By Richard Rosenblatt
Make no mistake, this race was never in doubt once Authentic took the lead in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Unlike the grinding finish to the U.S. presidential race, it took Authentic under two minutes to go wire-to-wire and win the BC Classic (G1) at Keeneland on Saturday to stake a claim as Horse of the Year.
With Hall of Famer John Velazquez aboard, Authentic (4-1) shot into the lead at the get-go and just kept running, and running, covering the 1 ¼ miles in a track record 1:59.19. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah held the previous record of 2:00.07.
Authentic, the 2020 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner who ran second in the Preakness (G1) – the second and third legs of the Triple Crown this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic – won by 2 ¼ lengths over stablemate Improbable.
With COVID-19 reshuffling the racing schedule, the Breeders’ Cup was virtually alone in being able to adhere to its original dates for the two-day, 14-race championships. No fans were allowed at the track.
Authentic ($10.40 on a $2 win bet), now a winner in five of seven starts in 2020, staked his claim for Horse of the Year honors. Improbable, who came into the Classic off three Grade 1’s, ran a solid second.
Global Campaign, winner of the Woodward (G1) in his previous start, finished third at 25-1. Tacitus was fourth, followed by Maximum Security, Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Tiz the Law (the surprising 3-1 favorite), Title Ready, By My Standards, Tom’s d’Etat and Higher Power.
As they did in the Derby on Sept. 5, Authentic and Velazquez shot to the lead from post 9. On the far turn, Global Campaign made a run at the front, and then Improbable moved up. But Authentic simply lengthened his lead, with Improbable catching Global Campaign to grab second.
It’s been a roller-coaster year for Baffert. He’s had perhaps the strongest stable of his career this year, but four post-race positives — including two involving Gamine, his 3-year-old filly who won the Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) earlier Saturday – have created questions about his operation.
He has addressed the issue during the week, and said he’s ramping up his operation with more safety nets, and more hands-on oversight. Winning another Classic, though, had to be rewarding.
“We really were disappointed after the Preakness. He’s a quirky horse, but he’s been training unbelievable,’’ Baffert, the leading-money earning trainer in Breeders’ Cup history, said. “He’s getting better, and he’s caught up to the older horses.
“I would have loved to finish 1-2-3, but I’m proud of all my horses. After what I’ve been through this year, I’m just grateful.”
So is Velazquez, who was also aboard Gamine, said winning his first Classic comes at a good time.
“I’ve been chasing this race for a long time,’’ Velazquez, who was 0-for-19 in the Classic. “What a feeling! With COVID, it’s been a tough year, no matter what. This makes up for everything.”
The winner’s share of $3,300,000 boosted Authentic’s earnings to $6,371,200. His career record: 8-6-2-0.
Irad Ortiz, Jr., who was aboard Improbable, said “I had a good trip, a perfect trip. I had him in the clear. He just got beat. It was a great race.”
Manny Franco, aboard Tiz the Law, said “I had an OK trip. I was down inside. My horse never settled for me. He was pulling me the whole way hard. When I sent to looking for him he was done.”
Winners of other Breeders’ Cup races Saturday were: Gamine (Filly & Mare Sprint, $4.20), Glass Slippers (Turf Sprint, $22.40); Knicks Go (Dirt Mile, $5.60); Audarya (Filly & Mare Turf, $37.60); Whitmore (Sprint, $38.80); Order Australia (Mile, $148.40); Monomoy Girl (Distaff, $4) and Tarnawa (Turf, $11.40).