Derby Details 2020 Edition 15
An Authentic Derby
By Tom Carley
Many people had suggested that this Kentucky Derby needed to have an asterisk listed by the results. Well, this Derby will be the most “authentic” of all 146 ever ran. That is because the Derby was won by Authentic. I know this sounds like a mere play on words, but when the day was complete— with the exception of the calendar date being changed and under 5,000 people in the stands— the Derby was still as it is most years.
The pace picture of the Derby was greatly changed when Thousand Words reared and flipped over in the paddock. This accident looked horrible and the force of it knocked off the horse’s saddle. In the Derby Draw the speed and favorites (Honor A.P. post position #16, Tiz the Law #17 and Authentic #18) all drew the outside posts. This left Thousand Words as the only other speed horse.
While NBC did not even mention it, the Thousand Words scratch by the vet (which occurred 13 minutes to post time) greatly changed the pace setup of the race. Authentic had little choice but to leave the gate running and try to get to the front. Not only did he have to work his way to the rail to avoid being carried wide around the first turn, he also had proven that he could not run when he had mud thrown in his face.
Authentic went to the lead within the first 100 yards of the race. This was made easier considering NY Post (#15) broke directly into Honor A.P. Tiz the Law’s jockey elected to sit just off the pace set by Authentic. The half mile was run in a comfortably in under 47 seconds and Tiz The Law moved to the outside hip of Authentic as they turned into the home stretch. This is exactly how the connections of Tiz the Law had hoped the pace scenario would play out.
However, Authentic found something deep down and held off Tiz the Law, who ran second.
Three horses significantly made up ground in the last half mile. Mr. Big News (who went off at odds of 46 to 1) ran 3rd. Honor A.P. was second to last at the half mile pole, swung ride and made a mad run up the stretch to run a game 4th. This accomplishment was even more impressive considering the horse’s rider Mike Smith stated the horse never took to the racetrack (he never felt comfortable with the footing and acted as if he was sliding). Max Player, who broke from the inside post position made up 10 places in the last half mile to run
Given his past races, it was surprising to me that Authentic was able to hold off Tiz the Law. Authentic had struggled at 9-furlongs in the Haskell and I thought there was no way he could get another furlong. I do believe that if Thousand Words would have pushed a faster pace, that the Belmont Winner would have repeated and won the Derby.
The racetrack at Churchill Downs was playing extremely fast over Kentucky Oaks and Derby days. Allowance horses on the undercards were running times usually reserved for stakes races. The track played favorable (“track bias”, as gamblers call it) for front running horses as no horse on that Saturday closed from more than 4 lengths off the lead to win a race.
Serengeti’s Empress in the dirt race before the Derby ran the first half mile in 43 seconds in a 7- furlong race only to lose by a nostril. I had texted to a few friends in the hour leading to the race that the finish time for the 2020 Derby might be under 2 minutes, and there was a chance that Secretariat’s stakes record could be broken.
The Kentucky Oaks race on Friday was the fastest Oaks race run in its entire 146-year history. What does this mean?
- This race might have been changed IF other factors were present. I am not attempting to discredit the result, but I am looking at how this race might have been different if the factors— such as the late scratch of Thousand Words, the racetrack might have been slower, etc.— as this is why we have this column.
- The 2-year-olds who ran Saturday might not be as fast as they appear. I have heard a couple of people tell me how the winner of the 2-year-old race ran Saturday is his pick to win the 2021 Derby. Let’s just remember we have over 7 months until the 2021 Derby.
- The Churchill Downs racetrack was not running to form. This is evidenced by the fact that no favorites won on the card Saturday.
Day of Doom for Favorites
They say that Saratoga is the “Graveyard of Favorites”. However, Saturday’s Churchill track did make a strong case to wrest that title from the historic New York racetrack. Not one favorite in 14 races won on the first Saturday in September. Many people thought that a odds of 3 to 5 this favored well for Tiz the Law. Instead, Authentic won at odds of 8 to 1.
I really pay little attention to odds, because I make my selections long before the final odds are determined— as well as the fact that I rarely make a win bet on a horse. However, when watching the races one can’t ignore the defeats suffered by one favorite after another. When I see this occurring, I try to ask myself what is going on? Two answers I come to are pace and track conditions. In the case of 2020 Derby weekend, the fast racetrack led to pace scenarios unlike those envisioned by handicappers.
The takeaway from this is that I will not penalize a favorite for getting beat over the weekend and will make mental notes that the racetrack was really favoring speed horses when I see the weekend participants’ future races. I will not penalize closers as much and will not favor speed horses as much.
Any regular reader of my columns knows that one thing I criticize is that owners spend millions for horses but seem to take shortcuts when it comes to making an investment to break the horses properly. I routinely see “nice” horses expend so much energy because they act poorly in the starting gate. Many times, this is the difference between winning and losing.
However, the behavior I am talking about is not at the starting gate. On Saturday, 13 of 15 horses behaved well. The two horses that behaved poorly were both trained by Bob Baffert.
I have documented Thousand Words actions earlier in this column. His actions led to Baffert’s Assistant Trainer (Jimmy Barnes) suffering a broken hand, which required surgery and screws to be inserted. After the race, the winner, Authentic acted fractious in the winner’s circle and his actions led to an ankle injury suffered by one of the owners.
I find it very puzzling that a trainer who has trained 6 Derby winners and has owners with the deepest pockets in the industry is having behavioral problems with his horses. I am not drawing any conclusions, but message boards have pointed to Baffert’s recent medication violations and are trying to connect dots that is beyond my level of education or expertise. While I am not making a judgment or offering an opinion, it worth mentioning.
Thankfully, this sport is heading in the right direction medication wise. One of the leading stallions, Runhappy, advertises the fact that he ran medication free for his entire career. I would hope that this sport would increase the standards for equine behavior as it would enhance the beauty of the sport. Who wants to see loading times of over 3 minutes before each race?
The Kentucky Oaks, the female counterpart to the Kentucky Derby, was run on Friday. The Bob Baffert trainee Gamine was the heavy favorite at odds of 4 to 5. She struggled with the distance and while she held the early lead, she faded at the top of the stretch and ran off the board. The fourth choice, Shedaresthedevil, won the rest at odds of 15 to 1. More impressive was the fact that she ran the fastest Kentucky Oaks of all time. This was the 146th running of the race.
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