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 caug