derby victories when Authentic surprised many observers by negotiating 1 1/4 miles faster than Tiz the Law, the shortest-priced favorite in more than four decades.
When the Derby horses reached the paddock Baffert had two entries ready to go in the Run for the Roses, postponed four months from its original first Saturday in May date due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. However, Thousand Words became fractious, flipped and fell, which not only necessitated his scratching, but also caused serious injury to Baffert’s top assistant, Jimmy Barnes, who Baffert revealed broke his arm and was in an ambulance by race time.
“There’s a thousand things that can go wrong, and there’s always something. I just wish Jimmy was here with me,” said a choked-up Baffert.
An original field of 18 had been reduced by the scratches of King Guillermo and Finnick the Fierce earlier in the week, and with Thousand Words’ departure, 15 were left in the starting gate.
Heavily favored at 7-10 was Tiz the Law, who was looking to remain undefeated on the year after four earlier wins, including the Triple Crown’s first leg, the June 20 Belmont Stakes (G1) over a reduced distance of 1 1/8 miles. The Barclay Tagg-trained colt had hung up an interim victory over the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles in the Travers (G1), a win so easy that he was sent off the heaviest favorite since Spectacular Bid in 1979.
Authentic, meanwhile, was the 8-1 third choice. Although the obvious and likely pacesetter from post 15, the son of Into Mischief had many questioning his ability to get 1 1/4 miles after a loss to Derby second choice Honor A. P. in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) over 1 1/8 miles and a narrow, skin-of-his-teeth victory over Ny Traffic in the Haskell (G1) in his most recent start at Monmouth Park.
“He was training lights out, the best he’s ever trained,” Baffert said of Authentic’s seven-week preparation between the Haskell and the Derby. “He came in fresh.
“He was our number one pick from the beginning, and we had the other horses,” said Baffert, referring to stable stars Nadal and Charlatan, among others, that fell by the wayside on the road to the Derby.
Ridden for the first time by John Velazquez, Authentic broke well and avoided some of the bumping that compromised some of his competitors, notably Honor A. P. Seizing command passing the finish line for the first time, Authentic proceeded to set sharp fractions — :22.92, :46.41, and 1:10.23 — with Ny Traffic and Storm the Court in closest pursuit. Tiz the Law settled perfectly and was in great position in fourth down the backside.
Around the far turn, Tiz the Law made his move and by the quarter pole had collared Authentic. While it initially might have looked as if Tiz the Law would motor past, Authentic proved to have plenty in reserve. Opening back up on the favorite between the three-sixteenth and eighth poles, Authentic maintained an advantage of a length to 1 1/2 lengths in the final yards.
“I told John, ‘Do it for Jimmy,'” Baffert said. “We were yelling ‘Do it for Jimmy’ the whole way.”
Authentic finished in a quick 2:00.61 over a fast track and paid $18.60. Tiz the Law finished second, with Mr. Big News rallying for third and Honor A. P. rolling up for fourth after a trip that saw him at or near the back for much of the opening three-quarters of a mile.
The order of finish was rounded out by Max Player, Storm the Court, Enforceable, Ny Traffic, Necker Island, Major Fed, Sole Volante, Winning Impression, Money Moves, Attachment Rate, and South Bend.
Authentic is owned by Spendthrift Farm, MyRaceHorse Stable, Sol Kumin’s Madaket Stables, and Starlight Racing. Baffert’s record-equaling win followed earlier ones by Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002), American Pharoah (2015), and Justify (2018), the latter two Triple Crown winners. Velazquez previously won the Derby aboard Animal Kingdom (2011) and Always Dreaming (2017).
This was the fifth win in six starts for Authentic, who won on debut at Del Mar last November going 5 1/2 furlongs and then successfully stretched out to a mile to win the Sham (G3) at Santa Anita by 7 3/4 lengths on Jan. 4. He led wire-to-wire in winning the San Felipe (G2) by 2 1/4 lengths over Honor A.P., his last start before the pandemic caused racing to cease in most locales, including Southern California.
When racing resumed without spectators in May, the Santa Anita Derby was rescheduled to June 6. Favored at 1-2, Authentic suffered his first and only loss to date when a slow start took him out of his comfort zone and forced to him sit slightly off the pace. Honor A. P. powered home to a 2 3/4-length victory.
Should Authentic move on to Baltimore for the Oct. 3 Preakness (G1) at Pimlico, he’ll do so with earnings of $2,871,200. Jack Knowlton, the head of Sackatoga Stable, which campaigns Tiz the Law, would like to be there.
“Hopefully he’ll come out of the race well and we’ll look to go onto Baltimore and hopefully win that and get some revenge,” Knowlton said.
Bred in Kentucky by Peter Blum Thoroughbreds, Authentic sold for $350,000 at Keeneland September. He was produced by Flawless, a daughter of Mr. Greeley.