While Bob Baffert was saying that Kentucky Derby winner Authentic would be aimed for next month’s Preakness Stakes, connections for Tiz The Law were not so sure about joining him.
“We’ll make a decision in the next couple weeks,” lead owner Jack Knowlton said in a text message Sunday, the morning after his 3-5 favorite finished a game second in the Derby.
Asked by reporters at Churchill Downs if he might wait another month until the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November at Keeneland, trainer Barclay Tagg said, “That would give him two months. That would be a lot better.”
Even though Tiz The Law was pronounced fit Sunday, that sounded like a hard lean against going to Pimlico. The four weeks from a Travers victory to the Derby marked the first time in his career that the four-time Grade 1-winning colt had fewer than seven weeks between races.
That was just one factor that Tagg mentioned from Saturday’s loss. After a debriefing of jockey Manny Franco, he said that the biggest hindrance might have been the track that produced two stakes records in as many days and the seventh fastest Derby.
“The jock said when he really had to get down and run, he was kind of swimming,” Tagg said. “You could see it in the stretch there. It looked like he was going to go right on by and win easily, but he didn’t. When I watched the rerun you could see him just not getting a hold of it nicely. If you want to make an excuse, that’s an excuse.”
A few barns away, Baffert was all smiles after his record-tying sixth Derby victory and after seeing that his latest winner came out of the race in good shape. Rather than go back to California, he said that he and Authentic would stay in Kentucky before heading for Maryland. Baffert will be attending thoroughbred sales at Keeneland in Lexington. Authentic will work out of the barn of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
“Being that the Preakness is a few weeks away, I thought it might be a little bit too hard for them to go back,” Baffert said. “If he’s working well, and all has gone well, then he’ll go to the Preakness. And we’ll take Thousand Words and give him another chance at it.”
Authentic’s recalcitrant stable mate did not get to start in the Derby because he took a spill as he resisted being saddled in the Churchill Downs paddock. Although a veterinarian said Thousand Words was unhurt, the same could not be said for assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes. He suffered a broken right wrist breaking his fall. Even though he still needs a surgical repair, he was back at the barn before dawn Sunday.
“What a great race,” Barnes said. “I was in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. I was watching it on my phone. I thought I’d be (in the emergency room) longer than I actually was. They put me out, reset (the wrist) and wrapped it up. But I had to wait, because they won’t just release you once they do that.”
Since he had been there and done that before with Baffert – through two Triple Crowns, no less – Barnes said he could reluctantly accept missing this latest Derby triumph. As he put it, “You can be on the floor and then be up in the sky soaring.”
It is expected that Barnes will be there alongside Baffert at the Preakness to work with Authentic and Thousand Words. According to a list compiled by Horse Racing Nation, they may be joined by third-place Derby finisher Mr. Big News, scratched Blue Grass winner Art Collector, the well-rested King Guillermo, one-eyed maiden winner Finnick The Fierce, Jim Dandy victor Mystic Guide, Canada-based Grade 3 winner Shirl’s Speight, listed stakes winners Pneumatic and Mongolian Wind and Todd Pletcher’s 2-for-2 allowance winner Happy Saver, the 1-2 morning-line favorite in Monday’s Federico Tesio Stakes at Laurel Park. Dr Post and Azul Coast are also listed, but their most recent races suggest that they are not up to Preakness class right now.
The possible absence of Tiz The Law and the definite lack of a Triple Crown sweep will dilute the appeal of the Preakness, which may experience the same trouble that the Derby had in attracting its usual betting handle. Where so many big racing days were experiencing record-level wagers in recent months, Churchill Downs reported only $126 million worth Saturday, a drop of 50 percent from 2019.
“The decline in handle for this year’s Derby day program is attributable to the lack of on-track wagering, fewer horses per race including the Kentucky Derby and a prohibitive favorite in the Derby,” a Churchill Downs Inc. spokeswoman said in a written statement Saturday night.
Yet on-track betting accounted for only 8 percent of last year’s total. There was also no money going through Churchill Downs from Nevada, which booked the race on its own for the first time in 28 years. That was because of a 10-month standoff between the state’s racebooks and track management in a dispute over how to split takeout. Still committed to honoring the mutuel prices posted at the track, bookmakers put strict limits on vertical exotics and took no multi-race bets on the Derby card.
Nevada’s handle from the Kentucky Oaks and Derby may be made available Monday by the state’s Gaming Control Board. Last year when it had a deal with Churchill Downs, Nevada accounted for $6 million – or 2.4 percent – of the Derby day handle.
Ron Flatter’s racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more frequently for big races like the Kentucky Derby. He also hosts the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, which is posted Fridays at VSiN.com/podcasts. The RFRP is available via Apple, Google, iHeart, Spotify, Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.