In a statement that we could all make for ourselves, it has been a year of extremes for Bob Baffert. His extremes were just a little different and a lot more public than ours.
From a career-ending injury to Nadal to drug positives for Gamine. From his getting Maximum Security from a trainer disgraced by a medication investigation to his own mea culpa that he has to run a tighter ship to avoid the same fate. And from his sixth Kentucky Derby victory to his fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Authentic (4-1) repeated what he did for Baffert two months ago in the Derby. He burst to the lead from an outside post, held it the whole way and won by a widening 2¼ lengths Saturday in the $6 million Classic at Keeneland in Kentucky.
“After what I’ve gone through this year,” Baffert told NBC Sports before pausing and continuing. “I love this sport, and it’s just a great day.”
It was, too, for jockey John Velázquez, who failed 19 previous times to win the Classic before Authentic provided him the breakthrough.
“I’ve been chasing this race for quite a while,” he said. “For him to do it for me was just incredible.”
Doubters who thought this summer that Authentic could not win at 1¼ miles were proven wrong again, this time in open company in a performance that stamped him the male candidate for Horse of the Year. (See below for the female candidate Monomoy Girl.)
Maximum Security (4-1) pressed Authentic early. Then Global Campaign (25-1) tried to threaten on the backstretch. By the time they turned for home it was stablemate Improbable (7-2) who made a late but futile bid. Not only did they fall short, they were never threats. Improbable finished second, Global Campaign third, Tacitus (21-1) fourth and Maximum Security fifth.
The victory provided some measure of redemption for Authentic after his loss to the filly Swiss Skydiver in last month’s Preakness.
“We really were disappointed after the Preakness,” said Baffert, whose 17 Breeders’ Cup victories pulled him within three of record holder D. Wayne Lukas. “I was sort of surprised with his race. But he’s a quirky horse. He’d been working unbelievably. I think Johnny really knows him well. One he got him in that rhythm, he’s just got better and better. He’s caught up with the older horses. He’s just an unbelievable horse.”
Seeing as how it is 2020, though, there was a fly in the ointment on what was otherwise a perfect autumn day. The timer did not work for the big race.
Enough of 2020. How about 2021? Will Authentic be back?
“We’re going to get together with the team I would say tomorrow but probably starting tonight,” said Eric Gustavson, president of lead owner Spendthrift Farm. “We have to make some decisions. We have to go over all the implications, talk to (minority owner Sol Kumin) and make plans for the future. But for tonight we’re just going to enjoy.”
There were eight other championships Saturday.
Distaff. A year ago she was on the shelf after dealing with colic and a pulled muscle, unable to defend her 2018 victory in this race. Monomoy Girl (1-1) came all the way back from that missing season by emphatically winning what might have been the final race of her career as she is catalogued to be sold next week. “We never gave up hope that we could get here,” outgoing owner Michael Dubb said. “We really wanted to keep her going. This special mare just doesn’t want to lose.” With jockey Florent Géroux racing her off the pace early, the 5-year-old former champion took the lead at the top of the stretch and put away her rivals by 1¾ lengths. Valiance (14-1) was second, and Dunbar Road (25-1) was another half-length behind in third. Preakness winner Swiss Skydiver (2-1) was a distant seventh. The winning time for the 1⅛ miles was 1:47.84, providing a fourth victory in this year’s Breeders’ Cup for trainer Brad Cox.
Filly & Mare Sprint. Gamine (1-1) pulled away from a race-long duel with Serengeti Empress (3-1) to win in a track-record 1:20.20 for the seven furlongs on the fast main circuit. “That’s the baddest b---- in the land right there,” said Bob Baffert, who trained her to victory. “She is the fastest filly going one turn I’ve ever trained.” It was the 17th win in the championships for jockey John Velázquez, who is a distant second behind Mike Smith’s 26. Serengeti Empress finished second, 6¼ lengths behind Gamine and a nose ahead of third-place Bell’s The One (6-1). The victory punctuated an up-and-down year for Gamine, a 3-year-old Into Mischief filly that was flagged twice in drug tests this year and finished a disappointing third in the Kentucky Oaks. “What she’s gone through,” Baffert said, “she deserved (the win). Of all my races this meant the most to me.”
Mile. Aidan O’Brien had lost with 39 consecutive Breeders’ Cup starters. That was until he got a sweep in this race led by the second longest shot ever to win one of these championships. Order Of Australia (73-1), an also-eligible 3-year-old colt ridden by substitute rider Pierre-Charles Boudot, raced to the lead in deep stretch and won by a neck over Circus Maximus (11-1) with Lope y Fernández (18-1) another three-quarters of a length behind in third. The favorite Kameko (5-1) finished seventh. Order Of Australia’s winning time was 1:33.73 on the firm turf. The withdrawal of One Master on Thursday was the only reason that Order Of Australia drew into the field. A two-time French riding champion, Boudot got the ride after Christophe Soumillon tested positive for the coronavirus. Before this weekend Order Of Australia had won two minor races, one worth $9,200 and the other $11,800. The Mile carries a purse of $2 million. The only longer shot to win a Breeders’ Cup race was Arcangues at 133-1 in the 1993 Classic. Saturday’s winning $2 exacta ticket paid $2,117.80 and the $2 trifecta $17,572.
