Authentic: The Horse That Made Dreams Come True
Who could forget the first time Authentic was seen in graded stakes company? The tall, leggy son of Into Mischief looked like a real athlete as he led the field around Santa Anita’s track in the Sham Stakes (G3). With the young jockey Drayden Van Dyke perched above him, Authentic flew down the stretch with such ease that it could take anyone’s breath away. He continued opening up on his competitors, even as he veered in towards the rail, then back out, and in again. He crossed the wire eight lengths in front, his ears pricked. Drayden took Authentic to the winner’s circle, where the colt posed for a photo and received pats and kisses from his loving connections. Though no one knew it at the time, they would have lots more to praise Authentic for in the future.
SF Racing & Starlight West had purchased this budding star out of Flawless (Mr. Greeley) for just $350,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale in 2018 - a price that would soon prove to be a bargain - and sent him to one of the best trainers in the game, Bob Baffert. Bob had expertly conditioned Authentic to break his maiden in his debut at Del Mar Racetrack in his only start as a two-year old. The Sham Stakes had been Authentic’s second consecutive victory. With such a promising start to his career, it was clear that Authentic was going to be one of Bob’s “Derby Horses”. Still, Bob had a few other promising colts in his barn. One of those horses, a $1 million yearling purchase named Thousand Words, would be entered alongside Authentic in his next start: the San Felipe Stakes (G2). Also entered in the race was a promising son of Honor Code named Honor A.P. and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Storm The Court. The public had a bit of a tough time choosing their favorite, but ultimately Authentic took the most money.
Authentic broke beautifully from gate 4 and bounded out to the lead to set the pace with his ears pricked. Storm The Court and Thousand Words sat closely behind him while Honor A.P. waited for his chance to run in fourth. It remained this way until the horses began their trek around the far turn; Thousand Words was easily overcome by Honor A.P. and dropped back to fourth. The Honor Code colt then put away Storm The Court and set his sights on Authentic, who was still in the lead and lengthening his advantage. Authentic powered down the stretch, leaving Honor A.P. in his dust and crossing the wire 2 ¼ lengths ahead of his competitors.
[Video: Watch Authentic (#4) win the San Felipe Stakes]
"He’s a special horse, and this was probably one of the toughest prep races that we’ve seen so far. Those were really good horses in there," Bob Baffert said after the race. The San Felipe proved that Authentic was the real-deal and would certainly be on his way to the postponed Kentucky Derby. The Kentucky Derby’s new date, September 5th, would greatly benefit Authentic. He was a big colt who had shown a little greenness in his Sham Stakes victory; the new date would give him plenty of time to grow, learn, and mature. While Authentic readied for his next race, his owners set their sights on their other promising Kentucky Derby contender, Charlatan. Charlatan had dazzled horse racing fans with dominant wins in his debut and in an Allowance at Santa Anita and was heading to Oaklawn Park to try his hand in the Arkansas Derby (G1). Also headed to Hot Springs for Bob Baffert was a tough colt named Nadal, who would also be competing in one of the two divisions of the split Arkansas Derby.
Both of these colts were favored over Authentic by the general public. This favoritism only grew as Nadal and Charlatan both swept their races, making the Kentucky Derby look like a three horse race between them and the talented East Coast colt Tiz the Law. Unfortunately, neither of those colts would get to the Kentucky Derby; on the day of Authentic’s return to the races, it was announced that Charlatan would be sidelined with an ankle injury and was thus off the Kentucky Derby trail. Nadal has suffered a condylar fracture just a few weeks after his Arkansas Derby win and had to be retired.
This left Bob with just Authentic and Thousand Words to take on Tiz the Law on the first Saturday in September.
Just a few weeks after Authentic’s win in the San Felipe, news of a rematch between Authentic and Honor A.P. in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) began to swirl around the horse racing community. Everyone was anxious to see if Authentic could carry that front-running speed over 1 ⅛ miles, the longest distance of his career, especially since progeny of Into Mischief had been known to be best at shorter distances. Additionally, Honor A.P. was getting better and better everyday and had droves of fans that believed he could upset Bob Baffert’s star and maybe even go on to win the Kentucky Derby.
Once again, the public made Authentic the favorite. When the gates flew open for the June 6th Santa Anita Derby, Authentic didn’t burst out of them as quickly as he had in the past. Instead, he broke a step slow and veered toward the outer rail. Drayden Van Dyke quickly corrected the colt and hustled him towards the lead, but the bad break prevented Authentic from getting to the lead before they reached the first turn and thus he went around the turn three-wide.
Drayden didn’t ask Authentic to use up the energy it would take to get him to the lead on the backstretch, instead opting to sit patiently on the outside of the pacesetters Shooters Shoot and Anneau d’Or. The three horses swept around the far turn side by side and were soon joined by Honor A.P., who had been waiting patiently behind them all. When they straightened for the stretch, it was Honor A.P. who had the most energy and momentum. The dark bay colt went right by Authentic and while the Into Mischief colt tried his hardest to fight back, he couldn’t get past Honor A.P. It was the first time Authentic ever suffered a defeat.
