Bob Baffert has made Monmouth Park his home away from home over the years, and the trainer did it again Saturday, when Authentic had just enough in the tank to win the Grade 1 Haskell by a diminishing nose over the ultra-game Ny Traffic.
It was Baffert’s ninth win in Monmouth’s biggest race. His first came just 20 years ago, when Point Given took the 2001 edition.
“[W]hen he got (out on an easy lead) by himself like that, I thought for sure he was just going to go on,” Baffert said afterwards. “But he ran a great race.”
Authentic, a $350,000 yearling, had won three of his first four starts, two against graded foes. In his first try against Grade 1 rivals, in the Santa Anita Derby in June, he was decisively beaten when second to Honor A. P.
Still, his resume – and connections – were strong enough that bettors sent him off at 3-5 in the Haskell. Belmont Stakes runner-up Dr Post went off as the 9-5 second choice, while Ny Traffic was 5-1.
Under Hall of Famer Mike Smith, Authentic, a son of Into Mischief out of the winning Mr. Greeley mare Flawless, broke alertly and quickly assumed command. He was a length clear of Ny Traffic after a half-mile in 47.52 seconds and after three-quarters in 1:11.50.
But though he was on the lead – and within himself – Smith said his mount was still plenty green.
“He’s a colt with an abundance of talent. Ability is something he does not lack. He’s got a lot of it. But what he is lacking right now, he’s learning. He’s growing up,” Smith explained. “He sees things. Down the backside, if you get a chance to look at the head on, there are a lot of shadows back there from the sun at this point. He looked at every single one of them and he wouldn’t let me get him down close to the fence because he was looking at them too much.”
As the field turned for home, Authentic kicked away smartly and looked all set to deliver a dominating victory. But suddenly Ny Traffic, who looked to be done at the head of the lane, mounted a strong late rally.
“I was sure I got him – 100 percent,” said jockey Paco Lopez, who rode Ny Traffic. “I can’t believe it. I’m surprised we didn’t win. I really thought we got him.”
Smith didn’t see it quite the same way, though he wasn’t so sure about it, either.
“I thought I was in front at the wire, but I rode him past the wire so far I forgot where the dang wire was,” he said. “I just kept riding him. Paco Lopez went to celebrate and I thought, ‘Did he get me?’ I thought I hung on. We were blessed to hang on.”
“I noticed immediately Mike riding him out past the wire to the next pole,” said Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s assistant. “That’s good judgment on his part.”
“I’m just so proud of him, but I was like everybody else telling Mike (Smith), ‘You better stay after him. You’d better keep busy,’” added Baffert, who earlier this week learned that he would be suspended 15 days and see two of his top horses – Charlatan and Gamine – disqualified from Oaklawn Park victories earlier this year because of lidocaine positives..
Saffie Joseph, trainer of the runner-up, was about as pleased as the trainer of the second-place finisher could be.
“At the quarter pole, you could see Authentic was cruising and my horse was off the bridle,” he said. “To dig down and dig deep, you can’t be more proud of that.”
Ny Traffic, a nose behind the winner, finished 4 ½ lengths clear of show horse Dr Post, and the rest of the seven-horse field was well spread out behind them.
In addition to the $1 million purse, the Haskell also offered points towards the Kentucky Derby, with 100 to the winner and 40 to the runner-up. The top three finishers in the Haskell all are among the top seven in Derby points following today’s action and thus all likely to qualify for the Derby if their connections take that route.
Baffert, with five Derby wins to his credit, seems likely to point Authentic in that direction, Dr Post, well-beaten in both the Belmont and today, may pose a more complicated question for his trainer, Todd Pletcher.
And Joseph said his horse, who has finished in the triple in four consecutive graded races without winning, was definitely Louisville-bound, if all goes to plan.
“I just want to keep going forward,” the trainer said. “That’s the important thing. Hopefully all goes well to the Kentucky Derby and we’re living the dream.”
Monmouth Park set a track record for handle for a non-Breeders’ Cup day when bettors wagered a total of $20,479,392 on Saturday’s 14-race TVG.com Haskell Stakes day card. The record handle was achieved despite restrictions for on-track attendance due to COVID-19 guidelines.
The overall handle from all sources surpassed the previous non-Breeders’ Cup record of $20,024,509 set on Haskell Day on Aug, 2. 2015…
In the day’s other dirt stakes, Global Campaign, with Jorge Vargas, Jr. up, posted a resilient, front-running score in the Grade 3 Monmouth Cup, while Jersey-bred Horologist won the Grade 3 Molly Pitcher by two lengths. Jersey Joe Bravo posted the win aboard Horologist for trainer Bill Mott; it was Bravo’s second stakes win of the day, while Vargas came in second aboard 40-1 outsider Our Super Freak… Global Campaign is trained by Stanley Hough.