Baffert equaled a mark set by Ben Jones that was once thought to be unattainable. “Here we are, the greatest race in the world. I feel very fortunate,” he said in an NBC interview following his third Derby win in six years.
Not that it came easily. Not that anything has ever come easily for the former Quarter Horse trainer who won his first Derby with Silver Charm in 1997 and immediately followed that with Real Quiet. Then there was War Emblem in 2002 before a gap he emphatically ended with Triple Crown champions American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018.
Baffert endured a wrenching roller-coaster ride this season before earning his share of history. Nadal and Charlatan, two of his greatest hopes in the spring, were lost to injury. Nadal’s injury was career-ending.
Still, Baffert and co-owner Spendthrift Farm had Authentic. The colt was expected to rocket to the lead from the far outside post in a field reduced to 15. The bay son of Into Mischief instead started poorly, forcing Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez to use him early to make the lead.
While Authentic set a solid pace, covering the opening half-mile in 46.41 seconds en route to a final time of 2:00.61, Manny Franco had Tiz the Law in perfect striking position in fourth. He gave the push-button colt his cue as they pounded into the final turn.
Tiz the Law hooked Authentic as they spun out of the final turn. The race was on. Tiz the Law fought to surge past Authentic. He could not. Franco asked Tiz the Law for everything he had. There was no getting past Authentic in what served as the middle leg of the Triple Crown at fan-free Churchill Downs.
Longshot and late Derby addition Mr. Big News closed to get third, and Honor A. P., who endured a rough start that put him near the back of the field early on, made up ground late to finish fourth.
“Thank you, Lord. Thank God,” said a miked-up Velazquez after his third Derby score coincided with the 200th Grade 1 triumph of his Hall of Fame career.
When Baffert hurried to join Authentic and Velazquez in the winner’s circle, he exclaimed to Velazquez, “Did I have him ready or what?”
As the sun set over the famed twin spires at iconic Churchill Downs, it was clear that no one was ever better at preparing a horse to win the nation’s premier race on the first Saturday in May. Or, for that matter, the first Saturday in September.