By Richard Rosenblatt
No. 9, No. 9, No. 9 …
Despite Ny Traffic gobbling up ground with every stride through the final 100 yards, Authentic managed to hold on by a desperate nose to give Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his ninth victory in the $1 million TVG.com Haskell Stakes (G1) on Saturday at Monmouth Park.
Sent off as the 3-5 favorite in the field of seven 3-year-olds, Authentic took the lead from the outset under Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith, with NyTraffic and Paco Lopez looming ominously behind into the far turn.
Authentic turned on the jets heading into the stretch; pulled away to lead by five lengths, then it was cut to three as the Ny Traffic made a determined surge in the final yards, only to come up short in the photo. Dr Post, another nose back, finished third.
Run with a restricted amount of spectators at the Jersey Shore track, the 1 1/8-mile Haskell is a designated Kentucky Derby (G1) points qualifier. A winner of four of five career starts, Authentic picked up 100 points and moved into second on the Derby leaderboard with 200 points.
While it remains questionable whether Authentic can be effective at the 1 ¼-mile Derby distance, but the son of Into Mischief may be Baffert’s best shot at winning a sixth Run for the Roses.
His top 3-year-olds, Nadal and Charlatan, are out of Derby contention with injuries, and Charlatan was recently disqualified from his Arkansas Derby (G1) win on May 2 after testing positive for an excessive amount of lidocaine.
“I’m just so proud of [Authentic], but I was like everybody else telling Mike ‘You better stay after him. You’d better keep busy,’’’ said Baffert. “He [Authentic] looks at everything, as we’ve seen in his past races. I could tell he wasn’t focused going down the stretch but he held on. He saw that horse coming to him and he took off again.”
Ny Traffic, runner-up in the Louisiana Derby (G2) and the Matt Winn Stakes (G3) in his previous starts, came so close to winning the Haskell, Lopez began to celebrate after the wire.
“I was sure I got him – 100 percent. I can’t believe it,’’ said Lopez in a Monmouth Park news release. “I’m surprised we didn’t win. I really thought we got him.”
Smith, aboard Authentic for the first time, understood the situation.
“He’s a colt with an abundance of talent,” said the jockey. “Ability is something he does not lack. He’s got a lot of it. But what he is lacking right now, he’s learning. He’s growing up. He sees things. Down the backside if you get a chance to look at the head on there are a lot of shadows back there from the sun at this point. He looked at every single one of them and he wouldn’t let me get him down close to the fence because he was looking at them too much.
“Then he kicked away like I wanted him to heading for home. Once that horse started to come at him I wanted to get into him a little bit just to get him going. If he was going to start playing again I thought `I just better stay riding and hope he could hang on at that point’ – which he did. I rode him well past the wire just to show him to keep running. I didn’t want to think it was over when he hit the wire.”
Ny Traffic picked up 40 points for second to move into No. 4 on the Derby leaderboard with 110 points. The Derby is Sept. 5. Trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr., had a different take on the finish than Lopez.
“I was pretty sure we lost when I first saw it. We were a head in front right after the bob at the wire,’’ said Joseph. “I just want to keep going forward. That’s the important thing. Hopefully all goes well to the Kentucky Derby and we’re living the dream.”
Dr Post, trained by Todd Pletcher, added 20 points to his Derby total to move into No. 7 on the leaderboard with 80 points.
Winning time for the race was 1:50.45 over a fast track. Authentic returned $3.20 for a $2 win bet. Jesus’ Team was fourth, followed by Fame to Famous, Lebda, and Ancient Warrior.
Authentic also earned an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland on Nov. 7 with the Haskell tabbed a “Win and You’re In” challenge race.
Baffert’s eight previous Haskell winners: American Pharoah (2015), Bayern (2014), Paynter (2012), Coli (2011), Lookin at Lucky (2010), Roman Ruler (2005), War Emblem (2002), and Point Given (2001).
Monmouth Park sets record for handle
Monmouth Park set a track record for handle for a non-Breeders’ Cup day when bettors wagered a total of $20,479,392 on Saturday’s 14-race Haskell Stakes day card.