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Authentic Favored For Last Triple Crown Leg in Preakness 2020



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Baffert Seeks a Record Eighth Preakness Victory With Derby Winner

By Margaret Ransom

Authentic wins the 2020 Kentucky Derby. Photo: Churchill Downs

As expected, Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Authentic is the 9-5 morning line favorite for Saturday’s 145th Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course. The $1.5 million Classic, which is the final jewel in the Covid-19 Triple Crown this year, drew a field of 11 3-year-olds who will race the 1 3/16 miles, including the filly Swiss Skydiver in her second career start against the boys.

The Preakness is traditionally the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, but this year thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic will conclude the series after being postponed from May 16. And as has been the rule in racing, the race will be conducted without fans.

So far, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has saddled seven Preakness winners throughout his career to tie 19th century trainer R. Wyndham Walden as the race’s top conditioner, so a win by Authentic or his stablemate, Thousand Words, would give him an eighth career win and a spot at the top of the list on his own. His Prrakness winners so far are Justify (2018), American Pharoah (2015), Lookin at Lucky (2010), War Emblem (2002), Point Given (2001), Real Quiet (1998) and Silver Charm (1997).

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Photo: Daniella Ricci

“The reason I’ve won it so many times is I’ve always had the best horse,” Baffert said. “That’s why I won. I’ve won the Derby with the best horse and I’ve lost the Derby with the best horse. The losses bother me. I think about the losses more – the ones that got away from me.

“The Preaknesses have never gotten away when I’m here with the best horse.”

Spendthrift Farm LLC, MyRaceHorse Stable, Madaket Stables LLC and Starlight Racing own Authentic, who won the Derby in wire-to-wire fashion at odds of more than 8-1.

“Without the fans, it sort of takes away from it,” Baffert said of his sixth career Kentucky Derby win. “It didn’t feel like the Derby until the gates came open. Once the gates came open, I felt like it was on. Once he hit the wire, it felt like the Derby. It makes you forget about everything else.”

Normally the Preakness is just 14 days after the Kentucky Derby, but this year the horses have the luxury of a four-week break between classics, though Baffert believes Authentic wouldn’t have needed it.

“He would have been ready to roll in two weeks,” Baffert said. “I feel pressure now because I never lost a Preakness with a horse I won the Derby with. Now the pressure’s on me.”

Authentic will have Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez back aboard in search of his first Preakness vicotory.

Spendthrift Farm’s Thousand Words, who was scratched from the Kentucky Derby after flipping in the paddock, will be ridden by Florent Geroux for the first time Saturday.

Art Collector winnning the 2020 Blue Grass at Keeneland. Photo: Coady/Keeneland

Bruce Lunsford’s Art Collector, who was scratched from the Derby the day entries were supposed to be taken after grabbing a quarter while training, will finally make his long-awaited first start in a 2020 Triple Crown race and just in the nick of time. The Tommy Drury-trained son of Bernardini, who is owned and was bred by Bruce Lunsford, has won his last five, including the Ellis Park Derby most recently and the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) in July.

“We were going to miss a few days of training and that’s just not the way you want to go into the Kentucky Derby,” Drury said of the colt’s injury before the Derby. “I’ve been waiting for 30 years for this horse to come into my life. I’m sure not going to do anything to jeopardize his future for just one race. It certainly stung a little bit, but having this race right behind it, you kind of had to turn the page pretty quickly and start thinking about the next one.”

Art Collector is the second choice on the morning line at 5-2 and will carry regular jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.

“He knows this horse like the back of his hand,” Drury said of Hernandez. “I don’t think I’ve ever given him instructions on this horse. I’ve just told him to ride as it comes to him. By doing that he’s gotten several different trips. That’s where having a horse that’s versatile enough that he will allow you to do that is very beneficial.”

Swiss Skydiver. Photo: Coady Photography/Oaklawn Park

Peter Callahan’s Swiss Skydiver is coming off a decent second in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) in her last start, but the daughter of Daredevil is already a grade 1 winner having captured the Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga in mid-August. Should she win, she will become the sixth filly in history to win the Preakness and join Rachel Alexandra (2009), Nellie Morse (1924), Rhine Maiden (1915), Whimsical (1906), and Flocarline (1903).

The Kenny McPeek trainee, who 6-1 on the morning line, will have jockey Robby Albarado in the irons for the first time.

“I don’t know if we have to differentiate genders,” McPeek said. “In Europe, fillies run against colts all the time. I don’t think (Arc contender and Breeders’ Cup Turf champion) Enable has run (against) straight fillies (more than a few times) in several years. Here it seems to be more of a big deal, but for the most part when you bring a good one into the game, it doesn’t matter.”

Swiss Skydiver also won the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2), Fantasy (G3) and the Santa Anita Oaks (G2).

Allied Racing Stable LLC’s Mr. Big News, who finished third in the Kentucky Derby at odds of 46-1, is back looking to improve on that finish and turn the tables on Authentic. Before the Derby, the Bret Calhoun-trained son of Giant’s Causeway won the Oaklawn Stakes at the Hot Springs, AR, track in April before finishing a dull sixth in the Blue Grass Stakes.

“Mentally, he’s always been a great-minded horse,” Calhoun said. “He’s done everything the right way his whole career. Physically, he just wasn’t as strong as he is now. He had to fill out and get stronger. That’s what he’s done gradually. It’s been a continuous development over the past five, six months to get where he needed to be. To be strong enough to be at the top of his game.

“The trainer has to be patient. The owner needs to be patient to allow the trainer to be patient. It’s kind of a team effort. This horse showed talent early on. I know not everybody was a believer. I think a lot of people were wondering, ‘What do you see in him?’ We saw something in him in his early works. He was getting better and better, making big leaps forward in his development. I told some people, ‘You’re going to read about this horse someday.’”

Gabriel Saez will be aboard Mr. Big News for the first time since his win in the Oaklawn stakes six months ago.

Another Hall of Famer in Steve Asmussen, who saddled Rachel Alexandra and Curlin for their Preakness scores, will be well represented this year in the Preakness as he sends out George Hall and Sport BLX Thoroughbreds Corp.’s Max Player, Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC’s Pneumatic and Calumet Farm’s Excession.

Max Player will end up being only horse entered in all three Triple Crown races this year after finishing third in the Belmont Stakes (G1) (in the care of former trainer Linda Rice) and fifth in the Derby.

“Obviously, I was a little bit disappointed in his race in the Derby but his post cost him considerably, just getting covered up early and being way too far back to be effective,” Asmussen said.

Pneumatic, who finished fourth in the Belmont, returned to win the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park, and Excession will make his first start since finishing second in the Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park nearly seven months ago.

Paco Lopez will ride Max Player for the first time Saturday, while Joe Bravo and Sheldon Russell will have the mounts on Pneumatic and Excession, respectively.

Ny Traffic, Liveyourbeastlife and Jesus’ Team round out the Preakness field.