BALTIMORE — Maybe next year, the Preakness will be run in May and a huge crowd will fill Pimlico Race Course for the second leg of the Triple Crown.
Maybe then, Bob Baffert will secure his record-breaking eighth Preakness victory and jockey John Velazquez will snap his 0-for-10 streak in the race.
For now, however, both the Hall of Fame trainer and oft-frustrated jockey must lament a near miss in a no-one-expected-this kind of duel that served as an appropriate finish to an out-of-whack Triple Crown series.
Kentucky Derby winner Authentic, trained by Baffert and with Hall of Fame jockey Velazquez in the saddle, finished a disappointing second behind Swiss Skydiver in Saturday’s Preakness.
Authentic, the 3-2 favorite, led for much of the race. But Velazquez allowed the filly to gain the rail and couldn’t catch her at the wire.
The thrilling finish and surprising upset wrapped up a Triple Crown series that, because of the pandemic, was held without fans and out of its usual order. The Belmont started things off on June 20, followed by the Derby on Sept. 5 and then the Preakness.
The Preakness is usually the middle jewel of the series, and entering the race a Triple Crown sweep is always a possibility. That wasn’t the case for this Preakness, but it did not lack for excitement.
This was supposed to be day of celebration for Baffert, dressed resplendently in a red tie, white shirt and blue jacket. With a victory, he would surpass R.W. Walden for most Preakness wins as a trainer.
Baffert was also looking to go 6 for 6 when running his Derby winner in the Preakness. He had done it previously with Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002) and Triple Crown winners American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018).
Unfortunately, this time Baffert’s horse – and to a degree, the jockey – couldn’t make it happen.
“I was hoping he was on the lead,” Baffert said. “But he got beat. He had the whole stretch to get by her. She dug in. She’s tough.”
Velazquez was under orders to get Authentic out in front, and he did. But he couldn’t rally after falling behind at the far turn.
“We had to get the lead. He runs better on the lead,” Baffert said. “He likes to be out there running fast. That’s how he won the Derby – get him running. But (Velazquez) said when he went to pick it up he didn’t have it today. That’s why I like to come back in two weeks.”
At least this time, Velazquez was on his horse at the end. Last year, he was thrown from Bodexpress shortly after the the start.
In his 10 Preakness races, Velazquez has finished second three times. He won’t soon forget this one.
“We had a good start, no trouble at all,” he said. “In the first turn we got by Art Collector. By the backstretch, I tried to open up, but he just stood there and Swiss Skydiver came to him.
“I tried to get him rolling again, but he just stayed with (Swiss Skydiver) from the half-mile pole to the wire.”