BAFFERT SWINGS FOR A DOUBLE IN 2020 PREAKNESS
For most hitters, getting on base is the goal. Lacing a liner up the middle and trotting to first base is always good. Your bigger swingers look to launch when they step into the box. Keying on a fastball, these guys want at least a gap shot and a two-bagger. As the 2020 Preakness Stakes approaches, one Thoroughbred trainer has a hot bat and he’s looking dead red.
Time and again Bob Baffert has demonstrated his abilities as the heaviest of hitters in the Thoroughbred racing game. An uncanny knack for getting his runners ready for the big days has highlighted a career that saw him jump into the spotlight in the mid 1990’s. Cultivating talent and pushing the right buttons has allowed this California-based conditioner some stratospheric moments. Along the way, however, he has also endured the pitfalls this sport can quickly throw your direction. But taking a “next swing” mentality has allowed him to endure and remain the best in the game when the stakes are high.
Early on, it looked as if Baffert might be as loaded for the Triple Crown series as ever. Boasting an awesome foursome in March, some simply wondered who would give the Arizona native his third Crown winner since 2015. Nadal had as powerful a serve as any three-year old anywhere. Charlatan looked like the real deal. Thousand Words could be described in one word (Fast), and Authentic looked like an aptly named race horse. But then the pandemic took a hold on our country and the sport threw Baffert a few curve balls.
Rescheduling of races and injuries to Nadal and Charlatan in early May forced some lineup changes. Losses by both Authentic and Thousand Words were cause for concern as well.
“In early May I felt really good about the foursome,” says Baffert. “All of them looked great and then we just had some bad luck and I made a mistake with Authentic and didn’t have him ready for the Santa Anita Derby. I got him beat in that race by just not preparing him.”
Skipping the Belmont Stakes, which was now the opening leg of the Triple Crown, Baffert looked for a summer campaign as he rallied for a swing at a record-tying sixth Kentucky Derby win. Re scheduled for September 5, the world’s most famous race was still in focus for the hall of famer. Question was, could he get a fastball in the strike zone.
Authentic appeared to be totally right coming in, but his Haskell Stakes win in July saw him hold on by the narrowest of margins Nearly caught at the wire by NY Traffic, this son of Into Mischief made it look easy early, but lost focus late.. Thousand Words was a horse on the rise, but he was spooked in the Paddock just minutes before the Kentucky Derby and had to be scratched. So as the horses were loaded into the gates all thoughts were about heavily favored Tiz The Law. Bob Baffert had one swing for the 2020 Kentucky Derby, but that’s all he needed.
Authentic broke alertly from the far outside post and took’em gate to wire in powerful fashion. Stalking Authentic throughout, the can’t miss horse Tiz the Law looked primed to pounce as the horses turned for home. The favorite’s dream trip quickly turned into a nightmare as Baffert’s charge was more than ready for the challenge. Refusing to let the Law by, Authentic hit the gas in deep stretch and won by a widening length and a half.
“People thought after the Haskell that Authentic was vulnerable,” says Baffert. “He had worked so well coming in we knew he was ready. (Jockey) John Velazquez turned in a masterful ride and that was the biggest factor. I told him to be patient and wait for Tiz The Law to come to you then turn him loose and that’s exactly what he did. They thought we were out of horse in the stretch but we were still loaded.”
Working the count like a good hitter, the Arizona native got his fastball and went yard. Authentic’s impressive score gave Baffert a record-tying sixth win in the Kantucky Derby. Each of the five previous Derby winners went on two weeks later to Preakness glory. In these topsy-turvy times, Pimlico Race Course’s signature event will take place four weeks after the Kentucky Derby. After that kind of at-bat, the next trip to the plate can’t come quick enough.
“I honestly prefer the two weeks between the Derby and Preakness,” says Baffert. “The goal is to have your horse peaking for the Derby and it’s easier to keep them ready with the short turn around. Other horses will have an opportunity to regroup or come in fresher.“
Having won the Preakness a record seven times (tied with R. Wyndham Walden), Baffert has a pretty good handle on what it takes to win this mile and three sixteenths race. Authentic was clearly the best horse in the Kentucky Derby. Known as a race that favors speed which is normally a Baffert specialty, if the same Authentic travels to Maryland, a Derby-Preakness double is a real possibility.
“His last work was fantastic,” says Baffert. “He’s a horse that’s peaking right now. Authentic showed everyone in the Derby he’s a great horse. He’s only been beaten once in his career and that was a second place finish. He seems to be on top of his game right now, we just have to keep him there.”
The Preakness will be run on Saturday, October 3 .