Dirt Mile. Knicks Go (9-5) was hurried to an early lead by Joel Rosario, and he never gave it up, racing to a track-record time of 1:33.85 and winning for the third time in as many starts for Cox. The 4-year-old Paynter colt was never threatened, cruising to a 3½-length victory over Jesús’ Team (62-1) with Sharp Samurai (6-1) a nose back in third. It was the first Grade 1 start for Knicks Go since he finished second to Game Winner two years ago in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. It also marked a complete turnaround from bone-chip surgery eight months ago. “This was never something that we even had on our target when we ran this horse five weeks ago at Keeneland,” said Cox, who took over this year for Knicks Go’s previous trainer Ben Colebrook. “Very thankful for the Breeders’ Cup for allowing him to run, and it looks like they made the right decision.”
Sprint. On his fourth try to win this race, Whitmore (18-1) finally broke through. With Irad Ortiz Jr. riding him off the pace and along a golden rail, the 7-year-old gelding charged to the lead in the final furlong and ran away to a 3¼-length victory after he finished eighth, second and third the last three years. It gave Ortiz his second win of these championships and 11th overall. It was the first Breeders’ Cup victory in six tries for trainer Ron Moquett. Peter Miller was trying to train a third winner in the last four runnings of this race, but C Z Rocket (5-1) finished second, a neck in front of third-place Firenze Fire (8-1). The favorite Yaupon (6-5) was never a factor and finished 10th.
Turf. In a race that was tactically European, another substitute for Soumillon bided his time for a victory in this $4 million race. This time it was two-time Irish champion jockey Colin Keane aboard Tarnawa (9-2), a Group 1 winner in her last two starts in France. The 4-year-old filly charged from ninth in the final three furlongs to blow past rivals in the stretch and win by one length over both the favorite Magical (2-1) in second and pacesetter Channel Maker (9-1) in third. The winning time was 2:28.02. It was the first Breeders’ Cup victory in 20 years for the owner The Aga Khan and the first ever for Irish trainer Dermot Weld.
Filly & Mare Turf. Until August, the 4-year-old English filly Audarya (17-1) had never been in a group stakes. She has since made up for that lost time, winning two top-level starts including Saturday’s 9½-furlong race in a course-record 1:52.72. Boudot had Audarya in mid-pack before making an early move along the rail with a half-mile to go. Then he angled her out in mid-stretch and ran on for a half-length win over favored Rushing Fall (5-2) with Harvey’s Lil Goil (20-1) a head behind in third. It was the first Breeders’ Cup victory for trainer James Fanshawe as it was for Boudot, who got the assignment when regular rider Ioritz Mendizabal could not clear pandemic rules established by the Breeders’ Cup. Starship Jubilee threw Géroux as she stumbled out of the gate from post 1. Both the horse and rider were unhurt.
Turf Sprint. Coming off a Group 1 win in Ireland and a narrow second on Arc day in France, Glass Slippers (10-1) found a seam in the rail traffic and emerged with a half-length victory in Saturday’s first race on the grass. Trained by Kevin Ryan and ridden by first-time Breeders’ Cup rider Tom Eaves, the 4-year-old Dream Ahead filly became the first European horse to win in 13 runnings of this race. She finished the 5½ furlongs in 1:01.53, leaving Wet Your Whistle (26-1) in second and favored Leinster (4-1) another half-length behind in third.
Breeders’ Cup notes and opinions
The day began with Nashville (1-10) setting a track record of 1:07.89 in winning the six-furlong $125,000 Perryville Stakes. Highly regarded but lightly raced, the 3-year-old Speightstown colt finished first by 3½ lengths under Ricardo Santana Jr.’s hand ride. Nashville had been considered for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, but trainer Steve Asmussen decided not to hurry him up in class only two months after his debut. Now 3-for-3, Nashville might be pointed to the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26 at Santa Anita.
Absolutely Aiden was euthanized after being injured in a fall late in the second race Saturday. Running second at the top of the stretch in the Lafayette Stakes, he took a bad step and tumbled, dismounting jockey Chris Landeros. A Keeneland spokeswoman said that the 4-year-old colt trained by Wesley Hawley suffered a separated fetlock. Riders Tyler Gaffalione and David Cohen were also thrown from their mounts, but their horses ran on unhurt and were collected by outriders for the walk back to their barns. All three jockeys were examined and released from the track’s first-aid station. Only Gaffalione had more rides Saturday, all in the Breeders’ Cup.
Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more frequently during coverage of big races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, posted every Friday at VSiN.com/podcasts. The RFRP is also available via free subscription at Apple, Google, iHeart, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.