LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Briefly off the radar to set himself straight, Authentic now might have to get used to having a target on his back.
Bob Baffert’s latest star achieved that by blowing past Kentucky Derby favorite Tiz the Law to win going away Saturday at Churchill Downs. Though Authentic shattered hopes for a Triple Crown winner this year, he raised questions about what he’ll do for an encore, which could include a possible rematch against Tiz the Law at the Preakness in Baltimore on Oct. 3. That race is the final jewel in this year's reshuffled Triple Crown.
Tiz the Law’s team suggested after the Derby that the colt would be there, with owner Jack Knowlton adding to “hopefully win that and get some revenge.” Baffert sounded just as eager Sunday as he digested Authentic’s 1 1/4-length victory over the 3-5 favorite at Churchill Downs.
“Right now all systems are go for the Preakness as long as he looks healthy,” the trainer said, “and knock on wood that they stay healthy. That’s the main key.
“I’ve been really lucky with him.”
Shorter than the Derby at 1 1/8 miles, the Preakness allows Authentic to follow his blistering Derby trip of 2:00.61 and Tiz the Law to atone for his second-place finish. It’s certainly within Authentic’s reach considering he brought a Haskell Stakes win at that distance into the Derby and was second to Honor A. P. in the Santa Anita Derby.
There figures to be other well-rested horses to contend with, though Baffert touted Tiz the Law as a formidable foe at Pimlico Race Course. November’s season-ending Breeders’ Cup world championships at Keeneland also offer a chance to make a strong case for the Eclipse Award as the year’s top 3-year-old.
But those options are for later, and Baffert is happy that Authentic emerged from the Derby in good shape.
“He was pretty sharp,” said Baffert, who plans to keep the horse at Churchill Downs for the time being. “I’m going to wait a week or two, see how he is. Then I’ll give him a little breeze here.
“Right now, at the end of the day Tiz the Law is still going to be tough. As long as (Authentic) is doing well, he gets on the plane and that means I feel good about it.”
Baffert said Thousand Words could also be part of the Preakness plan despite being disqualified from the Derby when he reared up and fell backward in the paddock before the race. Assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes fractured his wrist in the process and underwent surgery that evening but was in the barn Sunday morning before heading back to California.
That moment began an emotional Derby roller coaster for Baffert, whose sixth win tied Ben Jones for the most by a trainer. The Hall of Famer was soon lifted by Authentic’s wire-to-wire victory from the No. 18 post, then knocked over in the winner’s circle by the horse when he became bothered by ribbons attached to the garland of roses.
All of which put Baffert in a reflective mood the day after. He noted that Authentic was the last of a group of 60 horses purchased and that he needed time off to mature. It worked as the horse notched his fifth victory in six career starts.
That it came on the sport’s biggest stage was ironic to Baffert.
“We pick them out and they’re all part of it,” he said of his horses. “And actually, Authentic was the last one. He was the last one we bought, and he wins the Derby.”