Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent owners, trainers and jockeys for America’s Best Racing as they travel the Road to the $3 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve. The Derby has been rescheduled for Saturday, Sept. 5, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who can tie Ben Jones for the all-time lead if he is able to win his sixth Derby, is featured this week. He is preparing to send Authentic into the $1 million Haskell Invitational Stakes on Saturday at New Jersey’s Monmouth Park.
The Into Mischief colt comes off a solid second-place finish to Honor A. P. in the June 6 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby, the only setback of his four-start career. In his final tune-up for the Grade 1 Haskell, Authentic blazed five furlongs in :59.80 on July 11 at Del Mar.
The West Coast-based Baffert is aiming to extend his record with his ninth Haskell win. He has won the centerpiece of Monmouth’s summer meet with Point Given (2001), War Emblem (2002), Roman Ruler (2005), Lookin At Lucky (2010), Coil (2011), Paynter (2012), Bayern (2014), and American Pharoah (2015).
The Haskell will offer Derby qualifying points to the top four finishers on a 100-40-20-10 basis. Authentic already has done more than enough to reach the starting gate on the first Saturday in September. He ranks third on the Churchill Downs leaderboard with 100 points.
The Haskell winner receives also an automatic berth in the $7 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 7 at Keeneland Race Course via the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series. In addition, Monmouth is offering a $1 million bonus to any horse that sweeps the Haskell, Kentucky Derby, and Classic.
PEDULLA: What did you think of Authentic in the Santa Anita Derby?
BAFFERT: I was a little disappointed. When he drew the outside, I was afraid he might duck out to the outside. When he did that, he got caught outside with a pretty good pace. He didn’t really relax in the race. He was keen the whole way. I think he was a little too fresh. I could tell in the paddock he was all jacked up and he got tired. When he turned for home, he had no punch at all. The winner is a good horse. You can’t make any mistakes.
PEDULLA: How has Authentic trained since then?
BAFFERT: There are no excuses. He’s doing as well as I can get him. I expect a big effort. He needs some racing luck and to ship well, all of that. I expect a big race out of him.
PEDULLA: I see you’ve given him five works since the Santa Anita Derby. Why did you think he needed that many?
BAFFERT: I think I was a little too light on him for the Santa Anita Derby. I had stopped on him and then I got him going and it showed up. He was tired after the Santa Anita Derby.
PEDULLA: I see you gave him a mile work on July 4 (1:39 at Santa Anita).
BAFFERT: Well, I let him gallop out strong and they gave him a mile work. I worked him three-quarters. I’m giving him his best opportunity, the owners and the horse.
PEDULLA: Authentic did not make his first start until Nov. 9 at Del Mar. Had you hoped to get him going earlier?
BAFFERT: You know what, I had him at Del Mar and I worked him one day and he was just really green. He didn’t like it here. I kept him one week and I sent him back to Los Alamitos. I said ‘This horse is just way too immature.’
PEDULLA: What do you attribute your Haskell success to? You would not think a West Coast trainer will dominate the Haskell the way you have.
BAFFERT: Because I bring my best horses there, that’s why.
PEDULLA: Simple as that?
BAFFERT: Simple as that. I bring my best horses and they’re ready. And when I’ve gotten beaten there, I’ve gotten beaten by a better horse.
PEDULLA: Has the Haskell become important to you?
BAFFERT: To me, the Haskell is very important. It’s a very prestigious race. I’m not thinking of Derby points or anything like that. I’m thinking of the Haskell and a million-dollar race. It’s a lot of prestige. It’s a big race. To me, the Haskell and the Travers are very important races.