It’s two months away, but the Kentucky Derby has a favorite, Authentic. The 3-year-old colt breezed to a dominating and effortless victory in the San Felipe Stakes, one of the toughest Derby prep races.
Authentic’s winning margin was 2¼ lengths, but it could have been larger had jockey Drayden Van Dyke asked him for more down the stretch. When Authentic arrived in the winner’s circle, he wasn’t breathing hard, as if he could have run another 1 1/16 miles Saturday at Santa Anita.
Having an early favorite for the Kentucky Derby is nothing new for trainer Bob Baffert. In fact, he has six horses that could be considered as possible Derby runners if they do well in the next month.
Saturday’s victory also erased any doubts that Authentic was too green to handle the grueling Derby trail. In his last race, the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita, he zigzagged down the homestretch, throwing his head around. Baffert made sure that didn’t happen this time. He gave him earplugs.
“He’s never done that,” Baffert said. “I was pretty surprised … and I looked it over and thought it’s got to be the noise. I didn’t want to put blinkers on him. He’s keen as he is.”
So, he turned to brown sheepskin earplugs that cost $6.
“Usually I have him on [earplugs] but take them off behind the gate,” Baffert said. “I really think last time it was the noise. He heard it for the first time [in the Sham].
“Some horses are just really delicate to sound, so we put ‘em in and it seemed like it worked. … He handled everything perfectly today.”
This isn’t the first time Baffert, and many other trainers, have used the simple remedy for a horse that startles easily. Baffert used them on Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
“I turned American Pharoah around for $6,” Baffert said, laughing. “I even told the company [that made them], ‘You do realize [I won the Triple Crown with them]. They never got back to me.”
Saturday’s victory was Baffert’s seventh in the San Felipe, but his winning horse in this race has never won the Kentucky Derby. Last year, the San Felipe was not held as Santa Anita was shut down in the wake of a series of horse deaths.
The seven-horse race belonged to Authentic pretty much out of the gate. He was hustled to the lead and was never really challenged. Honor A.P. made a run at him near mid-stretch, but Van Dyke asked Authentic for more and he got as much as he needed.
“It was a beautiful trip,” Van Dyke said. “He took a little tiny stumble out of the gate, but it wasn’t enough to cost us. I was just in cruise control. I was seeing if anybody was going to test me to pick it up.
“I kept him going a few times, just to keep him focused. He got off amazing and it seemed like there’s more in the tank.”
The tank will get refilled for his next start, which should be the Santa Anita Derby on April 4.
Authentic paid $4.40, $3.20 and $2.60. Honor A.P. was second, followed by Storm The Court, Thousand Words, Wrecking Crew, Fort McHenry and Swagsational.
The win was worth 50 Kentucky Derby points, which will be enough to qualify him for the race May 2.
“It’s pretty amazing, he’s such a special horse,” Baffert said. “This was probably one of the toughest prep races we’ve seen so far. Those are really good horses in here. Now, we have to hope to keep him healthy and run in the Santa Anita Derby. … It looked like he was enjoying himself out there and just keep him that way until the first Saturday in May.”
Authentic’s performance was so commanding, he moved to the top of the futures betting pools both in the United States and overseas.
“I don’t want to jinx him, and I’m not going to compare him with any other horse I’ve had,” Baffert said. “I’m just happy that I have him and hope that he just stays healthy the next couple months.”
One of Baffert’s other Derby possibles, Thousand Words, flattened out and ran fourth Saturday. Baffert also has Nadal, who will run next week in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, along with Charlatan, Eight Rings and Azul Coast.