October 27, 2020

Kentucky Derby wrap up; Preakness look ahead

Authentic
Authentic (right), with John Velazquez up, outruns favorite Tiz The Law (left) and wins the Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs (Jamie Newell/TwinSpires)

Authentic controlled the early tempo, turned back 7-10 favorite Tiz the Law in upper stretch, and rolled home to a 1 1/4-length, wire-to-wire score in the Kentucky Derby. Bob Baffert notched his record-tying sixth Derby win, and John Velazquez won his third.

By Into Mischief, who stands at Spendthrift Farm, Authentic left the starting gate as the 8-1 third choice and is campaigned by Spendthrift, Sol Kumin, Starlight Racing, and MyRaceHorse Stable. Now 5-for-6, the bay colt opened the year with dominant front-running wins in the Sham (G3) and San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita. He sustained his lone defeat when second in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), failing to make the early lead and traveling wide on both turns after a poor break, and entered the Kentucky Derby off a narrow win in the July 18 Haskell (G1) at Monmouth Park.

His Haskell win raised stamina concerns – Authentic appeared home-free on a sizable lead before shortening stride in the final sixteenth of a mile and holding on by a nose – and Baffert set about preparing his charge for the Derby’s 1 1/4-mile distance.

Authentic recorded consecutive fast drills at 6-furlongs (Aug. 13 and 19) before working a mile on Aug. 25. He came back five days to post his final move, 6-furlongs in a bullet 1:12 2/5. Baffert trained him hard in advance of the Kentucky Derby, working Authentic a combined 3 1/4 miles (four total works) over a 17-day period, and every drill features a long and impressive gallop-out to enhance fitness. How many trainers nowadays prepare their Kentucky Derby horses in this manner?

Twelve of the 17 other horses entered for the Kentucky Derby didn’t have a 6-furlong (or longer) move in the last four works. Sole Volante, who showed a couple of mile works on turf along with a pair of 5-furlong drills, was the only member of the field to come close to logging the same kind of preparation. Authentic was able to take it and the hard work paid off greatly at Churchill Downs. He registered only the third-best Brisnet Speed rating (105) of his career, but Authentic handled the 1 1/4-mile Derby distance like a champion.

His ears were flopping back and forth happily as he cruised along the backstretch, setting fast but comfortable fractions while unopposed, and Authentic exploited his pace advantage.

Tiz the Law came under a little bit of ride from Manny Franco to stay closer leaving the first turn before being taken back in hand along the backstretch. He launched a bid on the far turn, drawing to even terms and appearing to stick a head in front of Authentic between calls in upper stretch, but the pacesetter had more in reserve and reasserted control over the final furlong.

Franco and trainer Barclay Tagg said Tiz the Law wasn’t getting hold of the track well, and both of the colt’s losses have come at Churchill Downs. Some horses don’t handle the track as well as others, with Hall of Famer Skip Away, who inexplicably ran poorly in the 1996 Kentucky Derby and 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill, being perhaps the best known example. Whether that was the case or Tiz the Law simply regressed from a massive career-best performance in the Travers (G1), with his Speed ratings declining 12 points to a 103 in the Derby, can be debated.

Mr. Big News established good positioning in midpack before making an eye-catching move into contention on the far turn. He flattened out some in the final quarter-mile but performed admirably to be a clear third at 46-1 odds, improving significantly upon a well-beaten sixth in the Blue Grass (G2) for Bret Calhoun. Honor A. P. was wiped out at the break by the wayward Ny Traffic, whose jockey made little attempt to straighten while hustling outward from the starting gate. The troubled start left Honor A. P. at the back of the pack, and the big colt doesn’t have the turn of foot to be that far behind. He needed a midpack stalking trip to have any chance of being effective. Last of 15 after three-quarters of a mile, Honor A. P. made up ground belatedly to finish fourth.

Preakness probables

The Kentucky Derby pace scenario changed when Art Collector was removed from consideration Tuesday morning due to a minor foot setback, and late scratch King Guillermo may have a pace factor as well. Both are expected to return for the Preakness (G1) on Oct. 3 along with the Baffert-trained Thousand Words, who was scratched after flipping in the paddock before the Derby. All three could be forward factors in the final leg of the Triple Crown at Pimlico.

Capacity is 14 for the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, and that’s typically not an issue when the race is held two weeks after the Derby. But coming back four weeks after the Derby, Authentic is expected to face a large group of challengers in Baltimore.

Tiz the Law is on the fence, with Tagg mentioning the possibility of freshening his charge up for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) after the Derby, but ownership said no decision has been made yet. Honor A. P. seems a longshot to participate.

Mr. Big News appears likely with his run style and the possibility of more pace next time. It would also make sense for Max Player, who didn’t receive a clean trip from the innermost post before rallying for fifth in the Kentucky Derby, but trainer Steve Asmussen isn’t ready to commit the confirmed late-runner yet. The Hall of Fame conditioner is touting Pneumatic, who exits a convincing win in the Aug. 15 Pegasus S. at Monmouth Park.

Pletcher has three under consideration. Happy Saver, who improved to 3-for-3 with his easy win in the Sept. 7 Federico Tesio S. at Laurel Park, is set to join the Triple Crown series along with recent Jim Dandy (G2) victor Mystic Guide. Belmont Stakes (G1) runner-up Dr Post is also possible following his fourth in the Jim Dandy.

Liveyourbeastlife, a convincing allowance winner at Saratoga two back, is expected back for the Preakness following his runner-up in the Tesio. Baffert may add Azul Coast to the mix. Finnick the Fierce, who was scratched the day before the Kentucky Derby, and multiple Laurel Park stakes winner Lebda are also considered to be potential starters according to Preakness officials.