By Richard Rosenblatt
Moments after one of his horses was scratched from the $3 million Kentucky Derby (G1), a tearful Bob Baffert was on his way to winner’s circle after his other entry, Authentic, outkicked favorite Tiz the Law in front of an eerily empty grandstand at Churchill Downs on Saturday.
The 1 ¼-length win by Authentic ($18.80) ended Tiz the Law’s domination of the 3-year-old division, and dashed any hopes of a Triple Crown going into the Preakness (G1) on Oct. 5 in a topsy-turvy racing year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Authentic, as expected, was guided to the lead by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez from the far outside post, and never relinquished it despite a bold challenge at the head of the stretch from Tiz the Law, winner of the first leg of the 2020 Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes (G1) on June 20.
Right before the race, the Baffert-trained Thousand Words flipped over in the paddock and was an automatic scratch. The horse’s antics also sent Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes to a local hospital with a broken arm.
“He should be here,” said an emotional Baffert, who with the victory tied “Plain Ben” Jones for the most Derby wins for a trainer with six, three of them in the past six years including Triple Crown winners American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018). Baffert, meanwhile, was upended in the winner’s circle by Authentic, who acted up during the trophy presentation.
Under sunny skies, and with about 1,000 people at the track rather than the usual 150,000 fans cheering on the horses, the people who sent out 2003 Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide in 2003 showed up in a pair of yellow school buses as they did 17 years ago. But it was not to be for Jack Knowlton, Sackatoga Stable and trainer Barclay Tagg.
Tiz the Law, the odds-on 3-5 choice with Manny Franco aboard, had been 4-for-4 in 2020, winning the Belmont and the Travers (G1) in his previous two starts.
“He gave me everything,’’ Franco told Tagg and Knowlton after the race. “You rode him perfect,’’ Knowlton said, according to the Daily Racing Form.
It was a tough beat for Tagg: “You can’t beat Baffert. My horse ran hard.”
Winning time for was 2:00.61.
Long shot Mr. Big News was third, and Honor A.P. was fourth.
Authentic, meanwhile, barely held on to beat Ny Traffic in the 1 1/8-mile Haskell (G1) and many thought he would have trouble with the 1 ¼-mile Derby.
That didn’t happen as Authentic won for the fifth time in six career starts, his only loss coming to Honor A.P. in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). The son of Into Mischief is owned by
Velazquez won his third Derby – Animal Kingdom in 2011 and Always Dreaming in 2017 are his others. Baffert’s Derby winners are Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002), American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018).