Authentic and jockey Drayden Van Dyke win the Grade III, $100,000 Sham Stakes, Saturday, January 4, 2020 at Santa Anita Park, Arcadia CA. © BENOIT PHOTO

Another week, some more thoughts on the sport of kings. Thoroughbred racing has obviously felt the effects of this Covid 19 thing, but much to the delight of guys like me, they are still running at different tracks across the country. With that in mind, let’s examine some news and notes from the greatest sport in the world…Giddy up

BAFFERT HAS ANOTHER HASKELL WINNER

Monmouth Park in mid to late July is a familiar destination for trainer Bob Baffert. The Haskell Invitational Stakes is normally a prep race for the Travers Stakes and the hall of fame conditioner has had a way of getting one of his runners ready for this speed favoring New Jersey dirt. First run in 1968, the mile and an eighth race around two turns has seen some of the best three- year olds in the game during that span. Coming in to the 2020 edition, Baffert had visited the winner’s circle a record eight times (2001, 2002, 2005, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015).  Days before the race, Big Race Bob reveled the secret to winning…”Just bring your best horse”, he quipped.

This edition was coming up a bit different as the 2020 race is another prep for the rescheduled Kentucky Derby. With a re-shuffled line-up of three year olds because of injury, Baffert sent his most accomplished runner to post on July 18.

Authentic went to post against six others with high ideals about continuing the tradition of excellence from the Baffert barn. Coming in with three wins and a second place finish in four lifetime starts, this son of Into Mischief has looked like a prime-timer. Deeming the Haskell as a “perfect fit” for his charge, the gates opened and people found out this titan among trainers was right again.

Alertly breaking under jockey Mike Smith, Authentic went right to the lead and set a solid early pace (23.6 opening quarter, 47.52 half mile). Running as if he was much the best, Authentic opened up a two and a half length lead in deep stretch. At the sixteenth pole it looked like the race was over.

Then suddenly things changed. A rallying NY Traffic was whittling away at what seemed an insurmountable lead. As the wire drew ever closer, Smith encouraged Authentic to reignite the engine. In what turned out to be a photo finish, Authentic held on by a nose and provided his trainer with an anxious few moments.

“I am very happy with the win and pleased with his performance,” says Baffert. “He seemed to lose focus down the lane. Maybe we will add blinkers to help correct that before his next race.”

With that “next” race perhaps the Kentucky Derby on September 5, Authentic is second to Tiz The Law in qualifying points (200). In displaying the front-running speed like many of the good Baffert horses have done in the past, this Spendthrift Farms owned colt looks like a Derby horse. In fact, you might could say the Haskell win makes him…Authentic.

MAXIMUM SECURITY GETS A CLEAN SLATE

Let’s face it…sometimes stuff happens in life. Like it or not, that’s just how it is. Usually, there are two choices…get over it or get under it.

Maximum Security is one of those fantastic four-legged phenoms we call a Thoroughbred race horse. Due to no fault of his own, this four-year old son of New Year’s Day will forever carry an asterisk as the only Kentucky Derby winner to be disqualified on race day. Despite crossing the finish line first as clearly the best horse in the 2019 Run for the Roses, this Kentucky-bred was taken down for interference in the far turn. As time has unfolded the asterisk became a little bigger as his then trainer, Jason Servis, faces federal doping charges. This brings into question his eight spectacular wins (nine if you count Kentucky Derby) in ten lifetime starts. Were those jaw droppers in the Florida Derby, Kentucky Derby, Haskell, Cigar Mile, and Saudi Cup a result of the genes or the juice?

Servis is now out of the sport and perhaps headed to the hoosegow. Maximum Security has been moved to the barn of Bob Baffert by his owners, Gary and Mary West. What’s done is done and this wonderful athlete has been working and looking every bit the beast we all thought he was before the news about his former conditioner broke.

“He trains like a really top horse,” says Baffert. “I am sorry for the reason he came to my barn but am also really excited for the opportunity to be involved with such a fabulous athlete. I’m really excited to see him run but at the same time am very nervous. When you condition top horses there is a lot of pressure that comes along with it. There are certain expectations and you hope to fulfill them.”

Maximum Security was scheduled to make his debut for Baffert in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar  on July 18. Due to some positive Covid 19 tests, restrictions have caused the race to be pushed back to July 25. In his only work over the Del Mar dirt in preparation for his first run out of a Baffert stall, Maximum Security quickly covered five furlongs in 59.8. As the 4th fastest from 88 works at the distance, it looks as if he is responding well to his new digs.

“He’s big, strong, and beautiful,” says Baffert. “We are looking forward to seeing him run.”

Does it really matter if Maximum Security ran dirty in previous races? At this point, the most important thing is to adopt the philosophy of his hall of fame coach. “Never look back”, is the Baffert barn motto. Having excelled at getting the most from his runners on the biggest days, Baffert seems to just the right guy in this situation.

A clean slate is what this horse deserves and that’s exactly what he’s got. If Maximum Security runs to form those question marks about his past will quickly become exclamation points.