This past week, one of those indelible images digitally circulated among the Thoroughbred racing community. It is destined to become one fixed in our memories. On one side stood Bob Baffert holding the reigns of his prize three-year-old Authentic, who was fresh off his win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. And on the other, the 87-yr-old billionaire and patriarch of Spendthrift Farms, B. Wayne Hughes, who is the majority owner in the son of Into Mischief. The two men are visionaries in their own unique ways, giving inordinately to the sport that has in return offered them so much success.
When the news broke on Monday morning concerning Authentic’s prospects to race again, many hoped that Hughes would continue to retain Baffert’s services. They reasoned that after only 8 starts, 7 coming in 2020, he qualified as a lightly raced powerhouse, who was clearly in the best shape of his life. Wouldn’t just one more year of competition seem feasible, especially with Dubai a possibility, and other signature events along the way? What about a possible back-to-back in the Breeders’ Cup Classic? Certainly, Baffert’s strategic development and long-planning ability could keep Hughes’ asset safe, and the some 5,000 MyRaceHorse investors wouldn’t mind another year of kickers, in trade for the chance to see their favorite Thoroughbred run? Right?
All the prognostications fell by the wayside when Spendthrift reported that Authentic would be retiring, effective immediately. Hearts sank. Spendthrift President Eric Gustavson said in the deliberations concerning continuing to run, “It just didn't make sense for us.” It was that simple. Should B. Wayne Hughes have allowed Authentic to continue his career or was sending him to the highly successful breeding operation that continues to excel outside Lexington the best move?
For the most part, this is a complicated question, if you begin to look below the surface. At its base level, the answer is simple when it comes to Spendthrift’s decision - it is whatever they think is best. After all, they control the majority interest; it is not up to anyone else but them. If the value of Authentic is estimated at $100 million, then the majority of the liability falls to Hughes and his operation. That is just too much to leave to chance.
And chance is precisely in play.
In Thoroughbred racing there are just too many variables at play that can wreck an intended outcome. Hypothetically, just for argument’s sake, say Authentic ran in the Pegasus (possibly matching up against Tiz the Law, yet again) or in Dubai for the World Cup, and what if he was injured? That type of calamity would have huge ramifications on his ability to secure individual stud fees. That price, beginning at $75,000, will only increase at this point, as his progeny heads to the racetrack and wins. An investment such as this is compounding, and it does not make sense to put that on the line for purse money that is finite.
Something else Spendthrift had to consider, at least nominally, was the role played by Michael Behrens’ MyRaceHorse. When the company began marketing shares in horses, they clearly struck a nerve when members of the public could invest in a Kentucky Derby hopeful. Their 12,500 shares all went before the big race at Churchill Downs, secured by a some 5,300 member cadre. Unlike other horses who have multiple investors, this group forms a significant portion of Behrens’ MyRaceHorse company. Hughes owns a portion of this business too. That is how Authentic and a host of other Spendthrift runners came to be with the website. Follow the logic. If Hughes makes an impactful decision to the wrong by jeopardizing a Thoroughbred, thus endangering those investors’ stake, it could have consequences for attracting future buyers to the micro-share business.
Besides all this odious discussion of money and interests, there is also something at play here, and it is significant. The post-modern racehorse is not like its predecessors of yore. In point of fact their fragile nature, and questionable durability, is severely limiting. This is not only because of genetics, but also when it comes to our culture that they race under. The public simply will not accept runners that compete ad nauseum. It will not be tolerated. Seen as inhumane and destructive, the days when horses ran once a week, or sometimes more, are over.
Hughes and his capable operation, including Gustavson, and General Manager Ned Toffey, certainly have their own pedigree laced with success. Trusting their intuition about Authentic’s fitness for racing weighed against their commitment to their breeding operation must have a steely balance. After much deliberation, the decision was clear - Authentic should retire.
Mares will be lining up in droves, so they think. Scoring both in the Kentucky Derby and the Classic during a COVID-19 year was a unique situation unto itself. With only six other horses claiming that double, it can be understood that there is little left for Authentic to achieve. Of course, we will miss that uncanny running style of this Into Mischief colt. His antics during training and at the end of races will become the stuff of legend. Whoever heard of a Thoroughbred that enjoyed working out by his lonesome? Yes, there are some, but to hear Baffert tell it, Authentic was always a ticking time bomb, anywhere and everywhere, ready to explode.
Maybe all that can be surmised from this turn of events is that Authentic was a Thoroughbred of magnificent quality, as are they all. He earned $6,160,000 during his career and will hopefully continue his legacy with a bountiful progeny. Now he will be joining his sire, Into Mischief, to form a powerful 1-2 punch for Spendthrift. Memories will be our lodestar at this point. We will conjure images of his fight and verve in the face of those who doubted his ability.
He gave us a ride, and for that, we should be profoundly grateful.