Spendthrift Farm saw the immense talent within Authentic and purchased the breeding rights for the colt so he could stand alongside his sire when his racing career was finished. The farm sold part of the racing rights to MyRacehorse, a syndicate that offers micro-shares in horses, meaning that thousands of horse racing fans were given the opportunity to join Authentic on his journey to the Kentucky Derby.
It was decided that Authentic would fly all the way to Monmouth Park in New Jersey to compete in the Haskell Stakes (G1), one of the most prestigious races for three-year old colts in the country. Honor A.P. 's team had opted to keep their colt in California for the Shared Belief Stakes in August. Authentic’s main foe Tiz the Law had already captured the Belmont Stakes (G1), the first leg of the Triple Crown, and was heading to Saratoga to compete in the Travers Stakes (G1) for his final Derby prep. This meant that the Haskell Stakes was Authentic’s race to lose - he seemed to outclass the rest of the field. Authentic bounded out of gate 2 and onto the lead, this time with Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith in the irons. They easily maintained their lead on the backstretch, though by the time they started to go around the far turn a horse named Ny Traffic and his jockey Paco Lopez were breathing down their necks. Mike asked Authentic to move away from their threat; the colt pinned his ears back and picked up his speed, easily moving a few lengths away from Ny Traffic.
With no more danger in sight, Authentic began to slow down and take it easy. Paco Lopez and Ny Traffic weren’t ready to give up, however, and began eating up the ground that separated them and Authentic. Mike felt them looming and urged Authentic to kick it back into high gear, but Ny Traffic had all the momentum in the world. When they crossed the wire, Ny Traffic and Authentic were just noses apart. To the relief of his thousands of owners, Authentic had narrowly held on to win.
[Video: Watch Authentic (#2) win the Haskell Stakes]
Though he was victorious in the Haskell, many people began to wonder if the distance of the Kentucky Derby would indeed be his downfall. Authentic had slowed down in the stretch and Ny Traffic had nearly caught him. However, Mike Smith had an explanation for his mount almost being caught:
"He has lots of talent. Ability is something he doesn't lack, but he's learning. He sees things," he told BloodHorse. "Turning for home, he kicked away like I wanted, and then the other horse came at him. He was looking around more than anything."
Bob Baffert reiterated that statement, “He's a funny horse. He looks around a lot. Two races ago, (jockey Drayden Van Dyke) almost fell off (during a win in the San Felipe Stakes, G2). Mike told me he almost fell off when (Authentic) started looking around at something on the backside today. But when the other horse came to him, he took off again. He wasn't tired." "It was funny," Baffert said. "I told Mike, 'You know, you've got to stay busy on him.' And Mike said, 'Well, we turned for home and he cut, and I thought he was OK, and I was smooching to him. I said, 'Um, Mike, he had earplugs in.' It was pretty funny. But it worked out right. It worked out good. But Mike said when that horse came to him, he could feel it. He wasn't going to let him get by him. He just took off. I'm proud of him."
One day after Authentic won the Haskell, it was announced that he would spend the next month and a half training up to the Kentucky Derby. Bob Baffert spent this time making sure his horse learned some lessons and matured for the biggest test of his life. Authentic was not the favorite for the Kentucky Derby. Tiz the Law, the hero of the Belmont (G1) and Travers Stakes (G1), was heavily favored and expected to continue on his winning ways. The second-choice was Honor A.P., who had soundly beaten Authentic in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) back in June. Authentic himself would be the third-choice.
Questions of whether or not the Into Mischief colt could maintain his speed over a long distance still remained. Also going against him was the fact that he had drawn the outside gate, #18, and would have to cross over every other horse in the race if he was going to get to his preferred position on the lead. Even with the Kentucky Derby’s new starting gate, this would be a challenge for any horse.
Shortly before it was time for the Derby horses to leave the paddock and head to the track, Bob Baffert’s other contender Thousand Words flipped in the paddock and had to be scratched. Baffert’s assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes had broken an arm in the incident and had to miss the race. The entire situation left Bob & his wife Jill all shaken up, but nevertheless they had a race to watch.
Breaking from gate 18 didn’t bother Authentic at all; he and his jockey Johnny Velazquez easily flew past horses and got to the front by the time they started to make their way around the first turn. Authentic and Johnny V. set a good pace with Ny Traffic and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Storm the Court close behind. Tiz the Law sat back in fourth, patiently waiting on his time to make his move.
It continued this way until the horses reached the far turn. At that point, Tiz the Law moved from the rail to the outside of Authentic, threatening to run past him. It was in this very moment that Authentic showed just how much heart he possessed. He didn’t fade as many people had expected him to. Instead, Authentic dug in and fought back against Tiz the Law with everything he had in him. The two colts charged down the stretch side by side, Authentic refusing to give up the lead and Tiz the Law desperately trying to out run his foe. Authentic never relinquished the lead; he crossed the wire 1 ¼ lengths in front.
