There is one man alive who has solved the puzzle that is the Kentucky Derby. And it does not matter if his two horses that would have been among the favorites in May were long gone by September. Or that another of his stars proved wanting a month ago at Saratoga. Or that yet another colt in the barn flipped in the paddock before Saturday’s Kentucky Derby and had to be scratched.
In the end, Bob Baffert only needed one horse, the appropriately named Authentic. When the colt broke a few lengths behind 3-5 Derby favorite Tiz the Law, that really should have been it. But John Velazquez, one of the great jockeys in American history, knew he had more than a quarter mile to get Authentic where the trainer wanted him to be. So the rider took his time and calmly moved Authentic to a clear lead by the first turn.
That was always the most likely scenario that was going to get the favorite beat and give Baffert his record-tying sixth Derby win. The fractions (:22.92, :46.41, 1:10.23) may have seemed too fast for a mile-and-a-quarter race, but the Churchill Downs surface was yielding seriously fast times all day.
Still, when Tiz the Law, winner of the Florida Derby, the Belmont Stakes, and the Travers, came alongside Authentic at the top of the stretch, it really looked like he was going to go by, win the Derby and have a chance at a backward Triple Crown in a month at the Preakness.
Only Authentic, who barely held on in the Haskell, had plenty left, opened up again and won it clear, with Tiz the Law second.
Such a shame there were no fans at the track to see what a horse brought to America’s race by a master trainer looks like.
``Did I have him ready or what?’' Baffert said to Velazquez when he met horse and rider near the winner’s circle.
He did indeed. In the final weeks, Baffert trained Authentic hard with one dazzling workout after another at Del Mar, north of San Diego.
It was Velazquez’s 200th Grade I win. It was his third Derby win and win No. 6,230 in a profession where skill and tactics are always rewarded. It was his first time on Authentic, who won for the fifth time in six starts, with a second.
``I’ve had some great Derby rides, but today what Johnny V. did, he rode the most incredible race, he had it all figured out, but he had the horse to do it with,’' Baffert said.
The final time for the mile-and-a-quarter was 2:00.61 which computed to a Beyer Speed Figure of 105, the best of Authentic’s career. When the colt had to run his best, he ran his best.
``He was training just lights out, the best he’d ever trained’' Baffert said.
Authentic was the No. 1 3-year-old in the barn when 2020 began. He seemed to get passed by several stable mates, but when the Derby was finally run, no horse could pass Authentic.
Tiz the Law ran back to all his other 2020 races except the Travers when he was overwhelming. The theory was that the favorite had won at a mile and a quarter already. Turned out he was trying to do it again a month later during a year when his other races were spaced much farther apart.
So, a Baffert Derby winner gets away at 8-1 on a day when his top assistant Jimmy Barnes was injured when the other Baffert horse, Thousand Words, flipped in the paddock before being scratched. Baffert wins another Derby in a year when he might have won it with either Charlatan or Nadal if the race had been in May. Baffert was knocked after Charlatan and the filly Gamine were disqualified in races at Oaklawn Park for slight overages of a medication that would generally not be considered performance enhancing. Then, he was knocked down by Authentic in the winner’s circle.
Baffert lost the Derby by a nose with Cavonnier in 1996 and thought he might never get another chance. He won it the next two years with Silver Charm and Real Quiet. Then, with War Emblem and his two Triple Crown winners, American Pharoah and Justify. Now, Authentic.