Bob Baffert endured the lowest low and the highest high in the Kentucky Derby in minutes.
He was taken aback before the horses left the paddock after Thousand Words straightened and fell on their side, being disqualified and injuring Baffert's assistant coach. That emotion was quickly replaced by Authentic's win, which gave Baffert a record-breaking sixth Derby win.
Then Baffert was literally on the ground again and was thrown into the grass by a shy Authentic among the winners.
"This is the craziest year ever," he said.
Authentic took on strong favorites Tiz the Law on Saturday and won the 146th Derby with 1 1/4 lengths without the usual crowd of 150,000 spectators at Churchill Downs for the first time due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Bay Colt ran 1 1/4 miles in 2: 00.61 under John Velazquez, who won his third derby.
"I've had some great derby rides, but what this guy did," said Baffert, pointing to Velazquez, who was socially distant among the infield winners. "Johnny V. took him incredibly."
Baffert linked Ben Jones (1938-52) with the most wins by a coach. His other wins came in 1997, 1998, 2002, 2015 with eventual Triple Crown winner Justify and 2018.
"Bob, he has the magic touch," said Jack Knowlton of Sackatoga Stable, owner of Tiz the Law. "He finished this horse at the right time and he hit us. Hopefully we'll get a few more shots on him and we'll turn the tables."
Tiz the Law was sent off as the biggest derby favorite in 31 years, 3: 5, and was part of a smaller field than usual. He finished fourth, while Authentic ran unhindered at the top. A quarter mile from the finish, Tiz the Law pulled alongside Authentic and the two reached the top of the route together.
Under Manny Franco, Tiz the Law struck the head briefly, only to hit Authentic straight back and break away from the Belmont winner, who came 4 to 4 that year.
"Yes / Yes!" Baffert shouted in the paddock, watching on the video screen.
A thousand words acted in the paddock, reared up and fell shortly before post time. Baffert said his assistant Jim Barnes broke his arm trying to get the saddle on the stubborn colt. A thousand words were not hurt, according to the on-call vet.
In the circle of the winners, the long ribbons that hung on the garland of red roses hit Authentic's hind leg again and again, moving him, and in return he threw the white-haired trainer to the ground.
“It spun around and was like a bowling ball. He just turned us around, ”said Baffert. “The grass pitch is pretty soft here, so it wasn't too bad. I was probably more embarrassed than anything when I hit the floor. "
It was such a year for Baffert. The Hall of Fame trainer was loaded with promising 3-year-olds from an early age. Then Nadal was injured and had to retire and Charlatan went to the shelf with a minor injury. Authentic was struggling, so Baffert gave him a longer break.
In between, Charlatan and another of Baffert's horses had positive drug tests in Arkansas. Baffert is appealing his resulting 15-day ban. The coach mourned Arrogate, North America's previous earning leader, this summer.
"It's been a roller coaster year, but luckily it's the love of horses that keeps me going," said Baffert in a broken voice. "They are the best therapy a person can have. I love being with them."
Baffert was especially pleased to bring B. Wayne Hughes his first Derby win. Hughes, the 86-year-old founder of Public Storage, is running as Donation Thrift Farm and is co-owner of Thousand Words. Authentic also owns MyRaceHorse Stable, whose 4,600 participants include Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler and former Olympic skier Bode Miller. They each paid about $ 206 for a share.
Authentic paid $ 18.80, $ 6, and $ 5 with 8-1 odds. Tiz the Law returned $ 3.40 and $ 3.20. Mr. Big News was in third place two more lengths and paid $ 16.80 to show at 46-1.
Stakes from all sources in the Derby were $ 79.4 million, compared to $ 165.5 million in last year's race. Churchill Downs officials attributed the decline to the lack of betting on the track, less than a full field of 20 horses in the race, and Tiz the Law was an unaffordable favorite.
Tiz the Law had already won the Belmont, the prelude to the newly configured Triple Crown, which was carried out on a shorter route in June. He followed with an easy win in the Travers and established himself as the dominant horse on the way to the derby.
But Velazquez pushed Authentic out of the outpost and into the top. Tiz the Law picked up not far behind and positioned himself so that he plunged himself in his usual style. But he couldn't get past Authentic.
"Tiz was able to overtake horses all year and today he encountered one he couldn't get past," said Knowlton. Credit authentic. He came from way out there and managed to get to the top and just ran a great race. No shame on us. "
Following Baffert's instructions, Velazquez used a left-handed whip to keep the shy Authentic's mind in business. The colt needs earplugs when it runs.
"It's a little fleeting," said Baffert. "He's a gentle horse, but he's a little excited."
With no fashionably dressed fans sipping mint juleps and queuing at the betting windows, this derby was unlike any other.
Jockeys chirping on their horses and whipping whips hitting meat on the track – noises usually drowned out by loud fans – echoed across the empty seats under the twin towers. Bugler Steve Buttleman played "My Old Kentucky Home" in place of the absent University of Louisville marching band. The song was preceded by a moment of silence to recognize the inequalities that society faces. Protesters gathered outside Churchill Downs to seek justice for Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman who was shot dead in her home in March when police issued a search warrant in the middle of the night.
The protesters were peaceful as they circled the historic path. They sang "No Justice, No Derby!" and carried signs asking people to say Taylor's name. Police watched in riot gear with clubs, some on horseback and some with armored military vehicles.
"I would love to be up here and hit my chest because I just won six," said Baffert, "but I feel for everyone in town."
Velazquez was one of several jockeys in the running who wore black ribbons that read "Equality for All".
The field of 15 horses was the smallest since 1998.
Honor A.P. finished fourth, followed by Max Player, Storm the Court, Enforceable, Ny Traffic, Necker Island, Major Fed, Sole Volante, Winning Impression, Money Moves, Attachment Rate and South Bend.
This story was corrected to show Honor A.P., not Max Player, finished fourth. Max Player finished fifth.
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