Authentic’s future could include rematch against Tiz the Law

Alton Strupp/Courier Journal

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.”

Baffert: 2-year Churchill Downs suspension hurt reputation

bob baffert

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs never gave advance notice nor reached out to explain its two-year suspension, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said in federal court, and reiterated that the penalty has caused irreparable harm to his business and reputation.

Baffert has sued the historic track and is seeking a temporary injunction to stop his suspension following a failed drug test by the now-deceased Medina Spirit after the colt came in first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

The suspension for a series of failed tests by his horses runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet and could exclude Baffert from the Derby for a second consecutive spring.

Almost a year ago, Kentucky racing officials disqualified Medina Spirit and suspended Baffert for 90 days for those failed tests. Churchill Downs elevated Derby runner-up Mandaloun to winner.

“They’ve hurt my reputation,” Baffert said during nearly two hours of testimony in U.S. District Court. “My horses should’ve made much more money. I didn’t run for 90 days, and I had to let people go.”

Churchill Downs wants the case dismissed, citing nine failed tests by Baffert-trained horses as justification for disciplining horse racing’s most visible figure. The list of violators includes 2020 Kentucky Oaks third-place finisher Gamine, who was ultimately disqualified.

Medina Spirit failed his test for having in his system the corticosteroid betamethasone, which Baffert and attorney Clark Brewster have argued came from an ointment rather than an injection.

Track president Mike Anderson said the decision by Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen stemmed from Baffert’s “refusal to take responsibility for repeat violations” during a news conference at his backside barn after Medina Spirit’s failed test was revealed.

“We wanted to make a statement that this was a consequence of not doing the right thing,” Anderson said.

Attorneys Matt Benjamin and Christine Demana, who are representing Churchill Downs, also disputed Baffert’s contention that business has suffered by noting his latest crop of promising 3-year-old colts on this year’s Derby trail.

One of them, Arabian Knight, won last week’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn by 5+ lengths to give Baffert his record sixth win in the race. The horse is ineligible to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points as the winner because of Baffert’s suspension.

A slide presented also showed that Baffert horses made 477 starts from May 10, 2021, through December 2022 and won marquee races such as the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Corniche, the Eclipse winner) along with Grade 1 wins in the Pennsylvania Derby and Malibu Stakes (Taiba).

Friday’s 3 1/2-hour hearing followed four hours of testimony on Thursday. District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings gave no indication when she would rule. But Brewster said he expects a decision “within several days.”

Baffert testified that he had had a good relationship with Churchill Downs, though he noted that he was paying for his seats at the track and having to “grovel” to get them. He also insisted that he tried to be a good ambassador for horse racing, especially after American Pharoah and Justify won the Triple Crown in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

“I think today was great because I finally got to tell my story in a nonbiased atmosphere,” he said. “I hope for the best, and hopefully we’ll be here.”

Pegasus races planned for Gulfstream and Santa Anita in 2024

Horse racing on Opening day of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park.
Getty Images

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After seven Pegasus World Cup events, it’s evidently time for change.

1/ST Racing, which has hosted the entirety of the Pegasus series to this point at Gulfstream Park, is planning for two Pegasus days in 2024 – one at Gulfstream and the other at Santa Anita. Details aren’t finalized and it’s unclear how it would fit in the racing calendar, but 1/ST is planning for both dirt and turf Pegasus races as part of the Santa Anita program.

Gulfstream played host to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the dirt Saturday, along with the $1 million Pegasus Turf and the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf.

“I’d really love to see that we bring it to the West Coast,” 1/ST President and CEO Belinda Stronach said. “That will probably happen in 2024. What we did this year for 2023 was said, `OK, we have a number of great race days, let’s coordinate those better and call it the 1/ST Racing Tour and recognize great achievements within our own footprint.”

Saturday marked the first stop on that new 1/ST Racing Tour. Along with some of the biggest race days at 1/ST tracks – like Florida Derby day at Gulfstream on April 1, Santa Anita Derby day on April 8 and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20 – there are a pair of days where the tour will be running simultaneously.

This coming Saturday, Gulfstream will play host to the Holy Bull while Santa Anita has the Robert B. Lewis – both of them Kentucky Derby prep races.

And on March 4, Gulfstream has the Fountain of Youth, another major Derby prep, while San Anita has the Big Cap. Plans call for coordinated post times at those two tracks on those days to provide the best racing action every 20 minutes, as well as some unique betting options.

“We can never rest on our laurels,” Stronach said. “We have to keep moving forward. We have a great team that’s really committed.”

The main Pegasus race is one of the biggest-paying races in North America. Art Collector claimed about $1.8 million from a $3 million purse with his win on Saturday. In 2022, only the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf featured bigger prizes among U.S. races, and the $3 million Pegasus purse is equal to the one offered last year at the Kentucky Derby.

Regardless of what happens with the Santa Anita plan for future Pegasus events, Stronach insisted Gulfstream will continue having Pegasus days. There has even been talk about Gulfstream playing host to Breeders’ Cup races again, something that hasn’t happened since 1999.

“This is staying here in Miami,” Stronach said. “Pegasus has a home here in Miami. We can’t move Pegasus from Miami. We have great partners here and it’s more than just a day now. We have deep roots here in Miami.”