Just how talented is Authentic, who joined the Road to the Kentucky Derby with an eye-catching victory in the $100,000 Sham (G3) on Jan. 4 at Santa Anita Park? Only time will tell, but it’s safe to say he had more to offer in his stakes debut.
Conditioned by five-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert, Authentic first gave notice of his potential with a comfortable maiden victory sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs Nov. 9 at Del Mar. After he pressed the early pace, Authentic sprinted home the final three-sixteenths of a mile in :17.92 to score by 1 1/2 lengths.
This impressive performance stamped Authentic as a 50-1 shot in Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 1. It was a bright start for the $350,000 yearling purchase, who races for the partnership of SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Frederick Hertrich III, John Fielding, and Golconda Stables.
Despite stepping up significantly in class and distance for the Sham, Authentic was favored at 6-5 by Santa Anita bettors. With jockey Drayden Van Dyke in the saddle, Authentic broke cleanly from the rail and was a little headstrong early, before he settled down to carve out steady fractions of :23.87, :47.94, and 1:12.18.
Then things got crazy. By blasting the penultimate furlong in :12.12, Authentic put away his rivals with a terrific turn of foot and roared to a huge lead early in the stretch. But Authentic lacked focus down the lane. He carried his head to the right, spooked at the crowd, and repeatedly ducked toward the inner rail. If not for his homestretch antics, Authentic’s 7 3/4-length margin of victory might have been substantially large, and his final time of 1:37.57 could have been even quicker.
“I think the noise from the crowd made him react the way he did there in the stretch,” Van Dyke said. “His ears went toward the crowd, so I think that’s what caused it, but then, when he got down to the rail, he spooked himself again.”
The key for Authentic will be improving the mental aspects of his game. The sky might be the limit for his talent, but beating 19 rivals in the chaotic Kentucky Derby requires a calm, relaxed, and focused performance. Even if you cross the wire first, there’s no guarantee drifting and ducking about won’t cost you the race via disqualification, as the connections of Maximum Security discovered in 2019.
The other question mark for Authentic is his pedigree. Sire Into Mischief and damsire Mr. Greeley were both sprinter/milers, and at stud they have tended to sire runners whose stamina reserves top out between a mile and 1 1/8 miles.
But all questions and concerns aside, there’s no doubt Authentic has a world of raw talent and potential. In a sport where running fast is all that ultimately matters, talent can make up for a lot of shortcomings.