By Sean Morris

Authentic the Real Deal, Honor A. P. the Unluckiest

By Sean Morris
Authentic beat out Tiz the Law at the 2020 Kentucky Derby
Authentic beat out Tiz the Law at the 2020 Kentucky Derby

It wasn’t a storybook ending for the Tiz the Law camp, but the 2020 Kentucky Derby was a fitting encapsulation of the year. Somehow, despite Bob Baffert’s main Derby prospects Charlatan and Nadal missing the race due to injury, and another, Thousand Words, being scratched in the paddock prior to the race after rearing up and breaking the arm of his top assistant Jimmy Barnes, the white-haired wizard prevailed again in the ‘Run for the Roses’ with Authentic.

That makes six victories in the Derby for Baffert, who may have pulled off his most impressive training feat yet in the 2020 edition. Just a month and a half after Authentic was life and death to hold off Ny Traffic in the G1 Haskell at a mile and an eighth, he set a much faster pace going a mile and a quarter and was able to stave off overwhelming favorite and brilliant 3-year-old Tiz the Law to win by 1 ¼ lengths. It was nothing short of miraculous.

The question now becomes is this going to be the new normal for Authentic, or was there something about the particular conditions of the Derby this year that propelled him to victory. While he had previously been a very productive racehorse and certainly belonged in the Derby starting gate, none of his prior races hinted that he was capable of this level of performance. As much as I want to ascribe his career-best effort to some bias or shrug it off as an aberration, I just don’t think that was the case. Authentic ran very hard to make the lead, took a serious challenge from Tiz the Law, who seemed to deliver something at least approximating his best race, and completely shrugged it off. I won’t be rushing to bet him in the Preakness, but my opinion of him has definitely changed and I fully believe he was a deserving winner of this race.

As for Tiz the Law, it does feel like he regressed off a smashing win in the G1 Travers, but he had no excuse to not run by Authentic in the stretch and was simply second-best on the day. It’ll be interesting to see if he shows up in the Preakness as there seems to be a schism between his trainer and owner concerning his next assignment, but if he does he should be taken very seriously again. While Authentic ran the better race in the Derby, there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to make the lead again in the Preakness, which would completely change the complexion of the race. It was a disappointing result, but take nothing away from Tiz the Law as he ran a courageous race in defeat.

Authentic and Tiz the Law asserted their class, but the horse I’m most interested in out of the 146th Derby is Honor A. P. He was my narrow second choice behind Tiz the Law, and I think it’s arguable that he ran the best race out of anyone. He got absolutely clobbered coming out of the gate and was left near the back of a strung out field, which immediately put him in a near-impossible position as he’d never been more than three lengths behind the leader in his route races. From there, Honor A. P. proceeded to go very wide around both turns and was really the only one making up ground in the stretch. This combination of ground loss and a disastrous start suggest that he’s many lengths better than his finish would indicate, and with a better trip I believe he would have won. Wherever he shows up next he should offer plenty of value, regardless of the race.

The other big story coming out of the Derby is longshot third-place finisher Mr. Big News. Perhaps even more than Authentic, Mr. Big News improved by leaps and bounds in this race. He did get a good trip sitting in midpack behind a swift pace, however he had to go wide around the far turn and came with a strong, sustained rally to finish a clear third. He wasn’t getting to Authentic or Tiz the Law, but this is the kind of performance that’ll make you take notice as he’s really starting to blossom in the second half of the year. If he continues to improve there could be big things in store for him as 2020 rolls along and/or next year.

Max Player ran his race making a belated run to get fifth, but I don’t think he’s on the level of the four that finished ahead of him. The horses that filled out the superfecta were the best horses in the race.

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