By Mike Farrell
It was quite a day for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
In a matter of hours on Wednesday, Baffert:
- Saw Authentic installed as the 4-5 favorite for the $1 million TVG.com Haskell (G1) Stakes on Saturday at Monmouth Park.
- Learned he had been suspended 15 days for a pair of post-race positives at Oaklawn Park.
- Dealt with the cancellation of racing this weekend at Del Mar which delays the debut of Maximum Security in the Baffert barn.
That’s a lot to swallow for the silver-haired trainer.
Let’s start with Baffert’s good news on the Jersey Shore. Baffert has dominated the Haskell, winning it a record eight times. Number 9 should be on tap Saturday.
Authentic is clearly the class of the seven-horse field for this oddly-positioned Haskell. The biggest race of the year in New Jersey normally kicks off the second-half of the season for Triple Crown warriors. In this coronavirus scrambled season, the Haskell is now a Kentucky Derby (G1) prep offering 100 qualifying points to the winner on the road to Louisville in September.
Authentic would have been one of the favorites had the Derby been run in its traditional first Saturday in May spot. He was undefeated, and largely unchallenged, in his first three starts through the San Felipe (G2) in early March.
Then the pandemic took hold, and everything changed.
Authentic’s last race was the Santa Anita Derby (G1) last month where he ran second as the 1-2 favorite to Honor A.P.
“He had sort of a rough trip,” Baffert said. “He didn’t break well; he was caught wide. He was a little rank. He was a little fresh. I had backed off him because I didn’t know when they would run the Santa Anita Derby. We like to make excuses for our horses because they’re like our children. The winner ran a great race. It was a good race and he just got beat that day. Since then he’s been training really well.”
Even in defeat, his speed figure was vastly superior to anything the Haskell competition has mustered thus far.
And his front-running style is perfect for Monmouth’s well-earned reputation as a speed track.
“I thought this horse would be a perfect fit,” Baffert said. “He’s a fast horse and he’s a good horse. We’re really looking forward to the race.”
“Big Money” Mike Smith flies in for the ride.
The only realistic challengers are Dr Post (5-2) and Ny Traffic (7-2).
Dr Post was second most recently to Tiz the Law in the Belmont Stakes (G1) for trainer Todd Pletcher, a three-time Haskell winner. His only stakes victory came in the Unbridled at Gulfstream Park.
With Saratoga banning jockeys from riding out-of-town, “Jersey Joe” Bravo hops into the saddle in place of Irad Ortiz, Jr.
With jockey’s facing increasing restrictions on where they can ride, this Haskell will have a decidedly local feel. In addition to Bravo, Monmouth regulars Nik Juarez, Trevor McCarthy, Jose C. Ferrer and Paco Lopez have mounts in the race.
Lopez has the return call on Ny Traffic following a second-place finish to Maxfield in the Matt Winn (G3).
Jesus’ Team, Ancient Warrior, Fame to Famous and Lebda complete the field as double-digit long shots.
There is a $1 million bonus in play if the Haskell winner also sweeps the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). The Haskell is also a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” challenge race, ensuring the winner a spot in the Classic.
The Haskell can be seen on NBC from 5 to 6 p.m. ET.
Now we can return to the tales of Baffert. The “New York Times”, the paper of record seemingly devoted to ending horseracing, gleefully reported that Baffert was suspended 15 days for drug positives detected after Charlatan won a division of the Arkansas Derby (G1) and Gamine captured an allowance race on May 2.
Baffert’s representative said the positives were a result of accidental contamination.
Baffert will appeal the stewards’ decision to the full racing commission. If not satisfied with that outcome, Baffert has the right to take it to civil court.
It won’t be resolved anytime soon, likely keeping Baffert in the game through this year’s Triple Crown and beyond.
Del Mar canceled this weekend’s racing after a coronavirus outbreak in its jockey colony. Maximum Security was the scheduled headliner in San Diego Handicap (G2).
“I feel a little bit of added pressure,” Baffert said of Maximum Security. “There’s a lot of pressure when you’re around good horses. I don’t like the circumstances under which I got the horse, but he couldn’t be training any better.”
All he needs now is a race.
The Monmouth card, available to a limited number of on-track fans holding pre-purchased $100 admission tickets, also features the $300,000 United Nations on the turf, New Jersey’s other Grade 1 stakes.
It looks like a cozy spot for the return of Standard Deviation, a two-time stakes winner here last summer.
Mike Farrell has worked in thoroughbred and harness racing for much of his career in journalism. Mike is a turf writer, harness writer, and handicapper, covering and analyzing races at dozens of racetracks around the country. Based on the East Coast, Mike has covered the Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup for a number of publications, including Daily Racing Form, as well as The Associated Press. He spends time at Gulfstream Park taking in the races, and also hits the harness racing circuit in the Northeast region. He’s been a fixture at The Hambletonian and the Haskell Invitational for longer than he’d like to remember.