Bob Baffert doesn’t always win the $1 million TVG.com Haskell Stakes.
It just seems that way.
After taking a five-year respite, including a runner-up finish behind 3-year-old champion Maximum Security in 2019, Baffert added another brick to the wall July 18 when Authentic captured the $1,005,000 Haskell at Monmouth Park to extend the Hall of Fame trainer’s record total to nine wins in the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 1 race for 3-year-olds.
“That was nice,” Baffert said by phone from California, “but it got tight in the end.”
Although Authentic seemed destined to cruise to an easy win at the top of the stretch, the son of Into Mischief reverted to his immature ways in the final furlong and lost some focus as Ny Traffic came charging at him.
Given the way Authentic ($3.20), a 3-5 favorite owned by Spendthrift Farm, My RaceHorse Stable, Starlight Racing, and Madaket Stables, was merrily cruising along, it was a surprisingly tight finish. So tight that jockey Paco Lopez on Ny Traffic, a regular rider at Monmouth Park, was certain his horse reached the finish line first.
“I was sure I got him, 100%. I can’t believe it,” he said. “I’m surprised we didn’t win. I really thought we got him.”
But in the final stride, it was Authentic and jockey Mike Smith who held on by a nose and then galloped out nicely past the finish line in a front of a crowd capped at 5,000 due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“He has lots of talent. Ability is something he doesn’t lack, but he’s learning. He sees things,” Smith said. “Turning for home, he kicked away like I wanted and then the other horse came at him. He was looking around more than anything.”
After watching on television, Baffert was happy to hear from Smith that Authentic’s playfulness rather than fatigue was responsible for the tight finish.
“He’s a funny horse. He looks around a lot. Two races ago, [jockey Drayden Van Dyke] almost fell off [during a win in the San Felipe Stakes]. Mike told me he almost fell off on when [Authentic] started looking around at something on the backside today. But when the other horse came to him, he took off again. He wasn’t tired,” Baffert said. “It was a lot like the way Mike rode Justify in the Preakness. He likes to save a little bit, but the way I’ve been going, I just wanted to see him win.”
These have not been the easiest of times for Baffert and part of the ownership team. On May 2, when Nadal and Charlatan won split divisions of the Arkansas Derby, Baffert had three undefeated top candidates in them and Authentic.
Then Nadal and Charlatan suffered injuries and Authentic went down to the lone loss in his five career starts when he finished second to Honor A. P. in the June 6 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby.
More recently, Baffert was slapped with a 15-day suspension by Arkansas officials July 15 after post-race tests for Charlatan and Gamine, who won an allowance race on the May 2 card at Oaklawn Park, showed traces of lidocaine, a banned drug. Baffert said the exposure was unknowing and innocent because it came from a patch worn for back pain by assistant trainer Jim Barnes, who saddled Authentic Saturday.
Both horses were stripped of their victories, taking away a Grade 1 win for Charlatan, who is owned in part by Madaket and Starlight.
“For everything that transpired this week, I was happy for Jimmy,” Baffert said. “Everybody is behind Jimmy. It was an innocent mistake with Charlatan.”
Sol Kumin, the head of Madaket Stable, was among the small crowd at Monmouth and voiced his support for Baffert and Barnes.
“Bob has my 100% support in everything he does,” Kumin said. “This was an awesome win. It’s a great team with some great partners.”
Authentic was purchased by Spendthrift prior to the Santa Anita Derby, making them the majority owner of a horse who will join their stallion roster at the end of his racing career. Spendthrift owner B. Wayne Hughes then brought in MyRaceHorse, which sold shares of the racing rights to the general public for as low as $210, giving them a chance to own a share of a Grade 1 winner whose next start will most likely be the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
The Haskell was part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, but Authentic had already secured a spot in the run for the roses with 100 points before Saturday. So picking up 100 more in the Haskell merely moved him from third to second on the leaderboard with 200 points.
Ditto for Ny Traffic and St. Elias Stable’s Dr Post, who was third. Forty points moved Ny Traffic into fourth with 110 points and Dr Post, the runner-up in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, is seventh with 80 points.
Jesus’ Team was fourth and picked up 10 points from his first start in a graded stakes.
Baffert now owns a mark of nine wins, five seconds, and one third from 15 Haskell starters, a record Baffert attributes to knowing what type of horse to send to the Jersey Shore.
“At Monmouth Park you need speed and that’s why I’ve been so successful. I know which ones I can bring that will be effective there,” Baffert said.
Authentic surely has speed which he showed in leading by a length over the pace-prompting Ny Traffic through a half-mile in :47.52 and three-quarters of a mile in 1:11.50. After leading by 2 ½ lengths at the eighth pole, he covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.45 to give Smith a third Haskell win.
“He’s a good horse and he’ll improve a lot off this race. It was the first time he shipped and he’s very immature. He has a kid’s mind,” said Baffert, whose 3-year-old also earned a free spot in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic through Saturday’s victory in a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” race.
Ny Traffic turned in yet another game performance in finishing second, 4 1/2 lengths in front of Dr Post, the 9-5 second choice. A son of Cross Traffic owned by John Fanelli, Cash is King, LC Racing, and Paul Braverman, he has finished second in his last three starts, all in graded stakes and by a combined margin of 2 1/2 lengths.
“At the quarter pole you could see he was off the bridle and Authentic was cruising. So, to see him dig deep, I’m super proud of him,” trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said. “I just want him to go forward. Hopefully all goes well until the Kentucky Derby. We’re living the dream.”
Joseph said Ny Traffic would train up to the run for the roses.