[Video: Watch Authentic (#18) win the Kentucky Derby]
Authentic and Johnny V. met their “shell-shocked” connections in the winner’s circle and were adorned by a beautiful blanket of red roses. The craziness didn’t end there, however; the red ribbons at the bottom of the rose blanket kept touching Authentic in the ankles and he spooked. He wheeled around, knocking over Bob Baffert and stepping on the ankle of Eric Gustavson. Nevertheless, they got Authentic settled just long enough to take a photo and then made their way back to the barns to process everything that had just happened.
The Kentucky Derby win was a record tying sixth for Bob Baffert and in the five other instances that he won the Derby, Bob also won the Preakness. Being so, it was a no-brainer that Authentic would head to Pimlico for the Preakness Stakes. Meeting him there would be Art Collector, who was one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby but had to scratch, and Swiss Skydiver, a filly who finished second in the Kentucky Oaks. Thousand Words would also be searching for redemption in the Preakness.
Authentic and Johnny V. broke well from gate 9, but it would be his stablemate Thousand Words who would get to the lead first and set a slow pace. Once the horses got onto the backstretch, Authentic passed by Thousand Words. Swiss Skydiver and Art Collector sat close behind Baffert’s duo.
As the field approached the far turn, Swiss Skydiver made her way up the rail to snatch the lead from Authentic. She was in the lead at the top of the stretch, but Authentic wasn’t going to let her get away that easy. He stayed at her throat as they straightened up and began their drive towards the wire. It soon became clear that this wasn’t going to be an easy victory for Authentic; Swiss Skydiver was putting up a gallant fight on the rail, the two horses so close together that they were almost touching.
In one of the most scintillating performances of the year, Authentic and Swiss Skydiver battled down every inch of the stretch, neither horse willing to give in to the other. But the filly never let the Kentucky Derby winner get his head in front; Swiss Skydiver’s nose reached the wire first, making her the first filly to win the Preakness since Rachel Alexandra in 2009. It was a historic moment and Authentic had lost nothing in defeat.
Since Authentic came out of the Preakness well, it was decided that he would go back to Kentucky to compete in the prestigious Breeders’ Cup Classic. Joining him would be Bob Baffert’s top older horse Improbable as well as Maximum Security. Tiz the Law would also be running for a chance to prove that he was still the top three-year old. Another talented older horse, Tom’s d’Etat was expected to run well in the Breeders’ Cup too. Ultimately, Tiz the Law was made the favorite followed by Improbable and then Authentic.
In the glowing light of the Kentucky sunset, the field of talented horses loaded into Keeneland’s starting gates and reeled up for what would be one of the biggest tests of their lives. The horses burst out of the gates to the sound of cheers from the horse’s connections in attendance, Authentic easily getting to the lead to set a fast pace. The sight of Authentic galloping down Keeneland’s backstretch, his ears pricked and his body glowing from the golden rays of the evening sun, was absolutely breathtaking.
Everything was nearly serene until the horses reached the final turn and the real race began. Tiz the Law had dropped back, too tired to challenge Authentic, while Improbable began chasing after his younger stablemate. Authentic still had the lead at the top of the stretch, but the rest of the field had drawn near and were ready to put up a fight. But, there was no fight to be had; Authentic cruised away from his competitors, opening up a 2 ¼ length lead by the time he came under the wire in track record time.
He had ended his career in the most flashy way possible.
[Video: Watch Authentic (#9) win the Breeders' Cup Classic]
It was announced shortly after Authentic’s romp in the Breeders’ Cup Classic that he would be retired to Spendthrift Farm rather than running as a four-year old. His connections felt that he had accomplished all he needed to and was ready to begin his new career as a stallion. In all, Authentic had accumulated a record of 8: 6-2-0 and earnings exceeding $7.2 million.
While Authentic may not be the favorite horse of 2020 for all racing fans, his 5,314 MyRacehorse shareholders were elated to have the ability to say that they owned a share of a Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner. “To say that the horse has brought us a lot of light and excitement and distraction is an understatement," said Eric Gustavson. "To have the off-date Kentucky Derby and then the back-to-normal Breeders' Cup and to be able to win those both in one year and with a 3-year-old—man, it's too much."
Though Authentic’s career concluded on November 7th, the accolades kept rolling in. On December 5th, it was announced that Authentic won the Secretariat Vox Populi Award, which is annually awarded to, “the horse whose popularity and racing excellence best resounded with the general public and gained recognition for Thoroughbred racing.” On January 28th, he was awarded with the Eclipses for Champion Three-Year Old Male and the highest honor in racing, Horse of the Year.
2020 was a hard year for everyone, but those who were lucky enough to own and love Authentic, 2020 was a year of new experiences and endless possibilities. His racing career may be over, but the memories of his wonderful performances on the racetrack will last a lifetime.
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